By Hope Katz Gibbs
After seeing the dreadful horror in Haiti, internationally renowned artist and filmmaker Philip Brooker knew he had to do something to help.
“I stayed up all night to produce a poster,” says the British-born Brooker, 54. “It’s not a great masterpiece, but maybe it can raise a little money: www.redcross.org. You can also give by texting “HAITI” to 90999 to send a $10 donation. It will be charged to your phone bill. Please give. Thank you.”
He then posted it on Facebook and sent out a blast to 2000 of his closest friends saying they could print out the poster for free, or have him send them a high resolution version already printed — so long as they used it to raise money for the cause.
“As of February 2010, I have received more than 800 requests from university professors, businesses and charitable organizations in Russia, China, and throughout the U.S. and Europe,” Brooker shares. “I don’t have a dollar amount for how much money it helped raise, but the feedback is that it attracted people to the fundraising efforts across the country and the world.”
As a result, Brooker is in the process of producing a limited edition (2,500) of the poster. He’ll be selling them for $25 each and the money will go toward the relief effort in Haiti.
“The poster is a reaction to this disaster,” he adds. “I felt the need to get it out to as many people as I could using modern technology. It really was a wonderful experiment.”
That’s where our story begins.
The man behind the poster
I first met Philip when we both worked at The Miami Herald. He was the art director of the prestigious Sunday magazine Tropic — the one that regularly featured Dave Barry and Gene Weingarten, both of whom went on to become syndicated columnists and celebrities (remember Dave’s World starring Harry Anderson).
Prior to working with those comic geniuses, Brooker had a stellar career as an artist beginning with entrance to the Bradford Regional School of Art in 1973. He was 16, and the youngest student ever to be accepted into the school, I might add. From there he attended the Cardiff School of Art.
“I gathered a Diploma in Art and Design and a Bachelor of Arts degree,” he says. “With these degrees and a roll of 30 paintings, I headed to New York City, where I lived and exhibited my work till 1988. I then headed south to a brightly lit studio in Miami (Key Biscayne) and continued painting and showing my work.”
That’s when he landed a day job at The Herald, “where I worked for way too long and finally broke loose. I now live in Miami and Paris (not at the same time) and sometimes in-between. I am currently working on two large films as well as many, many projects.”
In addition to his illustration and fine art projects, Philip says he is working on several films including “Sylvia”, “A film based on a painting. A painting based on a person. A person who happened to be my mother. This is an intimate film about the exposed landscape of grief traveled by an artist after the abrupt death of his mother, and how he molded his anguish and emotional energy into art.”
How do you choose your projects?
Brooker: Most of the time, my projects choose me. I suppose that in the process of starting a project, I have to feel inspired and excited, and also have the thirst for learning something new. What I mean by this is that a lot of times I enter into a series of work with very little or almost no knowledge of the subject matter. This was the case with my “Death Sentence” series.
The inspiration was born when I happened upon hundreds of old letters written by World War I soldiers in the trenches to their loved ones back home. Through research and inspiration, I built 25 images from these letters. This project found me—not the reverse. Another project was “First Time,” in which I asked women to talk openly about the very first time they had sex. Both of these projects I started with only a grain of knowledge . . . I prefer it that way.
I don’t really want preconceived notions of the projects I enter into. A clean perspective keeps my enthusiasm revved and fresh and, above all, full of surprises. I like the project to fuel me until it’s time for me to make sense of all the gathered knowledge. Even in the making of my films, my subjects have found me in one strange way or another.
Q: Why have most of your last projects resulted in prints and not paintings?
Brooker: There are three main reasons all my energy has gone into printmaking and not, for example, painting.
1. First, the digital medium bit me and hasn’t let go. It’s still a miracle to me how one can take a photo or scan in a document or image, and from that produce something quite remarkable, or not, as the case may be.
My last several projects have dealt in reality and documentation. It made sense to build the images/photographs/words in the computer. I’m quite prolific—I don’t require much sleep, fortunately—so it also makes sense because producing digital images provides the right pace for me and my work.
I see the computer and the digital age as being as wide open as the tube of paint. Anything and everything is possible. If the medium of painting lent itself to the conclusion of these projects, then I would have painted them.
2. Also, I love the freedom of making the image any size I want, and also producing many editions or one single print—whatever seems right. This is something I could never do with, say, a painting. I always work with a set scale in mind, then after I have achieved what I set out to do, I start playing with scale. The “Hand” print I made is 15 feet high, but works perfectly as a much smaller image. The erotic “Warning” series is very small; the actual image is only 2×3 inches, but would also work on a much larger scale. So scale, through the meduim of printmaking, has offered another very important ingredient in my work.
3. And last but not least, the reason for producing prints has been the collaboration with master printmaker Franck Bordas. His knowledge and expertise have been vital in producing my last few projects. My collaboration with Franck over the last 15 years has been pivotal. He brings to my work his great wealth of experience and his love of the digital print, and that forms, from my point of view, a perfect marriage for an artist. It’s also the first time, as an artist, that I have ever worked with someone else.
Q: Why do you age or distress your work to make it look like it was produced 100 years ago?
Brooker: I wish I could tell you the answer. I know this much: When I’m finished with an image, it never seems quite finished as an object. The image or photo may be perfectly resolved but, as an object, I feel an urgency to take it a stage further. With digital prints, I feel it makes them more unique, something far more precious or special. I have always been fascinated by old letters and photographs, as well as old wallpaper in abandoned houses.
I love objects steeped in history, things that have a past—and usually something with a tragic past. So I rip, poke holes in, tear and sometimes even repair my images to add another element to the work. A lot of times people have mentioned the contradiction of working in a precise, clean, digital world yet producing something that looks antique and almost archaic . . . I take this as a compliment, of course.
Q: Since your time is split between Paris and Miami, do you feel the influence from either place creeping into your work?
Brooker: I would love to say yes, but I’m afraid the answer is no or not quite. Once I get an idea in my head, that’s where it will remain until the completion of the project. The influence can come from anywhere or anything, and it usually does.
I can produce dark, brooding images and subjects under the blue skies of Miami as well as I can in Paris. Walking around the streets of Paris, which I do all the time, certainly urges me forward in the right direction.
But I have produced just as many dark projects that were born in Miami. I wish I could say the place in which I live influences me, but, alas, I can’t. I am influenced more by people than places, with “The Pool” project being one of the rare exceptions.
Q: Why have you started making films?
Brooker: I was asked the same question about photography when I began exploring that eight years ago, and I feel the answer is quite similar now with films. I feel that as an artist I want to explore all technical areas. I like to think I can pick and choose and mix and match any medium that would be suitable to my work.
Technology has come a long way and made it possible to work within photography or, as is the case now, film. The computer has become the new box of paints. I feel everything is possible. My work crosses over all the different mediums. The photo series about the abandoned Art Deco swimming pool north of Paris started out as just that—a series of photographs.
Then after I had exhausted that route, I saw the potential of a small film. I find this to be a very, very exciting moment in my development as an artist. It’s how it must have been when the tube of ready-mixed paint came along—ah, no more grinding of pigments and wasted hours. All this new technolgy amounts to more creative time … well, at least in my experience it does.
About Philip Brooker