Calendar: October 18

A Year: Day to Day Men: 18th of October

Music and Literature

October 18, 1906 was the birthdate of American muralist and abstract painter James Brooks.

James Brooks was born in Saint Louis, Missouri, attended the Southern Methodist University and studied at the Dallas Art Institute with Martha Simkins. He moved to New York City in 1927, attending night classes at the Art Students League from 1927 to 1930. Brooks joined the Federal Art Project, a New Deal program to fund the visual arts, in 1936. With the funds from the Art Project, he painted his mural “Flight” around the rotunda of the Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia Airport. This 235 foot long mural was painted over by the Port Authority of New York during the 1950s; it was restored in 1980.

James Brooks, a first generation abstract expressionist painter, was among the first of that genre to use staining as an important technique in his works. In his paintings from the late 1940s, Brooks began to dilute his oil paints in order to stain the mostly raw canvases; this period of his works often combined abstract shapes with calligraphy. Brooks was interested in creating ‘accidents’ with his paints to convey personal meanings.

During the period he participated in the WPA Federal Art Project, James Brooks executed several murals beside his “Flight” at the Marine Terminal. These included a mural at the Queens  Public Library, now unfortunately demolished, and at the Post Office in Little Falls, New Jersey. Brooks was also a teacher, teaching at Columbia University, Pratt Institute, Cooper Union, and was an Artist-in-Residence at the American Academy, in Rome, Italy.

Inspired by his friendships with Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Brook’s work evolved through an interest in the unconscious as well as experiments with collage. He adopted some of the Surrealist principles in his early works which eventually led him to Abstract Expressionism. Over the decades, Brooks’ work evolved to become more mysterious, utilizing the accidental bleeds of the enamel paint seeping through the canvas weave of his paintings as a basis for his more solid calligraphic marks.

James Brooks’ work can be seen in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

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