New York

James Brooks

Martha Jackson Gallery

The surfaces of the paintings by James Brooks, at the Martha Jackson Gallery, the product of the past two years, carry the imprint of Pop color and technique like an infection which has dried their skin and hardened it into rigid inexpressiveness. Colors like blue verging on aqua, flesh tan, acid green and black predominate, and Brooks’s paint-handling—which isolates shapes by filling in dark grounds around areas of lighter color—makes the figures and grounds seem not so much the result of drawn or stroked paint as the slightly unsynchronized deposit of color in a silk-screen lithographic stencil process.

In 1961 Brooks expressed dissatisfaction with the kind of painting he had done in the 1950s, which had functioned in terms of the agglomerative. principle of an evenly inflected fabric of figurative incident. “I want to present a more completed painting,” he said. “I would like to absorb the accident. I would like a quieter painting, a painting that is dumber, less articulate, that has fewer interesting parts and less fascination in the working of the parts. I want more meaning for the whole.” The example of “meaning for the whole” which Brooks seems now to be looking at is that of Kelly’s painting of the early 1960s where the distinction between figure and ground was negated by the propulsion of every shape to the surface of the canvas. This equalization of the figurative thrust of every area gave to the best of Kelly’s paintings a self evident wholeness and lucidity which Brooks seems to be trying to achieve. This seems to be the reason for his treatment of the black grounds of the recent paintings as though they were positive areas and accounts as well for the newer compositions like Diston and Cullodon which locate pockets of imagery at the edges of the canvas. But the paintings that result are minor decorations made up of familiar Brooksian shapes portentously set adrift on an inert black sea.

Rosalind E. Krauss