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Exploring the World with

Brooke Harker

 

by Dale Youngman

 

“What matters most to me about being an artist is telling the truth. I’ve attempted to be someone other than myself on many occasions, and it has been a lot of work. It’s much more difficult to suppress oneself than it is to tell the truth. When the truth is told, it’s quite simple - truthful energy shines through the work in any format, and that energy reaches others. It really doesn’t matter whether I’m an artist making paintings, performing, writing, or any other format, as all art really does the same thing: it brings an energy to others. I believe that if we can each do our part to raise our own spirits, that energy impacts those we encounter, and ripples into the interactions they have.“


Photo by Gilbert Molinet

Los Angeles-based artist Brooke Harker is an artist, actress, instigator, and a frequent flyer. She is best known for her paintings of places, thick with textured paint, usually brilliantly colored, and always captivating. They harness a moment in time, immediately transporting you to the site of her subject matter, from her beloved Italian landscapes to the tranquil beaches of Laguna, Santa Monica, or Hawaii, or the bustle of a busy metropolis like New York, Tokyo, or the nearby streets of LA.
 
“I always was an artist. I was just born that way.”
 
Harker was born into a family of artists in Iowa Falls, Iowa, to a mother who was involved in a variety of creative endeavors in the visual and performing arts, and a photographer father. Her supportive mom took her daughter to the community theater when she was seven, provided art supplies, personal lessons, even access to her own art classes at the local university, consistently providing the budding artist with the encouragement she needed to thrive and grow. Dad fueled the young creative by giving Harker her first camera at age nine and every camera since. He kept her well-stocked with film before there were digital cameras, and he still loves to send her photo paper. Both parents taught her about composition, lessons she took to heart, as her signature style of painting today references photographs she has taken around the world.   

“My earliest memories of drawing and coloring are at around age three, although my mom says I started at age two. My aunt and grandma also let me paint the sidewalk with water and a house painting brush around that time. I first attempted to sell my art at age five. My best friend and I set up a stand of rocks we had painted purple at the end of her long driveway in the country. As there wasn’t any foot traffic, we eventually moved next to the highway. The price slash of ten cents a rock to five cents still didn’t grab the attention of cars that sped down the country road. I vowed then not to sell my art, as clearly it wasn’t appreciated. A real offer to buy my art came when I was ten, from a collector of children’s art who attended my elementary school’s exhibit. I don’t remember if I took his offer for fifty dollars or if I stuck to the ‘my art is not for sale’ mentality. I know for sure I began selling art for real at eighteen.”

After growing up in Ames, Iowa, Brooke travelled quite a bit during college, visiting Okinawa, Tokyo, Vicenza, Italy, Poland, and Beijing, then settling in Wiesbaden, Germany for two years prior to moving to Los Angeles. Returning from work as a civilian for the military in Germany in 2003, she hosted her first solo exhibit of original paintings at ACTORS community theater in Ames, IA. Successful with sales despite being afraid to talk to people and hearing their comments about her work, she eventually learned a valuable lesson – that she is not her art. That grounding concept, along with a steady painting practice, has brought her a great deal of calm, joy, and success as a professional artist. Of course, not everyone sees the purpose of being an artist in the same way…
 
“In my senior year of high school, a representative of the Chicago Art Institute visited our school and reviewed my portfolio. He told me that my art was too happy, and asked me what each of the pieces were about, seemingly to point out that there wasn’t enough substance behind my work. It happened to be the year after my grandmother passed, and most of the art was about her death. The pieces were colorful and happy, because they expressed the memories that I cherished and the love I felt for her. After that encounter, I felt certain that I didn’t want anyone telling me how to make art. I didn’t believe that art needed to reflect darkness or heavy emotions; it could be made to uplift myself and hopefully others. The model of prizing artists who create from a place of suffering to me is an outdated model that excludes a spectrum of experiences. If we want this world to be a better place, why wouldn’t we also create art that magnifies what we want to see in the world?”

To that end, and staying true to herself, the mood of Brooke’s work is always uplifting, cheerful, and portraying an optimism in its vibrancy and focus. Using a palette knife to create texture, her signature black outlines and bold stokes of color have coalesced to create a signature style that is unmistakably her own. It is in her paintings of Italy however where her technique shines brightest, as her heart and soul have strong ties to the location, and to one man in particular who helped shape her artistic success.

