James Brooks 1906 —1992


Good painting as always is a door opened to man's spirit... it will not repel because of its obscurity, but may because of its directness. (James Brooks)

James Brooks was born in St. Louis, Missouri and during his childhood, moved frequently throughout the Southwest. In the mid and late 1920s in Dallas, Texas, he attended Southern Methodist University and the Dallas Art Institute where he studied with Martha Simkins    Brooks  moved to New York City in 1926 from his home in Dallas.  In New York he worked as a commercial artist to fund his night classes with traditional artists Boardman Robinson and Kimon Nicolaides at the Art Students League. 

Brooks was a painter of both Social Realism and Abstract Expressionism and part of the so-called New York School.  James Brooks did many large-scale paintings that expressed a sense of cosmic space as though a high-powered telescope were penetrating space so deeply that one feels the color, the form, and the surge of movement. He used much black, so that darkness seemed equal to the other colors of his canvases and conveyed a sense of void amongst floating and colliding bright colors.

He began exhibiting paintings and prints in a social realist style in various group shows around New York in the early 1930’s and executed three murals for the WPA Federal Art Project between 1936 and 1942, during which time he met the painters Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston.   His best-known mural, Flight, runs 235 feet around the rotunda of the Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia Airport in Queens.  However, the mural was painted over without explanation in the 1950s, but following the protests of art historians and curators it was fully restored in 1980.

Brooks served in WW II and returned to New York in 1945 where he renewed his friendships with Guston, Pollock, and Bradley Walker Tomlin.  He first developed an abstract style influenced by the synthetic Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque and in the summer of 1948 he developed a more fluid abstract style after being inspired by the random shapes that occurred on the back of canvases to which he had glued paintings with black paste. He subsequently executed a series of stained and dripped canvases that were featured at his first solo exhibition the following year at the Peridot Gallery in New York City.

In 1949, having observed Jackson Pollock's drip style, Brooks experimented with pouring pigment on the back of unsized canvas, and became much lauded for his achieving of balance between spontaneity and control. In 1953, he abandoned that technique for much more densely packed, tightly controlled structure resembling Cubism. In the early 1960s, he added linear calligraphy to his painting.

From 1947 to 1975, Brooks taught at various colleges and universities including Pratt Institute, Columbia University, and Cooper Union in New York City, the Art Center in Miami, Yale University, and the University of Pennsylvania. In 1963, he was artists in residence at the American Academy in Rome and in 1967 had a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Many of Brooks's early works in the Abstract Expressionist style retained vestiges of the Cubist grid. He experimented with enamels, gouache, and thinned oils over various backgrounds such as crayon; his palette generally alternated between browns, grays, or blacks and more vivid colors. Later in his career Brooks introduced more assertive forms, for which his work is well recognized.   In the late 1960s he switched from oils to acrylics, a change that prompted the use of a wider range of colors, broader strokes, and simpler compositions with larger color areas.

Although Brooks' service in the army excluded him from participation in ground-breaking exhibitions at Peggy Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery, he has nevertheless been considered by critics to be a member of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. He participated in many group exhibitions around the country, among the most important being the historic, artist-organized Ninth Street Exhibition (1951), which included the work of Pollock, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Robert Motherwell, and two influential exhibitions organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Twelve Americans (1956) and New American Painting (1959). His work has been featured in many solo exhibitions; retrospectives of his work were organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1963) and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts (1972).

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View synoptic biography below.


James Brooks' works can be found in the following museums:

Allentown Art Museum; Jack S Blanton Museum of Art; The Brooklyn Museum of Art; Butler Institute of American Art; Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Institute; Columbia Museum of Art; The Empire State Collection; Detroit Institute of Art, The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art; Georgia Museum of Art; Meadows Museum; The Museum of Modern Art; the Tate Gallery in London, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Art Institute of Chicago, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Neuberger Museum of Art; The Parrish Art Museum; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University; San Diego Museum of Art; Sheldon Museum of Art; Smithsonian American Art Museum; Snite Museum of Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Southern Methodist University, Dallas, The Speed Art Museum; Telfair Museum of Art; The University of Michigan Museum of Art; USC Fisher Gallery; Whitney Museum of American Art; Yale University Art Gallery and the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, Austin, among other museums.

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