Kimberly Brooks: I Notice People Disappear
solo exhibition, Arthouse 429
429 25th St., West Palm Beach, FL
Feb 6 – March 6, 2014
by Daniel Maidman
A fruit does not taste its best when you pick it. Consider a strawberry, or a pear. After picking, decomposition increases its sweetness and flavor for some unspecified interval. If you can sense the peak of that interval, and eat it then, it will taste as delicious as anything nature has produced. Only later does the rot become sour and repellant.
Memory is a continuum between experience and forgetting, and it operates in a way similar to the decay of the fruit. Experience itself is not as sweet and flavorful as the event experienced will become. These qualities go on ripening for some interval in the mind, until recollection unburies the experience, and displays it again before the eye and ear and heart. These exhumed memories, at the peak of their ripening, are now unbearably full: full of color, of light, of emotion and significance. And again like the strawberry or pear, only later do memories blacken and rot away.
I recognized Kimberly Brooks’s new body of work, “I Notice People Disappear,” when I saw it, although of course I had never seen it before.
Kimberly Brooks, Blue Drawing Room, 32″x40″, oil on linen, 2014
She paints luxurious rooms, full of light, details vague, colors vivid but people translucent, indistinct, or missing. I recognized her work because it situates itself in that luminous region between experience and forgetting, when memory has ripened the raw material of experience into a nearly unbearable sweetness, a sweetness both celebratory and melancholy; celebratory of the experience that was lived, and melancholy because that living can really only be appreciated after it has already passed away.
I recognized too, from the subject of memory, and the foregrounded mechanisms of forgetting, and the stuffy trappings of wealth, that Brooks was self-consciously exploring the territory mapped by Proust, the prince of memory, who prowled the borders between the upper middle class and the minor aristocracy in pre-war France.
Consider Brooks’s Pink Salon:
Kimberly Brooks, Pink Salon, 36″x48″, oil on linen, 2013
Constructed at an overwhelming scale, the space is anchored by a large heavy painting in a large heavy frame. Across the room, a woman sits on a couch, looking at the daylight streaming in the partially draped windows.
The daylight is thick and liquid, the woman indistinct and distant. We are separated from her by an expanse of patterned carpet and a glowing volume of air. From our own presence in this room, we can deduce that we must know her. At one time, we could have told you her name, have traced out every line of her face; indeed, every line of the immense painting hanging behind her. But memory, which has heightened the glow and glimmer of the room, enriched its darks, expanded its dimensions, has also effaced some things. We cannot remember the painting anymore, or the person, or the pattern on the carpet. The carpet is not only large, it is existentially uncrossable. Everything that lends beauty to this scene has its poignant reverse, which is that the scene is utterly, irretrievably lost.
Brooks’s idol Proust recognized that time is the enemy of humanity. His insight was that the chief wound of time, erasure, occurs not when experience ends, but when memory fails. Realizing this, he began transcribing a memory of a life, suspending some of its scenes before they slipped away. He did not grasp after experience, but after memory; his triumph over time is a triumph not over the vanishing of matter, but over the forgetfulness of the soul.
This is the metaphysical force of art. Art is the ally of humanity, and of life. It drags what we are back from the abyss of the irrecoverable past, and frees us of our slavery to disappearance. Brooks participates in this aspect of art, finding consolation for the grievous transience of life in the greatness of heart that comprehends everything that has passed before the eye. This comprehension is a kind of embrace, a testimony and act of love; it lasts as long as wakefulness and paint persist.