It is the artist’s largest show to date and the first time Marlborough has displayed one artist across both floors of its exhibition spaces. Brooks is part of a generation of artists who emerged in London in the nineties to great international acclaim and for over 20 years has made works that explore the ways in which painting has the power to transform the way we see the everyday.
In this exhibition, Brooks looks at how the language of painting can take one art object and, via a journey of exploration, turn it into another. The exhibition shows the transformation of three different sources of art: hobbyist paintings collected by the artist from junk shops; 18th century romantic paintings bought at auctions; and composited photo images taken by Brooks of fellow image makers from within his circle of friends.
Downstairs are large-scale paintings inspired by amateur landscape artists and titled after poems by the celebrated 19th century English poet John Clare. Out of sheer affection for these hobbyist paintings, Brooks’ works pay homage to the author’s visions of landscape writ large. The journey from inspiration to final reality transforms each of the paintings in surface, medium, image and colour. A painters’ painter, Brooks uses a wide range of painting vocabulary to create works that are acutely observed, and whilst looking very different from the original source paintings, they amplify a shared vision and encourage the audience to re-evaluate the value in the familiar.
Also on the ground floor in a small darkened chapel-like space are two pieces inspired by devotional paintings. In reimagining these images, Brooks illuminates the power of the painted icon and plays with the idea of devotion and what it means today. A large sculpture of a veiled figure dominates the space. Providing a counterpoint to the small religious paintings, it was inspired by a small 19th century marble bust collected by the artist and transformed into a contemporary piece of sculpture.
Upstairs, an identically scaled series of portraits are precisely constructed using heavy cropping to give a cinematic effect in Brooks’ signature style of portraiture. Painted large-scale with forensic detail, the deadpan yet intense presence of the filmmakers, photographers and designers is felt as they gaze out at the viewer. Part of an ongoing series, each work is titled by the sitters’ first name, including Don McCullin and Sue Webster. At a distance each painting seems sharply defined, but close-up the subject deconstructs to tell a different story. Painted intimately near and with a range of marks, notation and tone that has been worked, pared back and worked over again so each portrait feels closer to engraving than painting. Each work simultaneously encourages examination of difference and similarity, and of the visual language at play that underpins these arresting images. The source materials for the portraits are composited images from hundreds of photographs taken of the sitter by Brooks. Before the painting even begins, the creation of the source image is approached as a work of art in its own right; not one image or reality but the product of many. His approach re-affirms the relationship with these sitters, as the image maker becomes image made.
Through three groups of apparently un-connected works, Brooks unifies a variety of inspirations across all the works in this show creating his own painted language. He uses that unification to tell the story that is at the centre of his work: the subject is not the subject.
Born in 1968 in Rotherham, UK, Jason Brooks lives and works between London and Gloucestershire. He studied at Goldsmiths, received his B.F.A. from Gloucestershire College in 1991 and his M.F.A. from Chelsea College of Arts in 1992. Since 2012, the artist’s work has been represented by Marlborough. Selected solo exhibitions include: Origins, Marlborough Contemporary, London (2015); Ultra Flesh, Marlborough Contemporary, London (2013); and Paul Nurse and Other Works, National Portrait Gallery, London (2008). His work has been part of group exhibitions worldwide including: Harewood House, Harwood; Southampton City Art Gallery, Southampton; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; Saatchi Gallery, London; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul; Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow; Jerwood Gallery, London; Sharjah Art Museum, Sharjah; Manchester City Art Gallery, Manchester; and Serpentine Gallery, London. Collections which hold works by the artist include: Walker Art Gallery, Harewood House, The Saatchi Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Dakis Joannou/Deste Foundation Collection, The Berardo Collection, ABN AMRO Collection and Unilever Collection.