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Like many of his contemporaries, including Pollock, Krasner, Philip Guston, and Mark Rothko, James Brooks began his career as a figurative painter. He moved toward abstraction in the immediate postwar years, first using a Cubist-inspired formal vocabulary and soon developing a spontaneous, improvisational style. But from 1938-1942, under the auspices of the New York City WPA Federal Art Project, Brooks painted murals in the Woodside Public Library in Queens and the Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia Airport - the largest WPA mural in the nation and one of the last to be completed under that program. His contribution to the WPA was immense, and his 1942 mural, Flight, at La Guardia Airport, remains on view today.

As his practice matured, James Brooks' major contribution would be a pioneering staining technique, using porous cloth that allowed the paint to bleed through, creating forms on the back that he used as points of departure in his abstractions. He described it as striving for "a new direction that will flower into some kind of new, imaginative thing." His first one-person exhibition of abstract expressionist paintings was in 1949 at the Peridot Gallery in New York. Recognized as a leading member of the emerging New York School, he is at the center of Nina Leen's famous photograph of "Irascible" avant-garde artists -- among them Pollock, Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still, and Barnett Newman -- that illustrated a 1951 Life magazine article.

His work was included in numerous group exhibitions, and was the subject of a retrospective that opened at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1963 and traveled to the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Washington Gallery of Contemporary Art, Washington, DC; and the University of California Art Galleries, Los Angeles, CA. 
Another retrospective was presented by the Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME, in 1983.

Brooks held teaching positions at Columbia University, Pratt Institute, Yale University School of Art, Queens College, and The Cooper Union. In 1963, he was an artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome, Italy. Awarded the Chicago Art Institute's Logan Medal of the Arts, he was then elected to the National Academy of Design as an Associate member in 1980, becoming a full member in 1985.

James Brooks has had numerous solo exhibitions, among them at the Dallas Museum of Art; The Brooklyn Museum of Art; the Hillwood Museum at Long Island University in Brookville, NY; the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, NY; and Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, NY. Brooks' art is represented in many museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; Metropolitan Museum, NY; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Brooklyn Museum; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA; Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, MN; Whitney Museum of Art, NY; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; Courtland Institute, London; and Tate Modern, London.

The estate of James Brooks is represented by Van Doren Waxter Gallery, New York

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