Art For All People®    Real Talk About Contemporary Art   

Brooke McGowen is a fantastic and daring artist.  Her paintings sing and her collages and drawings soar.  She’s very eloquent, lovely and fun.  I really enjoyed listening to her describe her work and process.  You will too.  Here we go …

 “… I am always surprised when people see things in my paintings that I never intended. It proves to me that you never really know how someone will see a painting. Everyone will see it differently …”

MICHAEL: Hello Brooke, I love the way your work takes on traditional and eternal ideas, but your execution really seems to be fresh and sort of cutting edge.  How do you view your work?

BROOKE: Hey Michael, Thank you for including me in your cool series! Your questions put us on the spot, don't they? It's hard to have an objective view of your own work. I will try to tell you why I love to paint. For me, paint has its own soul. It is a material which expresses itself through the structural properties of its substance. Paint flows, expands, engulfs the object with fluid mass. I try to work with the paint's natural tendencies. It is a sort of collaboration. I love to see the beauty of the material unfolding and to lose control of the process.

MICHAEL: Paint flows, expands and engulfs ... so what does the artist do?  Maybe harness and direct?  How does this work for you?

BROOKE: I would say facilitate, although harness is good too when you think of a strong, powerful horse. Maybe more like a jockey or a surfer trying to stay abreast of the surge? You cannot prevent the paint from flowing so why not facilitate it?  To channel the self-creativity of the paint. Yes, harness, to plow the surface of the canvas, to unearth the probabilities of the material paint.

MICHAEL: Given that, how would you describe your process? Is it emotional, intellectual, spiritual?  What goes through your mind as you're painting?

BROOKE: I think we are all trying to synchronize heart and mind. Art demands a synthesis of thinking and feeling.  You open your mind to new impulses. While I am painting, I eventually lose control over the swirling paint. However it is this random configuration that gives me new ideas. As I watch the paint unfold, it begins to tell me its stories, revealing unknown psychic aspects. To let the paint to speak to you, to enter into a conversation, to respect the paint's power.

MICHAEL: How do you know for sure that a painting is done?

BROOKE: Now since you asked this question, this is going to sound very strange. I have a voice in my head that tells me what to do. When I get into my painting head space my painting animal takes over. Before opening the cage, I must make sure that there is enough paint in all colors and enough clean water. My painting animal gets angry if I stop the process to change the water.  My painting animal says red, no, blue, too dark, more water, pour it on, go, go, you can do it, etc. I can influence the process by tipping the canvas at various degrees. Suddenly, just when I am having the most fun, a voice yells, “STOP!!!”  “STOP, STOP, STOP!”

It is really hard to stop and to resist the momentum. But I have learned to hit the brakes. Tomorrow morning the cold morning light will tell me if I went too far, or not far enough. The beautiful thing about painting is the possibility of revision. 

MICHAEL: Nice. I love that. Do you have a color philosophy or is that also the job of the painting animal?

BROOKE: No, I learned everything from Cezanne; his “little sensation.” How to define space with color elements - the logical placement of color elements delicately woven into the warped relief of the picture space. An abstract color configuration that creates a parallel reality. Cezanne is the great Father of Painting. He was like Einstein to Physics. I can only fall on my knees before him.

MICHAEL: “The logical placement of the color elements delicately woven into the warped relief of the picture space. An abstract color configuration that creates a parallel reality.”

What does that mean exactly?

BROOKE: Cezanne's color space is a relief space. The colors each occupy a certain level in this space, like a topographical map. The real space of the object or landscape is condensed into this relief space. The spatial relation of the objects is relative, depending on what is in front and what is in back. The color is able to reproduce these spatial relationships by stepping back or bulging out of the picture space.

Each color has its spatial position in relation to the colors next to it.  The picture is a construction parallel to reality where the color elements represent spatial situations.

MICHAEL: When most people look at your work, they're not likely to see it the same way that you do.  Is that a problem?

BROOKE: I am always surprised when people see things in my paintings that I never intended. It proves to me that you never really know how someone will see a painting. Everyone will see it differently. I love a painting that is open to interpretation, where the image evokes memories that are different for each person. The material quality of the paint and the emotional value of the color both help people see something intuitive that transcends intention.

By intuitive, I mean something that may only exist for them, like a feeling or a dream. The painting can mean many things, not only what the artist intended.

MICHAEL: What would you say is the rhythm of your work?  Is it fast or slow?  Do you listen to music while you work?  If so, what do you listen to? Is your process smooth or bumpy?

BROOKE: It is fast and furious. Sometimes I can't keep up with it myself and the painting descends into chaos. Luckily, the acrylic paint dries fast so I can take another shot at it the next day.

Music is incredibly important to me to the point where I can't paint without it. I always listen to 50's jazz and Be-Bop: Art Blakey, Max Roach, Modern Jazz Quartet, Ron Carter, to name a few of my favorites. I usually listen to the radio, KMHD, KPLU, WBGO or WRTI. They have some truly great jazz.

So is my process smooth or bumpy? I am driving a fast car and sometimes I crash into a tree, but no one gets hurt. That's why I love painting.

MICHAEL: Yes, Baby, Yes!  Love that answer!  Brooke, this has been a fantastic chat.  Best wishes to you!

Check out Brooke McGowen at   

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