John Brooks’ ‘A Map of Scents’ integrates the artist’s many disciplines

art by John Brooks

Detail of “You Were a Night Owl but It Doesn’t Matter” by John Brooks

If the name John Brooks rings a bell for Insider readers, it’s probably because we’ve profiled several artists who have been featured at Quappi Projects, the Portland gallery Brooks opened in 2017

Though he helps other artists from Louisville and beyond exhibit their work and connect with art lovers, Brooks has his own artistic practice that has been transforming in the last year.

The work he’s created will come fully into the public eye on Friday when “A Map of Scents,” his solo exhibition at Moremen Gallery, opens. 

John Brooks

John Brooks | Courtesy

Insider caught up with Brooks to talk about the show, how his art has evolved in the last year, and why running a gallery almost ended his love of painting, 

“Through opening Quappi Projects, I suddenly  had a lot of people who were coming through the space … it really sort of highlighted to me the fact that I was a bit stuck in my practice,” says Brooks. “I decided I was going to quit painting. I was just so frustrated and couldn’t see a way forward.”

Artists often go through fallow periods, but this seemed different to Brooks. It’s possible that this frustration in part came from the fact that his art follows several different paths.

“I had a painting practice, I had a poetry practice, I had a photography practice and I had a collage practice, and they all existed separately,” he explains. 

Brooks decided to merge those practices, but the process was complex.

“I started using both collage and some photography as a basis for composition for the paintings,” he says. 

Brooks’ new process started with him using existing collages and photographs and treating them as the subject of a painting, the way a still-life or a model might be a subject. After creating several new works this way, he began making new collages and then painting them. 

Even then he wasn’t using his poems yet. 

“In the past I’ve thought about poems and poetry, but they’ve just been sort of something to reflect upon, and they’re not really present in the work,” he says. “And I had resisted doing that for so long, because I felt like it was almost too easy, it was too leading.”

art by John Brooks

Detail of “Spring is a Yes Finally” by John Brooks

Despite that initial instinct to avoid obvious “meanings” in paintings, he began to be open to text from his poems. 

“I was thinking about specific poems or specific lines, but then when it came time to put the text in the work, they didn’t want it — the paintings didn’t want it. And I kept thinking, one will show up where it will and then we’ll do that, but it never happened.”

In a few places, words show up as background text not meant to inform or instruct a viewer. 

Then Brooks came upon the notion of using single lines from his poetry as titles. Similarly to his integration of collage, photography and painting, the artist began using lines from existing poems to title his paintings, but soon enough the paintings started suggesting poems to him, which he would then write down.

“Bisky Says Joy Comes from the Action” by John Brooks

These new poems then yielded new titles, phrases like “Spring is a Yes Finally,” “Friend, I’m in that Deepest Channel” and “You Were a Night Owl but It Doesn’t Matter.”

The words are evocative and by themselves conjure plenty of images. And yet upon first glance, the titles do not reflect in any literal sense what one sees in the paintings.  

Brooks’ practice has been invigorated by his integration of genres, and his new show includes one more exciting aspect. 

“I’m working at a larger scale than I’ve ever worked before,” he says. “There are some really big paintings in terms of my work.” 

Some of the pieces are 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, which gives the viewer a lot of room to investigate the fine details of Brooks’ new process and the product of his near abandonment of the art of painting. 

“Through that pressure of having to figure out that (new process), it created a lot of growth for me,” he adds.  

“A Map of Scents” opens Friday, July 12, with a reception from 5:30 to 8 p.m., including an artist’s talk at 7 p.m. It continues through Aug. 10. Moremen Gallery is located at 710 W. Main St. on the second floor.