Jacob Patrick Brooks

Wants To Change The Way You Think of the Midwest

Text by Jasmine Ledesma

Above: Break Room Hell, 2019, Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 in.

Jacob Patrick Brooks makes art for the loser.  

His paintings are blurry, grotesque, sweeping portraits of normalcy. He paints the intimacy that comes with the morning after. You can almost smell the lingering stink, can feel the fat lull of the late afternoon. An assortment of gooey eggs and strips of bacon smile vexingly from plates. The yolks bulge. Empty bottles litter the floor. Burnt bodies heave. Freakishly long arms stretch into the air holding unnamed drinks, a hurrah to the dark. Another night of gracelessness. Another mistake. Cigarettes hoard together like an ant pile. A dog sleeps, slung across his owner’s back like a bag of rice. The sun does not blink.  

This is Middle America. This is today. 

Year of The Scavenger, 2019, Oil on canvas, 64 x 77 in.

Brooks is twenty six. The full weight of an undergraduate and graduate degree hang from his belt. He grew up in Gardner, Kansas, a place that when googled, results in sterile photographs of a large, baby blue water tower, green lawns with erected American flags stuck in them, and an aerial shot of a water park. Brooks says Gardner is, “pretty much the last stop before you hit rural Kansas.”  

His work maintains a tight focus on the Midwest, and the influence of Gardner on his work is very much apparent. He breathes life into scenes he is familiar with, such as sunbathing in a kiddie pool, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. By doing this, Brooks is attempting to skewer the viewer’s preconceived notions of the Midwest. Most people outside of the Midwest carry the notion that people from the Midwest are incoherent hicks without promise. Brooks believes this to be an extremely offensive and dismissive outlook, especially when taken into consideration that the Midwest, as he explains, “doesn’t necessarily have the resources (time, money) to invest in the way the coasts do.” His work also attempts to capture, and honor, the “level of creativity and resilience needed to survive as a poor person.”

Shame, 2019, Oil on canvas, 24 x 48 in.

There is a layer of profound isolation and alienation in Brooks’ work. It is one typically found and bred within the suburbs. The shrubbery, ice cream, and fences all seem to intimidate. Brooks notes that what irked him about living in suburban Kansas was the knowledge that “it was a created, synthetic reality that everybody just agreed to.” His work details that artificial, plastic reality perfectly. 

Brooks mostly finds inspiration from his family (namely Mason, Corbin, Logan and Griffin). Brooks is the oldest of thirteen children, though has found a massive swell of support from his family, sometimes to the point of embarrassment.  He says, “They are literally the funniest people I’ve ever met and can just absolutely shred the shit out of anything that’s trying to hide it’s actual nature.” 

He is also inspired by, among graffiti writers and skateboarding graphics, the work of painters such as Philip Guston and Peter Saul, with whom Brooks shares a tendency toward thin lines and explosive use of color, as well as a showcase of existential dread.

I don’t get it either, 2020, Oil on canvas, 23 x 23 in.

Brooks describes his earlier work years as “really sad.” His work began to exponentially develop in 2016, after his cousin died in a car accident at eighteen. While those around him obsessively tried to call everything that happened afterward what he describes as a “personal sign from God,” Brooks found himself rejecting that notion. He wanted to make a body of work that would satirize that naïve way of thinking, and from then on worked at building upon and furthering the idea of discussing what we usually neglect the realistic horrors of poverty, disgust, obsession, clutter and illness not only in regards to suburbia, but America as a whole.  

When working on a piece, Brooks tries to keep as little space as possible between himself and the image at hand. He noted, “I think I’m a better painter if someone else is telling a story. I can sort of empathize with what’s happening in the book and take it into the work.”  

What inevitably determines the success of a painting is the actual “performance” of painting, stemming from the story at hand. He carefully walks the line between both relaying a sense of professional confidence and delivering a painting that initially gives a relatively amateuristic impression. It is hard work. While painting, Brooks will often listen to stressful podcasts, and a wide range of music that swings from deathcore to a newfound appreciation for country.

Studio view

Upon grazing through his work, I was nudged by the idea of trying to find God within them. It has been my experience that when people find themselves in open spaces that will not fill themselves, be that a field humming with cicadas or an awful, droning highway, they typically tend to look for ways to feel full. This can be found in any number of things: alcohol, an excessive indulgence in fast food, or God.  

There is no explicit God found within the desolate, somber world Brooks has curated. While Brooks himself has rotated through a Catholic childhood and a later dive into Evangelical Christianity, he does not attempt to impose any concrete religion onto the viewer. Rather, there is a deep “yearning for God,” he describes, that his subjects are reaching out towards. “They know it’s absurd, but there gets to be a point where you need so much help you just have to let your guard down and ask for help.” 

His subjects are looking at us. They want to be saved. 

Jacob Patrick Brooks is an artist currently based in Brooklyn, NY, originally from Kansas. More on Instagram: @tallboination

Jasmine Ledesma is a writer based in New York, originally from Texas. Currently, she writes for  No Basic Girls Allowed.

The Perils of Intimacy, 2019, Oil on canvas, 30 x 44 in.

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