It all began at the Oceanside Museum in California, at the opening of “California Dreaming: An International Portrait of Southern California.” The exhibit was juried by art critic Peter Frank and museum directors Daniel Foster and Drew Oberjuerg. It was a traveling exhibit, also shown at the Riverside Museum following an overseas exhibition at the Palazzo della Provincia di Frosinone in Italy. That international exhibit was hosted by Alfio Borghese, renowned curator, patron of the arts, and a member of the noble Borghese family of Rome, who was present at the Oceanside opening. It was a fortuitous meeting when Borghese discovered that he had featured a piece of Brooke’s art in the Italian press for his exhibit. This led to an invitation for a solo show in Italy. Upon hearing of Harkers’ inability to cover shipping costs for a whole exhibit, Borghese suggested an artist residency at his farm near Paliano, Italy, where he would host her to create the paintings. Thus began a friendship and mentorship that was to deeply impact the artists’ life forever. Now several projects and many years later, they consider each other family.

“The exhibit that sent me most out of my comfort zone began in Italy in 2015, when I went to paint on the farm of Alfio Borghese. I created a solo exhibit of twenty paintings during that five-month residency. The exhibit mainly featured various perspectives of Los Angeles, and toured several galleries and venues around Italy until 2019. Because of that friendship and the opportunities he brought me I have traveled all over Italy. I found places that charged my soul, such as the 9,000-year-old town of Matera, Italy. The energy experienced in such places goes into all my paintings."
 
Borghese’s influence as a curator and advocate for artists also propelled Brooke to regularly meet artists and visit their studios as she often did in her time with him. She credits his influence with inspiring her to start the online art events known as “Saturday Night Live Art Shows” that she has co-hosted with three other artists for over two years. The events, which are taped for online viewing, connect with artists around the world, and encourages them to share their voices in addition to their art. Viewable via social media video posts, it has developed a following, as art enthusiasts worldwide tune in for short videos by artists discussing their work, process, technique, and inspiration. It provides a glimpse behind the curtain, into the life of working artists that is rarely seen or heard, giving emerging artists a voice and a world-wide audience for their art.
 
“The idea came to me one day, and I launched it that night in a video call to artists on March 27, 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic. I got dressed up in a black formal gown in my kitchen and suggested artists around the world to join me the next night to share their art from home or studio. The idea was to brighten social media feeds and remind people that there is a power in connecting to and helping each other. Although I tagged over two hundred artists that first night, only a handful joined, but a core of us including Sheryl Benjy, Nichole McDaniel and Joan Marie decided to repeat and host the project together each week until the pandemic was over. We figured it would last for only a few weeks, but this past March we celebrated our two-year anniversary, with participation from over fourteen countries and artists from all over the world. The platform has helped artists in many ways, including building confidence with speaking, connecting with others, boosting sales, and creating friendships. As artists often work solo, it has been delightful to see how this network of people who all care about making the world a better place through art have been able to develop themselves with the support of others.”  
 
The love of Italy continues for Harker, as she has plans to visit again and paint for three months this summer. But for those in the Los Angeles area, a current solo exhibit, “Buona Fortuna: Paintings by Brooke Harker” has just opened at the Michael Hayden Gallery in Los Angeles, at 4413 West Jefferson Blvd through May 28, 2022.

Although she has created and sold many paintings of Italy since that initial visit in 2015, this is the first exhibit, and the largest, of Italy paintings. Primarily this exhibit features her works from Cinque Terre, where she first visited in the summer of 2000 while working with children in Vicenza, Italy for the U.S. Army. During that summer, she hiked with friends between small Italian towns, taking photos and sketching live.

One of her earliest oil paintings, which she sold to her elementary school art teacher in 2003, was of Manarola, Italy, which is the same town featured in her largest painting in the exhibit. A print of that original piece in this exhibit shows the progression of her work over twenty years.

“It has been seven years since taking the photos that inspired this collection, however over two decades since the first moments of inspiration there. So, this exhibit is a milestone to me after so many years of taking steps to and from the easel, to land where I am now.“


Few of us will have the opportunity to visit the many locations that Harker has memorialized in her work. This exhibit promises to be the next best thing to a trip to Italy, providing views of countryside most will never see.

If you can’t make the exhibit, the next best thing is viewing Harker’s work online: Click Here!

_________________________________

Author Dale Youngman is an independent art curator, fine art dealer, marketing consultant and art writer, working to facilitate the flow of art in Southern California. She currently consults with artists, galleries, interior designers, non-profits, and a new art platform to advance business for everyone in the art world. She has twice been honored by the LA Mayor’s Office with “Certificates of Recognition“ for her many years of art advocacy. Find Dale at her website.

 

 

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