The Very Old Great Failure is an art book containing juxtapositions of semi-abstract collages with the verses of a found poem, all created by John Edward Brooks. Brooks created the collages and produced the poems from a chapter of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. I’ll preface my review with a bit of my background.
My forays into the more abstract areas of contemporary art have been a series of stops and goes, mainly futile. My long time friend, Shannon Westerman, the Executive Director of The Louisville Visual Art Association, has encouraged me over the years to broaden my horizons and expand my views. He has gently nudged me in various ways: a tasteful gift of art here, an invitation to an artist’s gallery opening there, a dinner with a curator or a collector, and so on. Some of the encounters were like a blind date gone awry, others mildly interesting, and others such as my recent meeting of the artist John Edward Brooks and tour of his home and studio, a transformative experience.
As a writer, my quest has been to distill all the shades of the human emotional spectrum into the pages of a novel, a short story, or a poem. I yearn for the reader to have clarity: to feel what I feel, in essence, to see the picture I am trying to paint with words. Yet, in my heart, I know emotions do not work that way. In fact, they are formed within us, like layers of an onion, and as they are peeled back, they are sometimes raw and stinging, and other times sweet and as inviting as the Vidalia.
John Edwards Brooks’ collages, drawings, photographs and paintings are wrought with many emotional layers. Perusing his works is like looking through a kaleidoscope of feelings and emotions, especially these collages that flow with motion, evoking emotion. The layers of pain, loss, sadness, shock, desire, lust, hope, joy, and despair fly in your face. Fortunately, the artist provides you with a framework of words in the form of the found poem verses around which to grab hold as you view the collages. For a neophyte into abstract contemporary art, I find this comforting and helpful. I also find myself returning to the pages of The Very Old Great Failure over and over, each time experiencing something new. Overall, I keep taking away feelings of the mutability and fragility of life and how we live out our lives in a web of emotions.
I cannot remember the last time a book produced so many different feelings within me. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys art and enjoys the written word. John Edward Brooks is an important emerging artist, and I predict he will become well known in the art world.
I have no criticism of the content of the book, but I would love to see this important work done in an upscale, hardbound version, with high quality paper and art quality reproduction of the collages. That would be a book that should be on everyone’s coffee table; I guarantee you it will evoke good conversation.
You can purchase this lovely book on Amazon. I give it 5 stars.