By Martin Stillion

Photos by Jimi Lott

Brooks is often in her Queen Anne studio for six to eight hours a day.

"Horn on Oriental Carpet" was created when Brooks placed a French horn together with the vibrant red Oriental carpet that covers her living room floor.

A Russian cellist at Augustana College became the subject of "Cello Professor."

Heard any good watercolors lately?

Before you answer that question, consider the paintings of Seattle Pacific University alumna Jackie Brooks '57. Musical images instruments, players, even sheet music fill Brooks' artwork, just as they've filled her life. "A number of people look at my paintings and say they actually hear music," she says. "A psychoanalyst said he could hear the Dvorak cello concerto."

Born in South Dakota, Brooks grew up in Longview, Washington, in the 1940s. She took piano lessons as a child until her mother sold a small farm she'd inherited and bought a violin for Jackie and a cello for her sister, Virginia. Brooks began studying the violin in the fifth grade. But she also wanted to paint and when she was a sophomore in high school, Brooks recalls, "an art teacher whose forte was watercolor took a special interest in me. ... I learned looseness and a lot of color, and not always painting exactly what you see."

She enrolled at Seattle Pacific College in the mid-1950s, when the school had no degree program, and only a smattering of courses, in the visual arts. So she pursued her other great interest: a degree in music education. She went on to teach both art and music, perform with the Cascade Symphony, marry fellow alumnus David Brooks '58, and raise two sons. (Jeff '83 is the principal bassist in Thalia Symphony, SPU's orchestra-in-residence, and a senior writer at The Domain Group, a Seattle advertising agency. Brooks' other son, Arthur, played the French horn and now teaches economics at Georgia State University.) And she kept on painting.

Eventually her husband, David, returned to Seattle Pacific to teach mathematics. The school's art program had grown in the meantime, and Brooks herself came back to earn a visual arts degree and subsequently to teach watercolor techniques. "She's not someone who just sits in her house and paints," says SPU Professor of Art Larry Metcalf. "She gets out and tries to find shows, and works on national competitions."

At last count, Brooks had been accepted into more than 70 such competitions, and she took home awards from half of them. A member of seven watercolor societies, she's recently shown her work in New York, Montana, Texas, Oklahoma, Washington and Arizona. SPU's Art Center Gallery showed several of her pieces at Homecoming 2001, and she's traveled as far as Nicosia, Cyprus, to display paintings and conduct workshops.

Ten years ago, as a result of Parkinson's disease, Brooks had to put her violin aside. She no longer had the fine motor control necessary to play the instrument in an orchestra, although with medication she could still use a paintbrush. But, she says, a new sense of urgency infused her work: "I thought, 'I don't have time to do conventional paintings any more. I need to express what I really feel inside.' Some of it was anger; some was elation." And as a Christian, she felt the need to be honest about her experience. So she developed a bold, assertive style characterized by intense colors and strong emotions, and she chose to focus on subjects that held deep personal relevance for her.

That meant lots of music paintings and family portraits, which cover the walls of her Queen Anne home studio: her son Jeff immersed in the sound of his string bass; her granddaughter Emma trying on one of Brooks' own hats; her husband in the foreground of a Cyprian landscape. Though the topics are personal, there's plenty in Brooks' work for others to appreciate. One of her biggest fans, Seattle violin dealer Rafael Carrabba, displays several of her paintings in his shop, and even sells postcard prints of them.

Brooks' style is hard to peg it's a carefree blend of expressionism and realism, neither completely abstract nor fully representational. "I would say that it is quite experimental, and it is emotional, and usually too big to be in anybody's house," she says. "I would really like to get into having my paintings hung in public places where there's a lot of space."

Sometimes she'll transform an old work by painting a new one on top of it, and there's always more than meets the eye: A row of organ pipes serve double duty as champagne flutes. A tiger morphs into a French horn. Shadowy forms inhabit the panes of a stained glass window possibly, Brooks suggests, they're reflections of the artisans who built the church.

Brooks believes her unconventional approach has helped her make the leap from pretty paintings to beautiful ones: "People who don't know much about art will often say,'Oh, how pretty.' Beauty goes beyond pretty because it moves into the soul of the painter, and it brings out a knowledge that sometimes you don't even know is there."

Perhaps, then, her own dictum "not always painting exactly what you see" doesn't quite do her work justice. You could say that Brooks does paint what she sees; it's just that she's learned to look at things a little differently.

Editor's Note: To view 40 of Jackie Brooks' paintings in color, click here.

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