Brookhart Jonquil: “Seeing the invisible.”
Hello there! My name is Lorena Cuenca, and I am currently a junior at Florida International University studying Business Management. I am an aspiring law student and I plan on applying to law school in the fall of this year and graduating within three to four years to begin practicing as a corporate attorney. Apart from my professional career goals, I also enjoy singing, dancing, choreographing, and writing lyrics from time to time.
The story of one Brookhart Jonquil started in Santa Cruz, California in 1984. Brookhart, whose parents were anticipating and preparing for his arrival by building a house out in the forest for the family, showed up as a surprise after the date of his birth had been miscalculated. He was born amongst nature, with only lantern light leaving things to be seen; born in a half-built house, essentially in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but lantern light and the night sky present. This is where it all began.
Throughout his early childhood, he was exposed to the beauty of nature everywhere he went. Even after moving out of the initial home, he was surrounded by all that the outdoors had to offer with moving to Portland, Oregon, and Tucson, Arizona where a large portion of the most interesting activities include those such as hiking and camping.
As far as cultural and ethnic identity is concerned, Brookhart considers himself “white” with most of the family members he knows being of Italian descent. He stated that growing up he did not really relate to a culture; he felt rather unable to connect to his Italian ancestry and did not feel comfortable with claiming the “culture” belonging to white Americans. He described his parents as “bohemian and unusual” when he was growing up and said that when it comes to the cultural identity, he feels best directly referring to his immediate family and the little things they do amongst each other.
Brookhart began his educational artistic journey at the University of Arizona majoring in art history. He always considered himself an academic and was genuinely interested in learning about art, when he then made the transition into focusing more on creating art, he believed it’d be best to become as well-informed as possible. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2007 with his Bachelor of Arts degree and when straight to earning his Master of Fine Arts from the School of Art Institute of Chicago after completing his undergrad. He chose to spread out the time to complete his program from two to three years and attended extra classes by asking different professors if he could sit in on their lectures and graduated in 2010.
During his time at the Art Institute of Chicago, he got to know a professor by the name of Claudia Hart, who is also an artist, curator, and critic for the past 32 years. He expressed that she had been incredibly supportive and referred to her as his “art mom”. His parents were also supportive of his work even in the beginning; coming from artistic backgrounds they were hopeful and looking forward to seeing him live out the dreams they could not. They were supportive and understanding but Brookhart shared with me that years after his career took off his dad confessed to initially being very scared for his son’s future and financial stability. His final show was viewed by Brook Dorsch, the founder of the Emerson Dorsch Gallery in Miami, where he was then offered to display his work starting his residency in Miami, Florida.
During his undergrad, he attended a class by Paul Ivey where minimalistic art was being discussed and works by artist Carl Andre were being used as examples. This class served at the starting point, the lightbulb moment if you will, in his career. He became interested in using displaying the relationship between the positive and negative space of a piece and how its surroundings add to the work. He was truly fascinated with the concept of emptiness and was intrigued with discovering how to use emptiness as an aspect of his art. This prompted his desire to create pieces that focused on representing or showcasing light, space, emptiness, and gravity. He knew that this was what he wanted to base his work on, that this was his “central core” as an artist.
When discussing arts who caught his attention when he was developing his style, Brookhart, mentioned James Turrell, Robert Smithson, and Nancy Holt. James Turrell is an American artist who is known for working with light and space to create artwork that is captivating and intellectually challenging, works that tests limitations and plays with perspective. Robert Smithson was quite the visionary; not only did he think outside the box but thinking inside it was never an option. He was interested and well-versed in different fields such as geology, popular culture, philosophy and was highly admired for his creative thinking. Nancy Holt was “a member of the earth, land, and conceptual art movements”. She was truly a pioneer in her craft and actively redefined the limitations that came with her profession, she was in every sense of the word an icon who became known for her site-specific work that tested the boundaries of her time.
He stated that at the time conceptual minimalism was the concept or style of art he had become interested in. He mentioned that he was drawn to this style, that it was an instinctual feeling. He continued to learn more about it, accepting and rejecting different aspects along the way until he got to a place where he knew he would belong. I wanted to understand his perspective a little more, so I asked him to descript his artistic journey in five words or less. He took a couple minutes to really think and after a while said, “How about this…seeing the invisible.” For a moment, I was both confused and intrigued. I knew what he was saying and in part understood why but it felt like my thoughts had not aligned with his point of view entirely. I asked him why he chose those words; I asked if he was maybe trying to express that he felt he had some sort of sixth sense, if you will, or an ability to see things others could not. He agreed in a sense, saying that he knew and understood that there was sort of a reality around us that we could not perceive due to the limitation of our senses and that we could only see traces of it.
