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Scott Brooks has a dark sense of humor. The people in many of his paintings look like political caricatures. Some of them are combined with animals, like something out of a surreal comic. Some of the men are bearded and super-muscular, like someone off of Scruff. But even though his works look playfully imaginative, they all combine historical and religious imagery with complex social, psychological and political issues.

Scott has created artwork for The U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Navy, The Washington Post, Metro Weekly, as well as children’s publications. His exhibition “Self Contained: Pandemic Era Work” runs from April 16th thru July 9th at Gallery Blue Door in Baltimore. His work can also be seen at the Woodman Shimko Gallery in Provincetown.

We got to know the talented bear in a Q & A with Queerty.

 

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Can you tell us a little about how you got started in art and the role it plays in your life?

I started drawing with my dad when I was very young. It’s hard to say why it stuck with me, but my talent was noticed as early as kindergarten. Growing up we had a big, chaotic household, so it was — and probably still is — how I learned to stay out of the way and entertain myself.

I find the creative process fascinating, and I continue to learn more about painting (and myself) through my art. This was a valuable skill to have during the lockdown. My art kept me [mostly] sane — when everything shut down, I had less distractions and began painting on a larger scale, and subsequently completed more work. My work is very detail-oriented, so time is critical. Technically, that was true even before the pandemic. Creating art is what I do — It’s like waking up and breathing.

 

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Your work seems both playful and whimsical and yet incorporates serious social themes (like religion and class) that resonate throughout art history unto the current day. What sorts of influences help shape your work?

I grew up on comic books, Mad Magazine, Looney Tunes and TV sitcoms. Star Wars came out when I was 16. Combine all those elements with an ex-Catholic gay guy who likes to draw, and you end up with me. I always wanted my art to be more than just decorative. Good art often reflects the culture that we live in.

Technology is most certainly an influence of mine. Computers, CGI, digital photography — these all came into existence during my lifetime. There was a big shift in art after reading glasses were invented because suddenly artists over the age of 40 could get close up and see what they were doing. It was a breakthrough. We’re going through something similar today.

One of my early jobs was creating 3-D art for games and computer-based trainings. Technology allows a mind-blowing level of detail. I think it would be remiss of me as a contemporary artist if I wasn’t utilizing technology. Something as simple as Google Images is a game-changer, yet we take it for granted after what, 20 years?  Can you imagine what an artist 200 years ago would do with unlimited reference material?! Despite the technology, the basics are also part of my practice, drawing from life remains the backbone of my work.

The AIDS crisis certainly influenced my work, and I became more political as a result. It started when I was in my early 20’s, and I saw politicians fighting about how I live my life. Jesse Helms, Mapplethorpe, and the battle against gay rights all helped shape my work. There are parallels between the COVID pandemic and the AIDS crisis: Both pandemics are life-threatening, and both became a political issue. The gay community really recognized the pandemic in a different way. I came out in the very beginning of the AIDS crisis, and I was paralyzed by fear. Those feelings came back with COVID, but since I’d been through this before, I was determined to use this time differently.

There is an art history element to the pandemic as well — lots of art was created during the Black Plague because people create art in times of crisis. The feeling during the pandemic was much more familiar to me, and definitely influenced my work as a result. It re-introduced me to feelings of isolation, otherness, and of course, partisan politics.

 

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Many of your paintings include nudity, including nude women, muscular men and anthropomorphized characters. What roles do sex and sexuality play in your art?

The sexuality in my art lies just under the surface, similar to my own life, I suppose. It’s a big part of my work and my life, but it’s not explicit. In my Bacchanalia painting, there are dozens of nude figures and several animals, and while the people are flirty and sexy, the animals in the painting are really going at it. It’s subtle from a distance, but you can’t miss it when you get up close.

I’m a figurative painter, so life drawing and nude figures are always present, but I learned early on that nudity and sexuality are separate things. It’s something that many people, straight or gay, haven’t figured out. For me, drawing nude models isn’t about sex, it’s about drawing the human form. I keep business and pleasure separate. I do this professionally, and it’s my benefit to have sexy models of all shapes, sizes, and genders, and strive to stay professional. Also, artists hitting on models is so cliche…

 

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What reactions to your art have surprised you the most?

My art can be a bit twisted. Even when I try and tone it down, that part of me always manages to surface. Most of the surprises stem from that. People ask what kind of drugs I use, or they think I’m just crazy, but I’m a midwest, flannel-loving bear, so they have a hard time connecting this bizarre work to me. People are surprised that I illustrate children’s books, and also create work with nudity and sexuality being featured.

I’ve been doing this for a long time so not much surprises me at this point. What does surprise me is when people try to interpret my work. I find it more interesting to hear what other people think of my art, and I am always surprised at their crazy, outlandish stories. I hesitate to tell them what a piece actually is about — I like to see what they bring to the table. Everyone brings their own interpretations.

I am also surprised when people make assumptions about me because of the work that I do.  Like an actor who portrays a serial killer, they’re not an actual serial killer. But if I paint something twisted, they think this is a direct reflection of me and my personality.

 

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