by RENEE PATRICK Cascade A&E Editor
A lifetime entrenched in the art world has enabled Sandy Brooke to work across art movements and discover different media, all the while exploring the influence of travel in her life. Meanwhile, a career in art education has provided her a way of challenging not only her students, but her own work by always striving towards critical thinking and excellence.
Never having had any formal art education prior to college, Brooke initially considered a medical degree at the University of Oregon at her father’s suggestion. Upon learning the study would include dissecting frogs…she turned to the art department. “I can’t kill anything!” she exclaimed. “I walked into the art department…and was told I looked like a painter.”
Whether the professor predicted her long career as a painter, or Brooke took it as a self-fulfilling prophecy, the lasting influence of that decision has led to a rich and rewarding career as an artist and educator.
After graduating with her Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA), her painting continued to evolve. “I was doing very abstract, large geometrical work...Frank Stella was the king of art and everyone wanted to be him, but I didn’t know anything about realism or abstract impressionism,” she commented. “So I tried that.”
Her consistent willingness to experiment with different artistic movements proved to work for the young artist, and soon she was showing in galleries in Portland and teaching art classes in a local junior high when the travel muse struck.
“I went to Africa. My father was with U.S. AID…and we ended up traveling the country on safari,” she said. Brooke came home from the trip with countless photos, mostly of the animals glimpsed on safari, and the lions and zebras turned into photo-realistic paintings.
“Everything I do is influenced by travel, newspapers, magazines, TV and media. I’m completely captivated by it,” Brooke explained. In an acrylic abstract series called Postcards, she drew on inspiration from a trip to Boston and Cape Cod, layering paint to create a depth of imaginary space between the value of colors.
A foray into photo-realism turned to trains a few years later after a move back to Bend, her hometown. Brooke would walk the train tracks in town, determining the best light fell at 10am or 4pm, to photograph train doors. She would project the images on paper to work from, eventually showing some of the resulting artwork in a Texas gallery.
Her affiliation with OSU began in 1990 when she began teaching in Corvallis, finding herself back in Bend when her husband, Henry Sayre, wrote the proposal for the OSU-Cascades campus. “At first we hadn’t proposed an art program at the new campus,” Brooke said. “It is a very expensive program to run. But I was here and Henry is an art historian, so we decided to try and offer the BFA here.”
All the while Brooke was sending her art out to shows around the country. “The showing thing is always difficult, if you are teaching and trying to show and paint, it’s very competitive,” she said.
During graduate school in 1991 at the University of Oregon, Brooke moved from acrylics to oils, staying with oils up until her recent encaustic work.
By the time Brooke went up for tenure in 2008, she had some fairly substantial shows under her belt. The year-long process brought the artist under the spotlight, but her artwork had been shown nationally and internationally by this time, and she had also written three books: Drawing as Expression, Techniques and Concepts (2001), Hooked on Drawing: Illustrated Lessons and Exercises for Grades 4 and Up (1996) and Hooked on Painting: Illustrated Lessons and Exercises for Grades 4 and Up (1999).
“Going up for tenure is an experience,” she said. “I was reviewed by the Cascades and Corvallis campus, and then College Of Liberal Arts Committee, then at the Provost level your dossier is reviewed and then sent out to six outside reviewers.”
Brooke has excelled in the roll of educator and mentor, often finding tough love to be the most beneficial for her students. “I’m fairly critical of them in the beginning because the art world is not a fun place, it’s not nice out there,” she said. “This way I tell them it’s not good, so they are not shocked when they hear that. I want to prepare them for a world that is not friendly. When you get out of the university you are competing with all of the universities, you really have to have it going on and be on top of your game. I try to get them prepared for whatever they want to take on.”
Not only does she challenge her students, but often the students end up challenging her artwork as well, “Teaching is inspiring to me when students step up and start doing some marvelous work and I feel challenged to step it up and get in the game. For me teaching is bringing them along as critical thinkers.
“I feel responsible towards them to teach them everything I know about the art world and critical thinking. Art is not about a product, it’s as much about why you did it, what you used, what your inventiveness is. You want to stretch the viewer, and make you question what you are doing and make them feel a little uncomfortable. The difference between what is considered art is, does it get the viewer involved? Do they want to look at it again? Not that they buy it, just that they think and want to know more.”
Her work in encaustics, while successful, has highlighted what she loves about painting with oils, “I like the immediacy of paintings. With encaustics you can draw it on, and you brush on hot wax but you have to keep the surface warm, and it’s a pain. My hands take a beating, and I don’t like the process. I like some of the outcomes, but it’s not fluid enough, it’s so frozen. With oils I have a lot more freedom,” she explained.
In addition to returning to oils, Brooke is excited once again to begin exploring a new media: digital video. “It’s like changing from oils to encaustics back to oils, there is a thing about media that just transfixes me,” she explained. “I don’t know how to run the camera or edit [the film]…I want to personally understand that.”
She does have some experience with video, she helped write and produce Sayre’s video series, A World of Art - Works in Progress, a companion set of 10 films to his text book, A World of Art. Brooke and Sayer created videos on the process of making art which included famous artists Milton Resnick, one of the last survivors of the first generation of the New York Abstract Expressionists, June Wayne, printmaker and founder of the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, and sculptor Beverly Buchannan. “I had really good luck and became really good friends with them,” Brooke said.
Digital video is not just a new direction for Brooke’s artistic energies, but will be pivotal to a series of workshops she hopes to offer at OSU-Cascades this summer.
“If we diversify [with digital media] and increase students’ knowledge, skill and technical ability, it increases their ability to work in the industry. They can still paint and show; but they will be making a painting on a tablet and still be using all their skills to do this painting. It’s not abandoning fine arts by any means.”
Brooke is working on getting Alan Montgomery and Jim Folts in to teach the workshops and, she said, bringing more digital media to OSU-Cascades is a goal that may require some creative thinking to collaborate resources with the main campus in Corvallis. Look for more details about the classes on the OSU Cascades website, www.osucascades.edu.
Brooke will be showing at Franklin Crossing during the month of April and will be speaking at OSU-Cascades It’s in the Bag Lecture, Fate and Luck: A Series Crossing Boundaries at 12pm on April 3. www.sandybrooke.com.