His women are lovely creatures who tower over the world around them. They are elegant, haughty, and serenely detached from reality. This is how Troy Brooks paints them, yet there is so much more to discover behind their facades…
Hi Troy, shall we start with a greeting to our readers?
My name is Troy Brooks and I’m from Toronto, Canada. I’m a traditional painter, oil. I’ve been doing exhibitions full-time for seven years now. I’d define my work as Surrealism.
When did you begin painting?
When I was younger I avoided a career in art because it seemed like a lonely path. But my mother was a painter and I’ve been making art since I was two years old, so it’s always been a central part of my life. I showed a technical skill early on and I started receiving commissions for portraits while I was in school, and that allowed me to earn some money, but I hated doing it. So when my parents wanted to send me to art school I told them I didn’t want to do art for a living. I am fortunate that in spite of not having any formal training, I have managed to find my own unique footing in this industry.
Do you think that the best definition for your paintings is pop surrealism?
I used to think that the women I painted didn’t fit into the fine art category until I saw the work of artists like Ray Caesar and Lori Earley. After discovering them I realized there was a movement going on that I was a part of.
I’d like to talk about your subjects, the women with elongated faces that you portray. These very elegant women seem to be detached from and unconcerned about reality. They recall Hollywood divas…
Women have always been my main subject since I was two years old. I’ve just always made the faces too long. It was something I was always fixing in my work. My proportion was always off. Around 2009 I decided to stop fixing the long faces and just accentuate it. I was obsessed with old movies when I was growing up. This is how I learned to paint: looking at the incredible photographs from the Studio Era and sketching thousands of pictures of women like Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
Now I can’t draw or paint anything without it looking a little like those old film stills.
Do you believe that your women express any specific sentiments?
Yes, they tell my story. They end up narrating whatever I happen to be going through at the time. Over the years I’ve developed a visual language. For example, the butterflies and bees I add have an emotional meaning. I tend to paint animals around my women as an emotional shorthand. Like bees when I am angry, or frustrated. Butterflies when I’m feeling trapped, and so on. I don’t know why, it just seems more visually correct to me. It’s all quite instinctive.
Interesting… I thought they were aesthetic touches of color!
Everything means something. Whatever I paint has to feel emotionally correct and visually satisfying. So everything is generated by an emotion. I might not even understand it in the moment I’m creating; all I know at the time I’m painting is that it triggers something in me. Usually it’s not until later that I realize what the motivations were.
Parallels with classical art: do I see a bit of Otto Dix in your work?
I love his work. I also really love Kees van Dongen. Lisa Yuskavage is one of my favourite painters. She’s based in New York. I love Tamara de Lempicka as well. Lots of people compare my work to Modigliani, but I think that’s just because of the long faces. I love his work but I wouldn’t say he was a direct influence. I didn’t set out to elongate my figures intentionally. In terms of influence I would say Klimt and Schiele were the most influential.
If someone asked me which painter I’d like to be, my answer would be Renoir.
Because of the way he captures light and skin tones. When you see the work of those painters in real life after only seeing pictures in books it literally takes your breath away. You just can’t capture the luminous quality of oil paint by photograph.
Your women also remind me of Helmut Newton’s women, the way they appear to be indifferent to the world around them, too noble for the day-to-day world. They seem to exist in a suspended dimension.
I absolutely adore Helmut Newton. I’ve definitely been influenced by his work. I’m very drawn to female archetypes that combine a sexual ambiguity with a threatening allure. Like Grace Jones and Joan Crawford. Those women are overtly sexual but they can’t be objectified. That appeals to me.
This interview by M. Baleni was originally published on Tattoo Life magazine.