Steve Brooks (born 1962)

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The most recent Fan Favorite painting showcased in HMA’s Whitener Gallery is Steve Brooks’ 2019 After the Storm. The oil on canvas work had been commissioned by long-time HMA supporter Joann Wilfong in memory of her husband Harry, and its purchase by HMA was funded by the Harry Wilfong Memorial Fund. (More about the celebration of this painting here.)

On displaying the painting for the Acquisitions and Collection Management Committee, Steve explained that the setting is near Trout Lake in the Blowing Rock area, and commented that “there’s a whole lot more earth” in this painting than he typically includes. He reminisced that his own father had hunted with Harry, and that Harry was also a fisherman who “loved nature in general.” The painting is meant to evoke the feeling of those passions of Harry’s.

In an interview before an exhibit of his works in Yadkinville in 2013, Brooks observed with a laugh that “I’ve become well-known around the Hickory area as the guy who paints the trees.” His interest in nature grew out of the time he spent hiking and camping in his youth, activities he still enjoys. 

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Brooks’ paintings tend to take shape in layers. He paints, then sands, then paints and sands, and paints and sands. Some of what you see comes from the early layers, some is from the more freshly applied paint. The technique, which is not unheard of but not terribly common, allows him to create texture and bring out the colors he’s after.

“It’s time consuming,” said Brooks, who also works as a furniture designer. “But I’m trying to create a mood and an emotion. ... I know the painting’s right when I get a certain feeling out of it,” he said.  (Susan Gilmor/Winston-Salem Journal, March 3, 2013)

Brooks’ tree paintings give rise to a range of feelings in viewers, including poetry. Bud Caywood read his Morning Arrives at an Oblique Angle at tHMA’s June 21, 2014 Art of Poetry event. His inspiration for the poem was Brooks' Ianus (below) that at the time was on display at HMA as part of a New Acquisitions exhibit.

Ianus , 2013.  Oil on canvas. Gift of the artist.

Ianus, 2013. Oil on canvas. Gift of the artist.

Angled light fuses through slight openings,
stuck like pollen on my pupils.
My breath, heavy from walking
the bright kaleidoscope corridor
folds in on itself in the chilled hours of morning air –
my body shudders, exiled in color,
unable to call forth its own warmth,
my cheekbones glow, all is silent.
The day begins like a steep ledge.
It will be long before I climb over,
before orange light will wash down over me,
and show my face again.

In a September 2013 e-mail to HMA, Brooks said about this painting that "it was named after completion, not before. After finishing the painting I was struck by two [things]: the first was all the swirls of orange that looked explosive and maybe even a little violent; the second was the twin nature of the two trees. They were not quite mirror images, but similar. This reminded me of the Janus image of the back to back mirrored faces. I was familiar with this image but did not know what it was. When I looked it up, I was surprised to find that the Janus (Latin: Ianus) was the Roman god of Beginnings and Transition, especially pertaining to war and peace. The two faced figure is also associated with gateways and doors. I thought this was appropriate name for the painting with its edgy, dynamic qualities. The model for this painting is at the edge of an orchard on the Boone Fork Trail.”

The original is a watercolor

The original is a watercolor

In addition to trees, Brooks paints female nudes, cofffee cups, and, when asked, a watercolor of a classic VW bug for the poster promoting HMA's 3rd Annual Autolawn Party in September 2015. He has also contributed works for HMA's fund raisers including for With a Little Help From Our Friends, for the Guild’s auctions, and most recently the 75th Gala celebration. (The last two works are pictured center and right above.)

Brooks describes his painting process this way, "Typically, I use oil paint on wood.  I primarily paint with a palette knife and then work some areas of paint with a brush.  Oil paint provides a limitless range of color that other mediums do not.  I use a wood substrate because of its rigidity.   The process that I have developed over the years has a lot to do with the materials I chose to use.  I like oil paint because of its body and long drying time.  It allows me to work on a painting, to leave and evaluate it over several days, and to return to it for more work." (Artist's Statement)

Born in Augusta, GA and living in Hickory since he was seven years old, Brooks learned wood block printing from his father and lessons in design from his mother. He holds an M.F.A. in painting from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a degree in furniture design from Kendall College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has taught art and art history at a number of North Carolina schools, worked in museums including the Cone Museum in Greensboro, designed furniture for Henredon and Zagaroli & Co., and exhibited his paintings widely. He is also heavily involved with the Hickory art scene, including as a long-time member of HMA’s Acquisitions and Collection Management Committee. He still lives in Hickory with his family.

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This post is # 31 of the 75 stories to celebrate HMA's 75 years.

Post by Karin Borei, HMA Project Coordinator, writer and editor as needed, and HMA blogger since our blog's inception in March 2015