Kerry Brooks knows that sometimes, in order to move forward, you’ve got to look back. That’s why she’s shifted to reverse for her new solo show at Robert Lange Studios, Dark Matter.

The New York-based artist has been a regular fixture at RLS for seven years, filling the walls with delicately photorealistic colored pencil drawings and oil paintings, mostly of women. For this show, she’s sticking with an entirely black-and-white palette, starting each piece with a black canvas and then building from there.

“It’s almost like reverse drawing. You’re not putting dark marks on paper. You’re taking dark paper and pulling out the light,” she says. “I’m always looking for new approaches. I’m never happy doing the same thing year after year … This is a way to continue to use colored pencils and keep drawing but allows me to work on a larger scale. It’s one more way to see what I can achieve in my drawing. It’s kind of taking an opposite approach.”

Besides the inherent challenge of working with a black canvas, the new works allow Brooks to express a darker, more introspective side of herself. “There’s something about the dark paper and working in grays and whites, that adds some atmosphere and mood. There’s a little bit of that noirish quality,” she says. “There’s more of a sense of mystery when you’re not presented with the whole picture. When you take the color out, it leaves a lot more options open for interpretation. You can’t necessarily tell the time of day or what the setting is. I think the removal of color gives it the aura of mystery.”

The show represents a bit of a departure for Brooks as it includes a few landscapes and still lifes in addition to portraits of women. In one piece, a disheveled Barbie doll lays face-down on the ground, miniature bottles scattered around her. In another, what appears to be a close-up portrait turns out to be a close-up of a freckled Barbie, her face mostly hidden beneath a scarf. Two dark landscapes add to the desolate vibe. “I lived in Illinois for five years in a rural community. Through that sense of abandonment and desolation, I wanted to bring that in as well,” she says.

But the collection is mostly made up of portraits of women. In one piece, a topless brunette in pigtail braids is wearing a thick black blindfold. In another, a woman in a fur coat gazes up from a pile of leaves. The most haunting picture is of a ghostly woman whose face is covered by a thin white veil.

Brooks typically uses friends and family members as models. “I’ll invite someone that I know personally to model for me, and if she’s game, we’ll just go on an adventure and see what we can come up with,” she says. “It’s very hand-on, sort of do-it-yourself arts-and-crafts making my own props, setting up my own photo shoots, whether it’s outside or in my home, then I take it from there.” She uses PhotoShop heavily, working from her computer monitor, though the final process is more freehand and traditional.

Brooks’ approach reflects her interest in fashion and beauty and editorial photography. “I love the idea of controlling and setting up my own fashion shoot. There’s a beauty that I find in my friends that’s not maybe what you’d find on the pages of a magazine, but I think it’s interesting nevertheless. It’s the individual beauty that you’d find. It’s not that it’s not present in men, I just think that naturally in women there’s a certain grace and dignity that I find in people that I know and I just want to bring it forward.”

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