Sketchbooks always reveal something about an artist’s process — but Brianna Rose Brooks’ 2018 Perfectly Acceptable release, Oh My (Bri), goes a step further by revealing much of its author’s psyche. It’s an intimate glimpse at a remarkable talent — disarmingly intimate, in fact — but it’s also not necessarily for those who don’t appreciate a challenge when they’re “only” expecting to look at some amazing drawings.
Described by its publisher as dealing with “topics of intimacy, identity, and blackness” — truth in advertising, I assure you — it’s nevertheless a safe bet that readers will be at least occasionally taken aback by how far she goes in exploring these themes, visually and literally. And while the sketches and essay collected herein span a roughly three-year gamut, the cumulative effect of the work as a whole bears the conceptual weight of a liftetime having been spent not just exploring, but living, issues stemming forth, both directly and indirectly, from these subjects.
You needn’t worry about the production values on this slim-but-sturdy volume, of course, Perfectly Acceptable being the “gold standard” of boutique riso printing houses, but the expansive color palette and aesthetic approximation of an “actual” sketchbook utilized here are the dictionary definition of “above and beyond” — and also absolutely necessary for this book to have the communicative power it needs to be fully effective. When it comes to faithful reproductions of original pages this is second-to-none, yes, but considering that the nature of the project itself demands no less, well — let’s just say it’s pretty obvious that Matt Davis must have realized the potency of what he had on his hands with this one and duly “upped his game” to match that of Brooks.
If this is a game, though, it’s one that being played for keeps — page after page of vibrant and expressive illustration communicate more with a glance, a gesture, a choice of body language or physical posturing, than a million words could hope to (that’s it, my one-cliche limit has been reached), but when those words do come into play in her eight-page, “redacted” autobiographical essay, the stakes are raised significantly higher. Which brings us back to that whole thing about “intimacy, identity, and blackness” —
Intimacy? Brooks asks meaningful questions about not only intimacy with others, but with oneself. Identity? She goes beyond examining sexual, gender, and racial identity and trains her considerable talents on a stark-but-subtle analysis of the very phenomenon of discrete identity itself. Blackness? She’s not just grappling with her own blackness, but the suppression of blackness on a mass scale, translated down to the personal, in a culture based on the destructive myth of white supremacy. If you’re wondering if such lofty explorations can be undertaken with pens and markers on cheap sketch paper (ruled and unruled), this book answers that in the affirmative — and does so affirmatvely.
Which isn’t to say that Brooks doesn’t have an eye for beauty and its necessity, as the sketch above (which also shows off the impressive inlaid bookmark this volume comes complete with) clearly shows — indeed, while this is a complex and in many ways difficult work, it’s also a beautiful one from start to finish that celebrates not so much the struggle, but the irreducible kernel of self that persists within the face of it. Unforgettable, I believe, is the word we’re looking for here.
******************************************************************************Oh My (Bri) is available for $20 from Perfectly Acceptable Press at https://www.perfectly-acceptable.com/item/oh-my/
Review wrist check – I was wearing my Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 53” while I wrote this one. This is the so-called “Blackout” edition, riding the PVC-coated stainless steel bracelet it came on in the box. It looks great on black, orange, and blue NATOs as well, but hey — I was in a hurry this morning.