James Brooks

American, 1906 - 1992

Brooks was born in St. Louis, Missouri and attended Southern Methodist University and the Dallas Art Institute, and moved to New York in 1926 where he attended night classes at the Art Students League.

Between 1942 and 1945, Brooks was enlisted as a combat artist with the American military. Based in Cairo, he traveled to Palestine, Benghazi, Libya, and other parts of Egypt during this time, photographing American military camps, the aftermath of combat, and locals. From these photographs, he created a series of drawings and gouache paintings that were then submitted to the army. Upon returning to the U.S. in 1946, he worked in Washington D.C., where he first met artist Charlotte Park.

James Brooks was primarily an abstract painter, fascinated by the painterly accidents yielded by diluting oil paint with glue, enamel, and other household products. Considered a first-generation abstract expressionist painter, Brooks was among the first abstract expressionists to use staining as an important technique. According to art critic Carter Ratcliff, "His concern has always been to create painterly accidents of the kind that allow buried personal meanings to take on visibility." An early Abstract Expressionist and friend of Jackson Pollock, he experimented with Automatism and free brushwork after discarding the Social Realism of his early career (during which he created one of his most famous works, Flight (1942), a mural at LaGuardia Airport). Brooks was a pioneer in the use of staining, dilution, and accidental deterioration of canvases to create uncontrolled abstraction; he often applied his mixtures of commercial products and paints directly from the tube to create thick, deep surfaces, before adding in fluid lines and abstract shapes. His later works moved towards a purer exploration of color and form. 

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