Visuality and the experience of looking has forever been altered by the internet and the ease with which visual content can be dispersed and dissected on a global scale. Social media further expanded this evolution, adding an immediacy and tempo that some might call toxic or untenable.
But, beyond this dystopian skepticism is an optimism and brightness that social media’s access, relationship building, and sharing can offer, which artist John Brooks astutely posits with his first solo show in New York “I See This Echoing” at March Gallery, on view now through May 28, 2022. This exhibition brings together large-scale drawings from an ongoing series of works on paper, which the artist started in September in the aftermath of his painting show, “We All Come and Go Unknown” at Moremen Gallery in Louisville.
Brooks masterfully depicts landscapes, still lifes, and portraits through a wholly singular approach to artmaking. Nude and clothed men, vegetation, shells, and various scenes from nature are captured with a fluidity and tenderness that demonstrates a powerful connection to the subjects he chooses to draw. Through his application of graphite, colored pencil, and pastels, the artist offers us a peek into the relationships he has forged with the world that he creates with delicacy and precision.
As explained in the exhibition text, the sitters on view have varying degrees of connection to the artist; family members, long-time friends, and Instagram followers comingle to form a new hybridized familial unit. A portrait of the artist’s late grandfather and a virtual Instagram friend are approached with a similar visual vocabulary, but executed distinctly based on the sitter and their sensibilities, carefully unpacked by Brooks.
The confidence, fluidity, and ease with which Brooks tackles each surface, whether it’s portraying the harsh outline of a shadow or patch of wispy chest hair, further reinforces this understanding and profound connection to his subjects, both physically and psychologically. Beyond each corporeal form, Brooks positions his sitters in distinctive environments that seem to be left intentionally ambiguous, so as to allude to an ongoing exploration of each individual’s life as time progresses and connections evolve.
The landscapes and still lifes are so effective at portraying the artist’s unique and perceptive eye for depicting scenes and connecting to spaces. The whimsy with which Brooks recreates a mountainous landscape or a basketball court is reinforced by a vibrant, ever so slightly unnatural palette of colors that skews toward an imaginative, mystical, or otherworldly realm. I like to think it is a subtle way in which the artist celebrates a queer, untraditional perception of reality and the world, reinforced and celebrated by the large-scale format of the paper that invites you into these moments.
This celebration of queerness is a consistent throughline throughout Brooks practice, and this exhibition expands upon that joy, curiosity, and connection in a significant way. Taken as a whole, everything on view is connected by love: love for the artist’s subjects, love of the process, a love of queerness.