I wanted to see if he fell into the stereotype of the typical “tortured artist”; the kind whose work thrives off pain, suffering, and the torment of a traumatic life so I asked if he was comfortable sharing some of the hardships he might have experienced along the way. He laughed and quickly said, “Oh gosh, I feel like I have been exceptionally lucky. I mean, I have been poor, but I was happy when I was poor. I think the hardest part is that when you artist you are not making a lot of money. I’ve been on food stamps before, but even then, I was still living the life I wanted to live.” I jokingly said, “So you have been blessed and everything has been a teachable moment.” To which he responded with, “Yes, plenty of teachable moments.” He said that he had always considered himself lucky, that he knew some people who have lived through situations like his might not think the same but that he learned that luck was a “way of identifying patterns”; that sometimes the good outweighs the bad and that is what he considered when calling himself lucky. We went back to discussing the artist stereotype and he said that his art was very much who he was, that he was not a dramatic person, that he was more of a “head in the clouds” kind of person, and that he believed his art was all about the human experience and what it means to exist despite that not always being understood.
As the conversation continued, I started to conclude that his cultural identity did not have much to do with his work. He had previously mentioned that growing up he only related to his immediate family when it came to culture and their traditions which led me to believe that his background had little influence, if any, of his work. I asked regardless and his response truly surprised me. He said, “I guess, I would have to say yes in the sense that being born a white man has a kind of privilege that I am not expected to make work about identity. If the work that I connect to is abstract existential that is the realm of white men.” He stated that even though he did not think it was much of a culture it was still a historical trajectory that he was a part of, one he thought was quite weird. He went on to say that now was the time to investigate identity and said, “You know the of the white cube? The gallery is like a white box and you put the art on the wall and the white box becomes invisible and you just look at the artwork on the wall. But of course, that white box has a default reality. It brings so much context. I think this world that we all live in is built on white supremacy patriarchy and that is the white cute and so you put abstract art on the wall, and it looks totally normal, you don’t even notice it. But you put some identity art on the wall, by a person of color and it stands out. So, I feel like, yeah my work is not really identity or race; it is about these more transcendent ideas but that is a privileged position.”
When asked about where he thought his work was best showcased, he said that his favorite place, where he thought his work is best viewed is in nature. He took a moment and then said, “If I were to identify with a culture, it would be the forest.”. He said that because his work was very “hard edge and geometric” being in that kind of environment really helped it, that it completes the picture. He said that he takes a lot of inspiration from nature and that he saw his work as being natural forms that were best enjoyed in nature. I asked him if he related his work to a specific artistic movement or historic time period to which he responded with, “I would hope that they are relevant to now.” He said that with everything that was happening right now, his work belonged at this moment.
SUBJECT OF ARTWORK
On a surface level, his work is clearly beautiful. Brookhart’s use of light and reflective surfaces makes his pieces aesthetically pleasing and incredibly stunning, but it is definitely more than that. Each piece relates to something greater than what is on hand, stretching the concept of reality while playing with what is intangible. His purpose extends beyond sharing a vision, Brookhart truly hopes that in experiencing his work, a viewer will be able to understand concepts that cannot be grasped, per se.
We discussed the indirect relationship we all have with intangible things such as light, space, and darkness. He used space as an example and said, “You could be out in outer space, you could be completely surrounded by light and see nothing but darkness until you put your hand in front of you. Now the light has something to hit and so now, all of a sudden, you are aware that there is light all around you and it was always there.” It definitely took me a minute to grasp what he was saying because I had never thought about it before. He said he believed that we were moving towards the air. For a second, I was confused but he said that he believed our way of living was transitioning further away from things being less bound to the physical world. That with technology advancing and the current situation we are in so much of our life had become completely about signals traveling through the air.
Some artists’ work comes from a place of frustration or spontaneous inspiration that pours onto paper or gets molded into reality with the use of a malleable material or something alike, but that is not Brookhart’s case. I was fascinated by the way he talked about his work and wanted to know why he was so attached to ideas and concepts relating to space, time, and reality. He said that he has a feeling about the ways in which the universe works and that he felt the need to make work that expressed or reflected this belief. He wants to prove his assumptions, but welcomes change and adapting his work to showcase what he learns along the way.
