In the following interview, Brooke McGowen shares her carefully considered ideas about herself as an artist and the purpose that her art serves in society today. She also brings a unique spirit of affirmation to this conversation about the contemporary artist. Please join us in our discussion with an individual who leads with her heart.
Art Copy: Welcome Brooke McGowen. It’s great to talk to you again. Would you like to introduce yourself further? Why do you do what you do?
Brooke McGowen: I paint to survive. It is necessary. Working with the material paint is existential. The irresistible possibility of beauty, the pure sensual joy of color. I am a painting addict. Art comes from a place of passion. The artist shares their deepest feelings. Maybe that is the meaning of art, a message from the heart.
It is not about money. Maybe that’s why we look to art to be a revolutionary voice in these times when people are being silenced. I feel so bad about what capitalism is doing to the planet. Art is especially relevant now where our values have been sold out to commercial interests. It can point the way towards human values.
Art Copy: It must be gratifying to have discovered an avenue for interacting in a meaningful way with the world around you while simultaneously nourishing your heart’s desire.
I was wondering if you identify with any particular art styles?
Brooke McGowen: Street art because it is an attempt to break down the barriers of the art world (art market) and carry the artist’s message directly to the people. If you see street art, you know that artist risked his freedom to bring you his message. Far from expecting remuneration, he can reckon with a jail sentence if caught. This message is so pressing that the artist is willing to forgo sleep and foil police to deliver it.
Art Copy: That level of commitment is commendable. Some art lovers appreciate the art-object solely for its enjoyment value, I sense. While there isn’t anything wrong with art appreciation, I’m discouraged when art is assessed solely for its entertainment value. But, I digress.
Do you employ specific themes and symbolism in your art?
Brooke McGowen: Sexuality is an important theme for me, as an artist and also in my life. Sexuality is also a political theme since the repression of sexuality is an instrument of power. This is seen in the Republican attempt to control women’s bodies, a type of modern witch hunt. Sexuality has always been a theme of art, often cloaked in religious or mythological images. Think of Danae and the golden rain, or Venus in myriad representations or Suzanne Bathing,
Much art in the past has been devoted to the beauty of the female figure. Figurative themes have the power to suggest a situation that the viewer can identify with. The figure is the symbol for the individual, in the picture which is the world.
Art Copy: Your response reminds me of Eunice Lipton’s research on Manet’s Olympia, and his portrayal of a real woman owning and returning her gaze to the artist and the viewer almost in challenge. I find it disheartening that 150 years after contemporary culture demeaned the painting and the seeming impropriety of an independent woman, that there still is so much gender disparity in our world today. It’s more than a disgrace that women continue to be objectified and dehumanized in ways that are hard to see and measure.
Where do you find ideas for your work?
Brooke McGowen: Living in the present is a source of inspiration that feeds you with ideas both literally and subconsciously. If you were a mathematician, this feed would come in the form of numbers. If you are a visual artist, it comes in images. These images are composites of everything we experience.
My themes are universal, personal and political. I make no difference between personal and political since society is a reflection of the people who live in it. The artist is the third reflection, reflecting inherent values of an ideal society. The artist holds the mirror to society, comparing the real to the ideal. Society could be ideal if it was based on sustainable community and protecting the planet, instead of corporate greed. One horrible example is the mountain of garbage created in New York City every day. This is totally unnecessary. France just banned plastic tableware.
Art Copy: What does being creative mean to you?
Brooke McGowen: Opening the floodgate to the subconscious where like in a dream state random images appear and you paint them without knowing what it means. The next day you see it in the cold morning light and realize what it is. But that is also only a subjective interpretation. Everyone will see the painting in their own light.
Art Copy: Would you please tell our audience a little bit about your process?
Brooke McGowen: I squirt the liquid paint directly out of the bottle onto the canvas. This causes the paint to swirl in uncontrollable motion. I try to coax the flowing paint by gently tilting the canvas. The figure so suggested will define itself through the random interaction of the various colors.
Often I will see strange images appear and disappear as the paint meanders towards its resting point. It is impossible to stop the flowing motion of the paint and capture the desired state. I am always surprised at the outcome. If the semblance was destroyed, I will continue it the next day with fresh courage.
Art Copy: How has your practice changed?
Brooke McGowen: I used to paint with a paintbrush, but there is only so much you can do with a paintbrush. All these brushstrokes have been seen before. If you want to use a brush, you must top Van Gogh. That will be difficult. Or DeKooning, what a genius. To take painting to the next level we will need to discard old methods and concepts. There are many things that must go out the window, the outline, object color, perspective, to name a few.
The paintbrush is only one of the things that must go. Everything that impedes the rhythm and flows of color elements in an abstract composition is going to get in our way. Since we are applying the criteria of abstraction to figurative scenes, the figure is subjected to the rhythmic flow of color elements.
Each element defines the figure while simultaneously creating an abstract flow of color. Each color element is a rhythmical element in a color movement but also a space element and defines a level of space that corresponds to the relative space requirements of the figurative situation. This is Cezanne’s color relief space unleashed.
Art Copy: What was your most memorable response to a work of art?
Brooke McGowen: I cried in front of a Cezanne because his color patches were so lovingly placed with such delicate intensity. Did you ever read Proust’s description of a famous composer dying in front of a painting by a great painter because of the way the little yellow corner of a wall was painted? Well, he may have intended this passage to be ironic but I could certainly identify.
Art Copy: I don’t remember reading it. I’m sure that I’m sure that I would have remembered that.
I was also wondering what you wish to communicate with your art?
Brooke McGowen: I want to communicate a feeling of freedom, freedom that creates form. The form is determined by the inherent qualities of the material that are revealed when you respect the laws of nature. This is not the destructive ‘freedom’ of capitalism, where corporations are free to pollute and destroy nature. This has nothing to do with freedom but only short-sighted greed and stupidity. I mean the freedom and beauty of nature when it has the right conditions to create and sustain life. That is our next step as humans, to respect and revere nature for its creativity to which we owe our existence on this planet.
Art Copy: Since I’ve been examining the contemporary artist, I find that some artists are overtly political while others follow in a tradition that actively avoids references to politics. It’s almost as if these artists don’t want to drag their art through the stench of politics.
Others like yourself seem to embrace the idea of the artist as an active agent within the world community. Mati Russo, another artist who I’ve been lucky enough to work with, discovered after 9/11 that she was compelled to make art that spoke to the reality of the world around her rather than appealing to the senses alone. In each instance, there is a real commitment to making the world whole in your art.
Do you feel that your art reflects your personality?
Brooke McGowen: No, not really. I try to forget myself when I paint and let the paint unfold its natural properties. My personality is more OCD, a control freak. Maybe this is the best form of therapy. I need to let go. If lucky, the paint can escape me.
Art Copy: What do you feel are some of the most momentous things happening within the art world at present?
Brooke McGowen: Seeing this clown circus of an election reminds me not to take anything too seriously. I hope everyone in this country and around the world is seeing what a farce this bought-out democracy has become. It is government by the rich and for the rich at this point and the people have been deprived of their voice by corporate lobbying and unlimited campaign donations. This election is a mockery of sanity.
Art Copy: Do you have any grievances with the art world and how it operates?
Brooke McGowen: The art market is a caricature of capitalism. Value is created out of nothing like on Wall Street. It is all about speculation, creating bubbles of hyped up value. It has nothing to do with the real value of art. The real value of art is to touch people’s hearts, not how shiny or expensive it is.
Thank you, Brooke!