Chicago

Stephanie Brooks

Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Stephanie Brooks employs the ability of certain strategies associated with Minimalism to yield surprisingly emotional and intimate results. The title of a work such as Daydream Painting: holding hands on the Pont Neuf (Bedroom) (all works 2004) hints at a lush romanticism and confessional familiarity that seems initially at odds with its pristine abstract aesthetic. The picture’s surface is immaculate, an unperturbed field of light periwinkle blue acrylic on aluminum that reads as cool and aloof. But the dimensions of the painting are exactly those of the window in Brooks’s bedroom, while its pale color is an attentive approximation of the Illinois sky. What initially seemed hard-edged and detached suddenly becomes nuanced and personal, more diaristic than analytical, underlining the slippery nature of such distinctions.

Daydream Painting: your smile after we kiss (Metra) hits a similar note, its slightly curved edges mirroring the window on the commuter train Brooks takes to work, its wan and slightly smoky off-white monochrome an evocation of a cloudy Chicago morning. These paintings lend Minimalism a human face. They commemorate stray moments of reflection and fantasy, of the unanticipated and transformative intrusion of the personal into the midst of mundane, generic everyday life. They become exhilarating in a Proustian manner, modest but profound.

This kind of earnest gesture combined with an acknowledgement of the ambiguous limits of such a hard-edged art’s ability to encompass genuine emotion also informs Brooks’s My idealized library of feminism. Blocks of cherry wood are mounted on the wall, each precisely simulating the shape of a canonical book that the artist admires. It’s a system that is at once closed and open, mute and impenetrable as to the identity and content of the specific books, yet ambiguously allusive in offering a masked glimpse of her intellectual life. In A Close Reading of Poe, Brooks takes a text of the poet’s “The Raven” and excises all of it except for the letter O. The hundreds of Os that remain are scattered as they would appear across the pages, little ejaculatory circles that function as expressions of astonishment. Given the sing-song rhythms and lush theatricality of Poe’s poem, this act of selective isolation seems more homage than defanging and reflects Brooks’s interest in the indeterminacy of communication.

In five works from the series “Conversation,” a set of pastel-toned screen prints, Brooks juxtaposes two words in crisp and uniformly rendered speech balloons. The pairings—poetry/prose, beauty/truth, sonnet/ horoscope, vulgarity/vulgarity, sorrow/ sublimation—are not opposites. Rather, they seem to be fragments from a conversation, complementary instead of confrontational. Brooks’s display presents them as a kind of bemused “he said/she said” exchange that even with identical components (vulgarity/vulgarity) speaks to a fissure in language, to its unstable status as a communicative form. Brooks autopsies the ubiquity of clichéd binaries (poetry/prose, beauty/truth) as well as more curious snippets of human interaction that are specific and contextual (sonnet/ horoscope) and sometimes disarmingly evocative (sorrow/sublimation). Within the indeterminate nature of language—verbal and visual, abstract and literary—Brooks finds and deepens an aperture from which the personal and experiential emerge.

James Yood