FORMAL ELEMENTS OF ARTWORK
Each piece starts off as an idea, a “perceptual reality”, and throughout creating he focuses on trying to turn the image he has in mind into a physical, tangible, entity. We went on to talk about his creative methods ad process and where his direct inspiration comes from. He said that a lot of the time his ideas would come during his daily meditation, that he believed it is very important to have empty space, “If your cup is already full, there is no room for anything else. So, it is really important to always be creating emptiness so that there is always space for something new. If you were to say what comes before the idea, probably emptiness, and that emptiness is something I work hard to cultivate.” Because a lot of his pieces deal with perspective, I asked how the relationship between what he created and intended for viewers to see versus what those who have viewed some of his works have seen affected his own perspective. He mentioned that in the past he has done set design for a director by the name of Yara Travieso, whose work is based on identity, feminism, and politics and while her history is the opposite of his own, she has always provided positive opinions and a refreshingly new perspective to his work.
We moved on to discussing the material and colors he used when working. He said he was mostly interested in physical materials that best lent themselves for shaping light. The blue and green hues that I took notice of in his pieces were just a result of the material he had at his disposal, he said that while he loves color, he has always struggled with adding anything to his artwork, that every material aspect of his pieces was intentional and necessary for their existence. We took a look at one specific piece that caught my eye, Saturn Rings The Sunrise Bells, to discuss color and he said that all the colors in it were simply a “happy accident”. I also noticed a lot of geometrical shapes throughout his work and quite a bit of symmetry which he said that there is a structural necessity to reality which he was trying to emilite in his work.
EXHIBITION AND PROJECT HISTORY
Brookhart is a represented artist under the Emerson Dorsch Art Gallery where a majority of his artwork has been displayed. Other works of his have been commissioned by the Bass Museum of Art, the De la Cruz Collection, MoCa Tucson, Vizcaya Museum, and the Cornell Art Museum.
His favorite piece at the moment is his most recent, titled Earth Arise, Sky Descend. He deems it his favorite because he believes it is a representation of where his future work is going to be like, where he is heading artistically. He said up until now he has learned about how time and space work and is transitioning into questioning and learning about how life works.
Conversing with Mr. Jonquil was certainly an experience. The way he expressed himself and the words he used to respond to my questions made me take notice of how I express myself. With every question, I asked he took a minute to collect his thoughts and explain his experience in a way I could understand. It made me self-aware of how I speak and express my ideas whether on paper or in speech. When discussing his work or ideas and concepts relating to art, I found myself considering every word he was using and what each one meant. His words contained so much purpose, such profound, almost enlightened, meanings; I latched on to every single one every step of the way. It was such a stimulating conversation that I did not even mind being confused for a rather large portion of it. He seemed more than happy to answer my questions and go into detail about each explanation. He really made me take notice of the things I had never paid attention to before. I am not one to “waste” my time on philosophical trains of thought, I tend to see no purpose in concerning myself with things I will never understand. After this I think, I might need to change that. I cannot expect myself to understand and know everything seconds after thinking about it, it takes time, effort, and interest to reach a level so high to where you start unlocking concepts you have never even considered before. I have always respected those who can see what I cannot to an extremely high degree while completely disregarding any potential I might have. I want to be that person; I want to continue to have engaging and intellectually stimulating conversations with my peers and others alike and I realize that will never happen unless I stop issuing myself limitations. There is a lot I cannot do, but I never want thinking to be one of those things; I simply deserve better.
A WORD OF ADVICE FROM BROOKHART JONQUIL
“Notice when you make something that you like, notice what it is that you like, and make something else… Let the thing about your artwork that excites you, spur you on to the next one. So, keep investigating your own work through the work itself not just through thinking about your work. You have to actually make something in order to learn from it.”
“Brookhart Jonquil.” Brookhartjonquil.Com, brookhartjonquil.com. Accessed 21 Apr. 2021.
“Brookhart Jonquil’s Sculptures Expand on the Discourse of Minimalism.” Emerson Dorsch, emersondorsch.com/artist/brookhart-jonquil. Accessed 21 Apr. 2021.
Gallery, Bitforms. “Claudia Hart.” Bitforms Gallery, 28 Oct. 2020, bitforms.art/artist/claudia-hart.
“Introduction.” James Turrell, 2021, jamesturrell.com/about/introduction.
“The Foundation | Holt/Smithson Foundation.” Holt Smithson Foundation, 26 Mar. 2021, holtsmithsonfoundation.org.