Brooks Anderson is an oil painter whose paintings capture the beauty and grandeur of monolithic shapes. During our interview, Brooks explained that the Bible and painting go hand-in-hand for him. He shared how he thinks of his paintings as “healing” paintings; how light is ever-present in his experience; how he prays successfully about the financial issues many artists face; how teaching painting has opened him up; and more.
How has the Bible influenced your career as a painter?
There’s so much in the Bible about light -- the transfiguration of Jesus (Matt 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36); the first chapter of Genesis; etc. Light is an ever-present constant in my life and work. As I paint, I listen to the Bible on my iPod or laptop, which I put next to my easel. For me it’s all one – painting, and the Word.
What do you mean “it’s all one”?
It’s all one breath, one fabric. In the New Testament, there’s the description of Jesus’ garment being “without seam” (John 19:23); it’s seamless. Both the Bible and painting inspire me. They go hand-in-hand. I like seeing them as one and discovering the great truths as I paint in my studio. I like the sanctuary. I also listen to music as I paint. Whatever inspires is great!
Can you expand on the significance of the first chapter of Genesis for you?
Creation for me is constantly going on, not something that took place “x” amount of years ago. For me, the seven days, which we call days of the week, are really seven aspects or revelations of creation. I live a very creative life; creating is what I do. The first chapter of Genesis, which was written much later than the second chapter, is a much more inspired view of creation, a closer idea of God and creation, which is a constant in my painting.
But the second chapter is also helpful. To me, the allegory of Adam and Eve shows an opposite view of creation and teaches us the importance of knowing right from wrong. I think this context is important so that we don’t let everything become abstract. There are a lot of bad things going on, and we have to roll up sleeves and address them. It’s about discerning between the “tares” and the “wheat” (Matt 13:24-30).
How did you get into painting?
I didn’t really have a choice. Painting is like breathing to me. I wanted to do it all my life. As a kid, I enjoyed pencil and paper and going to Europe and sketching. My parents were artistic and supportive. Right out of college, I wanted to be a spiritual healer, but it led to painting instead. A wonderful friend, who is a spiritual healer, asked me why I couldn’t heal through painting. I realized I didn’t have to give up everything. I could drive a car and still heal. Since I loved painting, why couldn’t I bring out light and a quality of life in my painting? So I paint. I try to bring out a sense that it’s good to be alive. Hopefully the viewer feels the magnificence of life. I can’t think of a more fulfilling thing than painting.
How do you pick your subject matter?
I constantly need to challenge myself not to get stuck in a rut and paint the same thing over and over again. I have to learn something new from each painting. The things that really inspire me are monolithic shapes. Early on, I painted grain elevators, then moved to clouds over a Midwestern field, then the sea stacks and headlands on the California and Oregon coast. Currently, I’m back with clouds. They’re all related.
I just like the vertical presence -- like “the pillar of cloud by day” (Ex 13:21). I guess I take that as a strong presence right in front of you that you have to deal with, like a burning bush, which Moses had to deal with about 3400 years ago (Ex 3:2). How cool would it be to paint that! Moses got tablets and the Ten Commandments. Well, I’m getting a painting, and it’s really cool to be commissioned to paint that. I strive to paint the “burning bush -- that feeling of painting something other-worldly that transcends us, something bigger than us.
Have you painted the burning bush?
The burning bush is metaphoric to me. I once did a painting of a eucalyptus tree in Northern California and titled it “Burning Bush.” When you get the right light and atmospheric condition, it looks like it could be burning. On some of my paintings, the light you see behind a tree could be the sun or could be a huge headlamp, but it gives a quality of light that is healing. There’s a healing light, a warmth, a life behind everything. There’s something so glorious behind what appears.
What makes for a compelling painting?
I like an involved, complex painting when it comes to composition and movement. I want a painting of mine to have structure and framework, light, color, movement, and symphony. When it has all of that, it makes for a compelling piece. It’s not always trendy, though. A lot of artists put up blocks that don’t let the viewer get into a painting. One of the hot trends right now is to paint things that tend to put up emotional confrontations. I like to paint so that I draw the viewer into the sense of infinity, so that there’s a whole spiritual evolution.
Have you had any challenges as an artist?
