Review: Wacky fun, surreal cast of characters populate Kyle Brooks’ art

Artist Kyle Brooks’ paintings in “A Bowl Full of Happiness” at Buckhead’s Spalding Nix Fine Art suggest an off-the-hook child’s birthday party featuring layer cake loaded with icing and multicolored sprinkles, rainbow confetti raining from the sky and even the suggestive sound of kazoos bleating out a melody of chaos.

Known as “Black Cat Tips,” Brooks’ purposefully naive, exuberant, delirious paintings are a rush of blood sugar-spiking sweetness and the kind of full-throttle merry-making that often ends in exhausted tears or a power nap. His paintings in assaultive shades of pink, yellow, green and blue are like an explosion at the Skittles factory. Inhabiting these festive worlds is an anarchical cast of creatures, animal — birds, alligators, cats and beavers make an appearance — alongside human figures and indeterminate ones, all boasting giddy smiles and extra-long lashes whose only mission appears to be to have a good time.

In “Lord Have Mercy,” a strange creature with a long alligator face and a pink tongue like ticker tape cavorts and camps, and in “Tree Spirits,” the hills are — quite literally — alive and the evergreens boast merrily blinking eyes and wide smiles.

RELATED: On our premium site, The man with the red, red beard: How the whimsical street art of Kyle Brooks made him a darling of corporate Atlanta

Brooks’ paintings in acrylic on canvas offer a brand of fun verging on the manic that nods to the downtown cool and hipster wackiness of Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf or “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” artist Ric Heitzman, and grown-up artists who channel a childish sense of unhinged good times.

“Lemon” is a typically confectionery work dolloped with splashes of sunshine yellow featuring a common Brooks motif: totem pole towers of manically smiling faces piled one on top of another like a vertical clown car. The paintings’ titles often seem to derive from their predominant color, so “Baby Blue” is, naturally, awash in the intense blue of CinemaScope swimming pools.

RELATED: Popular artist fighting DeKalb over ‘illegal’ yard art

If traditional folk art often offers instructive morality tales, chiding commands to do better and other religious ranting, Brooks’ kinder, gentler messages are more like a child’s flash card featuring a captivating image and a rudimentary concept. “Busy,” for instance, features a grinning black beaver whose innards are filled with a thicket of colorful trees, as if testifying to his gnawing handiwork. The operative concept is, I suppose, busyness. That busyness extends from the frantic circumstance of the painting itself, filled with its many vibrating-with-color creatures, to the work of our eyeballs, deliriously scanning the painting surface, taking in all of the phantasmagorical action.

A particularly delightful work for its mix of order and chaos is “Son of Man,” featuring a calm, beatific infant figure at the painting’s center, surrounded by a rainbow placenta. That grinning baby is flanked by two figures, parents perhaps, expectantly awaiting their bundle of joy. That sort of representational satisfaction present in so much figurative painting is rare in Brooks’ work. More often, viewers have to settle for abstract notions of delight and distraction. The paintings are the visual art equivalent of a trip to the circus or a spin on the merry-go-round — you simply surrender to the fun.


Brooks has described himself as a “street folk artist,” says his gallerist Spalding Nix, and his work is very much a clash of quirky hipster visuals and the disconcerting cheeriness and unified lexicon of Southern folk artists. Some of the happiness-on-overdrive can feel a bit like a put-on; a willful desire to beat Southern folk artists at their own demonically cheerful, self-taught game. But ultimately, who cares when art offers such escapist charm in an often charmless world?

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Living

“Right now is the right time to talk about Maynard Jackson”
“Right now is the right time to talk about Maynard Jackson”

NEW YORK – Even after Maynard Jackson was no longer Atlanta’s mayor, he maintained an active role in the city he transformed. On his way out after serving three terms, Jackson invited his friend the Rev. Al Sharpton to come down for a visit. “I got there and there were police there. I said, ‘Oh God, what did I do...
‘American Idol’ notes: Jennifer Hudson breakup woes, Jordin Sparks married and pregnant
‘American Idol’ notes: Jennifer Hudson breakup woes, Jordin Sparks married and pregnant

GLENDALE, AZ – SEPTEMBER 25: Singer Jordin Sparks takes a selfie with a fan before the start of the NFL game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Dallas Cowboys at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 25, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Posted Friday, November 17,...
Holiday hours for Thanksgiving, Black Friday at metro Atlanta malls
Holiday hours for Thanksgiving, Black Friday at metro Atlanta malls

Much like last year’s trend, some stores have decided not to open on Thanksgiving Day 2017. But, for those in the metro Atlanta area, don't worry about whether you'll be able to purchase holiday gifts on Thursday and on Black Friday, too. Several malls will be open to get some shopping done once all the turkey, beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes...
Did you have tickets to Al Franken’s Monday event in Atlanta?

“Join us for a very special closing night featuring Senator Al Franken, No. 1  bestselling author and beloved ‘Saturday Night Live’ alum, whose new book, ‘Al Franken, Giant of the Senate,’ tells the story of an award-winning comedian who decided to run for office...
Jesse Jackson says he has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease
Jesse Jackson says he has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader and former presidential candidate, announced Friday that he has Parkinson's disease. Jackson, 76, said he had found it "increasingly difficult to perform routine tasks" and get around in recent years. After initially resisting due to his work, Jackson said, he relented and sought medical testing...
More Stories