Historical Journal

Journal Archives,Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Archives

Moe Brooker: Paintings

June 1, 1990
Judith Stein

A writer and curator, studied at Barnard College, and has a Ph.D. in art history from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Eye of the Sixties, Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016). Her curatorial projects include Red Grooms, A Retrospective, for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and The Figurative Fifties, New York School Figurative Expressionism, co-curated with Paul Schimmel. Her exhibition, I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin, traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1995, and earned a best catalogue award from AICA/USA. Her articles, interviews and reviews have appeared in Art in America, Art News, and The New York Times Book Review, as well as on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air and Morning Edition. Among her honors is a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant; a Pew Fellowship for literary non-fiction; and a Lannan Foundation writing residency in Marfa, Texas.

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" He may have three different blacks in a work, manipulating their visual temperature by deft underpainting."

June 16 – July 20, 1990
June Kelly Gallery, New York
There is a joyful exuberance that pulses through the paintings of Moe Brooker. Colors flash grins, and lines break into a two-step in his distinctive urban visions. An artist nourished by his life in the city, Brooker is like the visually hungry protagonist in a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, who “feeds on food the fat of heart despise.” The occasional silvered fields and collage-like format of his current work was initially inspired by his sight, after a long absence from Philadelphia, of the city’s abandoned brownstones. The windows of these rowhouses were sealed with tin, their facades papered with peeling handbills and pockmarked with graffiti.
Brooker begins his thinking process with small-scale drawings and collages. Although aspects of these warming-up exercises occasionally make their way into the larger canvases, the artist primarily relies on an instinctive process for his paintings. To Brooker, “spontaneity is an impulse, it’s about making choices and making decisions.” As a piano player, Brooker enjoys comparing his artistic discovery process with striking a chord — though one may be familiar with individual notes, when they’re heard as a chord, there’s always a surprise.
There is a playful, figurative cast to the artist’s favored shapes, which can read “head,” “torso,” or “leg” one minute or present themselves as abstract color containers the next. To Brooker, line is also a shape. A savvy ringmaster who uses his body language as a whip, Brooker exhorts his linear elements to coil, spike, bounce and sashay across the canvas. A kinetic energy radiates from his calligraphic loops as they prance through subtle color changes or are rhythmically marked by perpendicular streaks. Showers of bright confetti, sassy stars, and an occasional heart push the more formal compositions towards a mood of jubilation.
Brooker switched from pastels to oils a decade ago, and he has astutely extracted a wide range of effects from this traditional medium. In search of luminous tonalities, Brooker devised a method of layering color over color, so that a given patch of orange, for example, may have been over-painted five times, with different hues for some of the undercoats. A special characteristic of Brooker’s canvases is his use of black as a field, a practice he took with him from working with pastels. He may have three different blacks in a work, manipulating their visual temperature by deft underpainting.
A child of the city, Brooker’s first drawings were made with chalk on asphalt. In his current work he retains their ghostly accent and gestural signature by using white oil stick. To have traveled from the impermanence of the street to the posterity of museums is a marvelous journey, and Brooker, delighting in his humanity, signs his works as Bach did — “TTGG,” to the glory of God.
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