In his recent exhibition at Long View Gallery titled We the People, District of Columbia artist Scott Brooks continues to populate canvasses of all sizes with his own unique vision of “people” and also continues to advance the case for Scott Brooks to be considered as one of the region’s leading artists.
To start, Brooks’ enviable technical skill is of the level seldom seen these days where theory seems to have all but buried the need for an artist to have any technical facility. His remarkable ability to marry this technical skill with a Brooksian vision of a world that both manages to attract and repel the viewer, elevates the artwork to the point where it goes beyond high art and begins to do what some truly great artwork does: deliver social and historical narratives that have an important point to contribute to contemporary dialogue beyond the visual arts.
But where in the past Brooks has done this in a somewhat subtle way, in this show’s 12 works he rolls back his sleeves and assaults our visual senses with his messages, agenda and positions on such things as politics, culture and a popularity-obsessed nation. He does this in a blatant but elegant manner that shouts with paint instead of noise and attacks with scale and numbers.
For example, in the painting We the People, Brooks uses his fear of empty space almost as a weapon by crowding the large canvas with images and artifacts full of almost Victorian-style clues and fascinating objects. The four main figures in the canvas, with the usual slight facial distortions that make Brooks’ works immediately recognizable, are presented to the viewer amongst a backdrop of humanity that assail the mind and eyes with their oddity and visual noise. The worship of the “plugged in” hero (who just happens to be a snake charmer), standing on a symbolic money platform, all buff and strong and perfect, highlights the imperfections of those worshipping him; all but the figure in the top hat to the left, as if a little dejection is creeping in. Meanwhile, tiny video cameras broadcast the snake charmer’s victory to the world.
And if fear of empty space makes the case in this piece, it all but overflows out of Separation Anxiety: An Allegory for the Conflict between Good and Evil where Brooks truly flexes his artistic ideas in a riot of color, forms, stories, mini-dramas within the stories and a mind numbing variety of figures and “peoples” within a canvas so full of information that it is impossible to absorb it all in one visit. There are probably close to 100 figures, animals and things on this canvas, and yet, somehow Brooks still manages to aim our focus and initial (and final) attention to the God-like child figure sitting atop a circus like atmosphere bordering on madness of the senses. Meanwhile, those other 99 figures and objects are punching your eyes with their demand for attention.
Brooks says that his disillusionment with Washington is central to this exhibition. He adds that he “sees inherent flaws in a system that no one man can fix.” He feels that “the world is distracted, choosing to hide in denial behind such diversions as religion, indifference and reality television rather than face the dire truth, which is what Washington intends.”
All marathons start with one step, and in We the People Brooks succeeds in grabbing our attention and hypnotizing us into trying to react to his visual war of color and narrative. We’re no longer distracted.