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Speaking with Living Museum Self-Taught Artist Paula Brooks

We came upon self-taught artist Paula Brooks’s lyrical landscapes and inventive imagery during one of our early visits to the Living Museum. More recently, we’ve had the opportunity to speak to the distinctly talented and delightfully welcoming Queens-based artist.

When did you first start making art and what inspired you at the time?

I remember doing arts and crafts back in pre-school. But when I was about eight years old, I started to draw characters. I was inspired by the likes of Bambi and Winnie the Pooh. I loved Walt Disney’s characters.

Do any art-related childhood memories stand out?

Yes! I remember when I was in the fourth grade, I was asked to design the backdrop of a forest and trees for the school play. I also remember drawing a parakeet when I was 11 and painting a bird free-hand when I was 13. But I didn’t start to take art seriously until I was in my 20s — and since, it’s become a huge passion.

What happened in your 20s to change your relationship with art? 

When I was a patient at Creedmoor, I met Dr. Marton who invited me to the Living Museum. That’s where I met an entire community of artists. And as I continued to come here, I began to think of myself as an artist. Dr. Marton always encouraged me to express myself freely.

Have you any favorite artists who’ve influenced your aesthetic ?

I love the late American artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

What about cultural influences?

My Rastafarian background has played some  influence — in terms of my choice of colors and subject matter. My art feels like meditation. I get lost in it. It’s part of my healing process.

How long do you generally spend on a piece?

Anywhere from one day to one year —  with an average of two weeks to three months — working four days a week, five hours each day.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?


Have you a favorite?

I especially like “Bar Code.”

It’s quite different from most of your work that we’ve seen! How has your aesthetic evolved since you started coming to the Living Museum?

I’ve become more experimental. I use different techniques, and I’ve gotten better.

Have you ever exhibited your work? And how important is the viewer’s response to you?

Yes. Many times in many different settings, including the Queens Museum of Art. The viewer’s response is important to me. I want to feel that my art inspires others.

Have you a favorite setting to work?

I love my space at the Living Museum, and I also like working outdoors in the courtyard of my residence.

What is your favorite media?

Painting with acrylics.

Any favorite colors?

I love green, and I love turquoise. Green is my absolute favorite. It’s the color of my first pair of sneakers I bought at Payless when I was 11!

How has your family responded to your artwork?

My mother and sister love it.

What are some of your other interests?

I like going to recovery meetings, and I love shopping, especially for shoes!

What’s ahead?

I want to keep having fun doing art! And I’d love to travel.This past year, a few of us from the Living Museum traveled to visit Switzerland’s Living Museum. I’d love to see more of the world.

Interview of Paula Brooks conducted by Lois Stavsky with City-As-School intern, Alyssa Torres; photos of artworks by Lois Stavsky 

Note: Paula Brooks is one of several Living Museum artists to be featured in Bonnie Astor‘s upcoming exhibition Journeys opening May 4, 7-10pm, at The Local NYC, 1302 44th Avenue in LIC.