• James Brooks

    James Brooks (American, 1906–1992), Mardon, 1973. Acrylic on canvas, 76 x 76 inches. Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY.

  • James Brooks

    James Brooks (American, 1906–1992), Chinese Still Life, 1947. Oil on Homasote, 24 x 20 inches. Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY.

  • James Brooks

    James Brooks (American, 1906–1992), Woodstock, 1931. Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 inches. Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY

  • James Brooks

    James Brooks (American, 1906–1992) Andros, 1983. Acrylic on canvas, 51 x 40 inches. Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY.

James Brooks: A Painting is a Real Thing

August 2–October 25, 2020


The Parrish Art Museum is organizing James Brooks: A Painting is a Real Thing, a comprehensive survey of significant scope comprised of some fifty paintings drawn from public and private U.S. collections. Throughout his long and prolific career James Brooks (1906–1992) advocated, with a messianic zeal, the primacy of paint—what happens on the surface—as the only authentic “subject” of a work of art. He embraced experimentation and shied away from developing any dominant method or style in order to avoid, as he once put it, “one’s own pictorial clichés.” Color alone remains the consistent and essential component in Brooks’s work. James Brooks: A Painting is a Real Thing will be shown at the Parrish from August 8 through October 25, 2020. 

The first full-scale retrospective organized in some 35 years, James Brooks: A Painting is a Real Thing will provide an overdue reappraisal of this artist who boldly disrupted any tendency toward repeated formula or purely formal decisions in his work, extending the vitality and validity of Abstract Expressionism well beyond its textbook limits. Organized by Alicia G. Longwell, the Parrish’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Chief Curator, the exhibition will featuring paintings and a selection of important works on paper from the entire expanse of Brooks’s four-decade career, and will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 125-page catalogue with interpretive essays by Longwell and contributing writers and detailed chronology and bibliography. 

The exhibition will illuminate Brooks’s entire career as it was shaped early on by Social Realism and further developed in New York where he worked as a sign letterer and attended night classes at the Art Students League (1927–1930). From 1936–1942, he joined the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project and worked on a 235-foot mural for the rotunda of the Marine Air Terminal at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Flight traces the story of man’s impulse to fly, evincing Brooks’s mastery of traditional painting and his solid grounding in the history of art, especially Renaissance technique and the monumentality of the frescoes of Piero della Francesco and Giotto.