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Master Artists Bernard and Gwendolyn Brooks Host 17th Annual Art Show

Larry Saxton | 10/12/2011, 1:50 p.m.

Bernard Brooks and Gwendolyn Aqui-Brooks have opened their home to the public for a studio art show for the past 17 years. Last month, the couple did not disappoint when they invited hundreds of people to their Northwest home to get a glimpse of their new art pieces and to further introduce themselves as two of the nation's most renowned master artists.

Bernard Brooks, 73, displayed works in mixed-media collages, drawings and watercolors of Caribbean and jazz scenes. In his abstract collages, he is known for relying heavily on Afro-Centric patterns, combining photographs and recognizable images that give the viewer a sense of the past and the present.

Gwendolyn Brooks, 64, displayed colorful textured paintings, quilts and hand-made dolls. Her popular hand-made quilts display the same rhythms and movements of intense color that she executes in her paintings, allowing the viewer to see that she can move very easily between mediums.

While the couple's art works are very different, one can see slight style similarities--elongated figures, lines and colors, for instance. Such influence is almost unavoidable when two artists work together closely.

Besides having close artistic ties to each other, the Brooks have very close ties to Howard University where they both received Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees. Mr. Brooks worked at Howard as the chief medical illustrator for more than 26 years. Mrs. Brooks' father, Dr. Albert J. Carter, was the first art gallery curator at Howard's College of Fine Arts.

Both artists have traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean, Africa and South America. International themes and motifs are reflected prominently in their art which for the Brooks is much more than visual expression and appreciation--art is a business.

"Michelangelo treated art as a business and so did Picasso, and that's what I do," Brooks said. "I do all of our PR and advertising from designing exhibit invitations and brochures to maintaining our mailing list." Bernard also does all of the framing in preparation for their exhibitions, relying on a network of vendors for the materials he uses.

In addition to treating art like a business, Gwendolyn enjoys the personal aspects of people visiting their home.

"I like to be able to take individuals down to my studio and show them my work space," she said. "I think that allows them to better understand my work. Also, when you host your own art show you can control your money."

Because art is "everywhere" in their home, one might get the feeling that the Brooks live in a gallery. Even the backyard is not off -limits. According to the Brooks, the openness and natural light provide the outdoor viewer the opportunity to see all of the textures and layers of intense colors in the work while bringing greater understanding of the artistic process.

Gloria Freeman, a retired art teacher, attended the annual art show and said she has know Mr. Brooks for many years since they were both members of District of Columbia Artists Association (DCAA).

"Bernard was always very inspirational to the other artists in the group," said Freeman. "He was a very good example for the other artists, mainly because of his determination and his work habits."

Jerry Brown, 60, a retired government worker and art collector who owns three works of art by the Brooks, said, "This is my first studio show and I like this environment. We need to support our black artists."

Nigerian artist Victor Ekpuk, 47, also has known the Brooks for a number of years.

"Their work has a sense of vitality and energy," Ekpuk said. "Their use of color and texture with the element of drawing in their work seems to be bringing them together as artists which is good."

Viewing art in a gallery can at times be very stiff and formal, but viewing it in a private home--the artists' home--can be very relaxing and informal. It is a rare and special treat to be able to ask questions and get answers from the artists who happen to be your hosts.