Oh yeah! The main one is financial. But I see it more as a puzzle than a problem. If I see it as a problem, then it’s going to be a constant ball-and-chain; but if see it as a puzzle, I can work it out. I’ve had to depend upon the “manna” (Ex 16:15) to meet my daily needs and cost of living, just as the children of Israel did when they wandered in the wilderness. I’m not rich; that’s not the lesson I’m here to learn. I’m here to learn about abundance as an artist -- abundance beyond mere money. Artists have to perform at a high level. The ability to be creative at selling your work is just as important as doing your own artistic work, if not more so. So until I find a major patron (like a Medici), I just continue to paint; and that’s a big adventure in itself.
Another challenge is getting your work into good galleries. I showed in New York City for a decade about 25 years ago, and it was great. While I am showing now, there’s a strong hunger to be in bigger galleries. But a lot of galleries are not taking on new work; they’re going under. So there’s a challenge in being accepted. But I’ve found that people come looking for you by word of mouth or being on the web. It sure beats having my work sit in some painting stacks in my studio.
How do you pray about these challenges?
Things come to me -- usually ideas from the Bible. One of them is from Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (55:8-9). Then Isaiah continues by explaining how God’s word stays with us. It’s powerful stuff: “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (55:11).
My work has nothing to do with me; it has everything to do with God’s vision expressed through me. It’s not a matter of producing paintings, especially since not a lot of people are buying right now. It’s about realizing there’s a very powerful force working through me that finds fruition in a painting. Healing paintings are a very needed visual message in today’s society.
Do any instances stand out to you where prayer helped you overcome the financial issues that tend to go with being an artist?
Recently I was having a show of my paintings down in the Los Angeles area. The first day of the show, there were no sales; I really needed to pay some bills. I was talking with someone who was a deep spiritual thinker, and she said something like, “We have a tendency to claim abundance while we’re still standing in lack.” I don’t think that’s what Jesus or Moses or Elijah or Ruth did. Ruth just went up those rows of corn gathering abundance (Ruth 2).
One of the things I’ve been inspired with recently is the tale of Moses with all the thousands of children of Israel fleeing Egypt, standing in front of the Red Sea. They were literally hemmed in by a canyon of two walls, about to be slaughtered, with nowhere else to turn. God was truly in charge. Moses literally had nowhere else to turn but to what was right in front of him; he was led by faith to part the waters. That conviction got him going and saved the people of Israel. And so we have the Bible today. There are many instances where the children of Israel continued.
So down in L.A., I was thinking about having utter conviction. I stopped thinking about being stuck in lack and disappointment and claimed abundance. The second day brought a number of sales. But it took conviction and the change of thought.
Has your thought changed about anything else?
Yes -- teaching oil painting. I started about two years ago. Previously, I didn’t think I was capable of it and didn’t want to be bothered by it; but it’s helped my painting! I’m constantly lovingly critiquing others’ paintings, which makes me critique my own paintings. It’s also loosened me up. I treat myself as a student and ask myself what I would say. So it’s sharpened more of my tools and given me more clarity to see the tares and the wheat.
What have you discovered through teaching?
Teaching has been a wonderful addition to what I do because it really opens me up and broadens me. There’s a wonderful line by Jack Canfield -- “a broken-heart-open.” We need to be opened up to have those cracks of light come in. Light can finally come through those broken pieces of the heart. It’s been a blessing artistically and financially for me to teach. Life is a painting on a great canvas.
Painting is more of a verb than a noun to me. It’s not just about a product. Now it’s about giving back to community -- a verb, helping to bless other people. I believe that we’re all like instruments walking around. We all need to find our voice or we’ll sound like everyone else. I like to hear how my students can find their own voice through painting. I challenge my students to get to the next level -- just beyond what they think they can do.
What stands out to you about the Bible?
There are always new angles and new thoughts. To me, the central essence of the Bible is about people turning to the creative, generative, highest, only Power. (I don’t like the “higher” power concept because there’s only one Power.) And it’s about God bringing about blessings. The Bible isn’t just about something that happened thousands of years ago. How many times have we heard about people in the Great Depression working through economic disaster?
The Bible is happening today. We are part of that lineage, part of that spiritual evolution. Bible events, characters, and inspiration didn’t just stop with Revelation. The Bible is definitely a book that is continuing today. We, too, can turn to God, whether we need to get through the Red Sea or red tape. We are part of that legacy of God’s blessing, for God’s beloved -- anytime, anywhere, on a trek in the Himalayas or in a deep