Studio Visit: Kimberly Brooks, The Metaphysical Touch
“The real voyage of discovery consists of not seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust
“A medium of communication is not merely a passive conduit for the transmission of information but rather an active force in creating new social patterns and new perceptual realities.” Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess
By Gary Brewer
Painting is a medium that allows the artist a direct conduit to the mind, body and spirit. The perceptual sensitivity of the eye and the somatic memories embedded in the body allows one to make expressive marks that tell stories in themselves; or that shape our feelings and the way that we interpret an image. The voluptuous physicality of oil paint and its sensual power to communicate feeling and ideas is unique; it is the immediacy of its impact which conveys layers of meaning in a singular gestalt, that adds to the power of painting as a form of communication.
Memory fragments coalesce into narrative wholes; the energy of a stroke of paint communicates an emotional truth. Painting is a shorthand entrance into the soul of the maker. Kimberly Brooks uses these elements to discover works in an open process; the ideas that initially shape the direction of the painting are open to change and shape-shift in the process of creation. Memory of place, vestigial fragments and historical erasure are themes that move freely through her poetic images.
In Kimberly’s early work she did portraits of friends and family; they were intimate and the meaning of these paintings was contained within the personal histories of her life, and through capturing a likeness of her subjects. They were done in a fresh abbreviated style that had an immediacy of approach similar to the work of Elizabeth Peyton. Her love of the physical medium of oil on canvas was fully present; each stroke of paint holding its own as an expressive gesture that also captured the scene and her subject.
At a certain point the painterly qualities of gesture and its capacity to simultaneously describe and obscure, became central to her work and began to reveal how the movement of the brush can depict an image or erase it, leaving the ghost of a memory. “I started to blur my figures into the landscape or into the space that they inhabited. I realized that an empty room was a portrait or that a landscape was a portrait. I wanted to move away from the constraints of depicting someone and to allow the fragments and gestures of mark making/image making to communicate something more open to interpretation. My work tilted toward abstraction and the power inherent in the mark and the gesture.”
Her recent paintings have a spatial ambiguity that often moves them into the realm of pure abstraction. Painterly gesture challenges the structures; in some paintings a room or a doorway or a building is depicted in a simple, almost schematic approach; it is affected and yields to the delicate, subdued palette, the low tonal contrast bringing everything to the surface. Color and the poetry of a brushstroke command the conversation, the image becomes both a vestigial memory of a place and an armature for Kimberly to discover an expression contained in the pure emotional power of painting.
Kimberly’s use of gold and silver leaf adds to the sensual pleasure of the image, as well as confusing the spatial reading. It is in the sensory collapse of image through which a supple fluidity of metaphor and meaning emerges. Gesture holds its own as a purely abstract form, but doubles as representation. A bold brushstroke becomes a leaf or a branch – a doorway to a building or the pattern covering the wall of an ancient church. The delicious integration of abstraction and representation at times brings to mind the complex fusion of surface and pattern, abstraction and representation in the work of Édouard Vuillard.
Kimberly’s use of metal leaf engages one as metaphor, ornament and in its purely optical effects. She spoke about the quality of light and the reflective surface. “I love how the gold activates the painting; it looks different when I turn the lights on in my studio or when it is just the ambient light from my studio windows. It changes as you walk past it creating an immersive, interactive experience. It has both spiritual connotations and is beautiful for it pure sensuality.”
Her work has had many incarnations. Some of the paintings that she has completed in the past are later painted over; the previous painting adding historical depth and content to the new work. The pentimento of the under-painting leaves its trace in both surface incident and in the colors coming through, affecting the color and feeling of the new work. It is a spiritual palimpsest, a diaristic and physical memory of Kimberly’s creative journey.
Kimberly spoke about a new painting that she is working on titled Los Angeles. “ I had a painting that I made several years ago, the interior of a palace. It seemed appropriate as an under painting for this new work about Los Angeles. I love this city and I am circling back to it as one of my subjects. I have painted images from my journeys to India, Israel, and other places rich in history, now I am coming home. I love the experience of painting over another painting, it allows me a jumping off point, to interact and improvise from the colors and brush marks of the previous work. The glow of the reds from the earlier painting comes through the surface deepening the color. The lush interior of the room now buried under this new piece, adds a metaphoric resonance for the cultural richness of Los Angeles and of all of the artists living and working here.”
The painting is done in a subdued palette of earth tones. The paint handling is loose and free. It is a suggestive image of two trees; their leaves are painted in a staccato pattern, the sensual trunks moving up from the bottom with a swirl of paint at the base of one tree expressing purely abstract feelings of form and movement. A gestural suggestion of winged angels hover among the branches, they are pale beige and barely defined. The painting is beautiful and exists in a deeply balanced space between pure abstraction and representation. The hovering ambiguity is pregnant with metaphor and the poetry of paintings ability to simultaneously be image and matter, body and spirit.
Kimberly Brooks seeks to find a space that is open to the currents of thought, feeling and memory coursing through her veins. She mines veins of gold and silver to bring the luster of the sun and moon into the poetry of her work. Painting is a language of the body. We make marks with the swoop of an arm or with the precise mark of our hands and fingers. These marks convey the physical memories of all that we have experienced in this life as well as those that our parents and ancestors carried within them that are passed on to us.
Painting is a spiritual path of becoming. It is a means to discover oneself and to create oneself simultaneously. In the work of Kimberly Brooks, currents of history, memory and metaphor shimmer brightly in the light of the present and are reflected in the subdued light of the past. She is looking for that momentary glimpse, when a fragment becomes a whole, and the world is reborn anew.
Kimberly Brooks solo exhibition “Fever Dreams” opens September 30th, 4-6 PM at Mt. San Antonio College, 1100 N. Grand Ave. Walnut, CA
She will be in a group show “Nature Worship” opening October 6th, at Mash Gallery, 1325 Palmetto St, Los Angeles, CA