As a curator, I am always amazed at what I come across in the Jerry Bywaters Collection on Art of the Southwest. Upon recently discovering a small brochure entitled “Exhibition by Young Painters” published in 1932 in the archive, I noticed the names of two former SMU students listed among the ‘young painters’ – James D. Brooks and Jerry Bywaters. The exhibition was assembled by the College Art Association and held at Ferargil Galleries in New York. Competition was tough – only 40 works of art were selected from among the 500 submissions in the United States to be included in the exhibition. The New York Herald Tribune reported “….the painters represented seem to be sincere, industrious types, unmistakable concerned to arrive at a serious goal” (October 2, 1932). Both Brooks and Bywaters would continue as artists and establish their art careers in different parts of the country – Bywaters in Dallas would become a leading figure with the Texas regionalists’ art movement in the 1930s, and Brooks in New York would serve as a first generation member with the abstract expressionists’ art movement in the 1940s.
Brooks’ early art training was at SMU and with private instructors in the 1920s. In 1926, he moved to New York City where he continued his art studies. His realist style began to change in the early 1940s when he completed the mural Flight in 1942 for LaGuardia Airport’s Marine Air Terminal. This rather controversial 235 foot circular mural was painted over in the 1950s, but later restored in 1980. The artist’s style began to veer toward abstraction as he rendered this mural. It was a direction he would continue in the 1940s and onward throughout his career.
In 2016, Brooks and Bywaters were reunited again with a gift from the James and Charlotte Brooks Foundation to the Bywaters Special Collections. This gift includes twenty-four of the artist’s works. Dating between 1931 – 1985, the variety of formats are early paintings and lithographs Brooks made in the 1930s, a lithograph entitled The Sergeant made during the artist’s military days during World War II, multiple lithographs, and a silkscreen revealing his later career and influence during the abstract expressionism period. The whole of the Brooks’ collection documents the artist’s development and his diversity in painting and printmaking styles.
Work by both James Brooks and Jerry Bywaters can be viewed on SMU’s Texas Artists Digital Website – https://www.smu.edu/Libraries/digitalcollections/tar
Blog Post: Ellen Buie Niewyk, Curator, Bywaters Special Collection
Featured image: Cover of brochure for CAA’s 1932 “Exhibition by Young Painters”
Images Courtesy of the Jerry Bywaters Collection on Art of the Southwest, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University