Jason Brooks: Portrait of an Artist
- One of Britain’s best hyper-realist fine artists, Jason Brooks talks to Ajay Hothi ahead of the opening of his new exhibition at the Marlborough Contemporary Gallery in London
Words Ajay Hothi
Photography Jasper Fry
“The titles all come from the porn industry. They’re amazing titles if you take away from their original context. This one’s called Tangerine, there’s Depraved Innocent, and Surrender In Paradise, that’s one of the paintings.”
Ultraflesh is an exhibition of new work by Jason Brooks; it’s his first solo show in London since 2008. Brooks studied at Goldsmiths in the late 80s, during the same period as the first wave of the Young British Artists. In and of itself, this may be an arbitrary fact, but it highlights an important point: Jason Brooks is a fine artist with an acutely-honed skill, but whose artistic vocabulary has more in common with the new Conceptualists and Postmodern punks. He explains the beginnings of Ultraflesh.
“I built a studio in the countryside. It all went slightly wrong and I ended up moving back, but the best thing that happened was that I spent a lot of time in teashops, looking at local artists and paintings on the walls that people didn’t really pay attention to. I’ve been collecting amateur art ever since.”
Brooks began to replicate these paintings, at first in their entirety, experimenting only with their scale. For this new exhibition, he has reinterpreted elements lifted from the amateur works to create a new series of paintings and two new sculptures.
I ask Jason about Walter Benjamin, and his writings on the “just past”: those objects and those moments that lie on the periphery of our memory but that retain a power in our subconscious. You’re trying to re-appropriate nostalgia (a tricky concept in itself)? “Maybe in the past I’ve been afraid to destroy. When you’re creating you’ve got to go to a place where you’re potentially going to fuck things up, even if it’s done with love.”
“I’ve always felt there was a need to say a lot,” (a very-apparent throwback from his days studying at Goldsmiths) “whereas now I feel I should say less. The work should say more and I should say less.”
“I always wanted to make seamless paintings that no-one could penetrate. Now I’m thinking you need to make a seamless painting with a seamless hole in it.”
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Brooks is best known for his photorealist works. Their effects are stunning and they wow us, but photorealism has never shaken the criticism that it is a trompe l’oeil, that it’s simply only wow factor. Benjamin Genocchio in The New York Times puts it more succinctly: “This insanely popular art genre holds precious little of enduring significance.”
Though we don’t touch on photorealism’s criticisms, Jason does say, “With the portraits, everything is quite finished. I know exactly what they’re going to look like before I even make them. I know I’m trying to make the image that’s on the back of my retina.”
“With the earlier works I was controlled and quite anal about everything. To some extent I still am, but I’m allowing myself a vehicle to go somewhere where I’m not quite so constrained. That’s been quite a revelation for me: the idea of not pinning it down to the degree where there’s no point making it.”
“With the earlier works I was controlled and quite anal about everything. To some extent I still am, but I’m allowing myself a vehicle to go somewhere where
I’m not quite so constrained”
“Look at this figurine,” says Jason, holding up a palm-sized statue. “The guy said to me as I was buying it, ‘May I ask, why are you buying this?’ I should have said ‘Why are you selling it?’”
“I remember bringing a painting home and my girlfriend seeing it and saying ‘Jesus…! Why?’ I need an irritant factor. I’m still bemused about why we’re all here and what it’s all for. This is about reconsidering how we see things. That’s what drives you to make the next thing: it’s desire, and desire is unobtainable. The funny thing is, as soon as a show opens I get really depressed. It’s true, I hate it. It’s been the same with every show I’ve ever had. Post-show I get really quiet.”
“But anyway. I’ve been having a conversation with a friend about the surface of these paintings. Let me ask you. They’re not lacquered. Does the lacquer on these paintings close them off too much?”