Updated: May 18
Meet the Northern lad using his small-town life to capture a sense of history in everyday objects.
Words: Colleen Considine
You don’t need to be working-class to understand real issues – you just can’t be a Tory.
So goes the outlook of Yorkshire-born Jim Brook, a self-described “working-class artist making work about their life,” with those ideas front and centre throughout his work. Since 2014, his art has explored his northern identity within a multimedia process such as using textile-based sculpture, in the hopes of conveying messages of working-class life.
Jim looks at unearthing his village and town history of textile industry which has strong ties to trade unions. Most recently in the form of ‘Rich Tea’, Published by Tide Press, a body of work that explores relationships between the readymade, still life, sculpture and the photograph within his home shared with his gran in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.
“I got told all my life to get a trade,” says the 25-year-old, “I had only two options: get a job in a factory or go to college. But I didn’t want to do anything academic, so the only option was art school.”
With limited options, Jim attended the local art school in 2011 studying Visual Communications, it was here he developed his passion for experimentation. Pushing him to present who he is in the form of sculpture, whilst capturing his creations for the world of social media to see.
Early on, he adds, “it got engraved in me that you make art about where you’re from and your experience.” With Jim being heavily influenced by his hometown, he creates his work in the surroundings of his grandmother’s home. “I’ve not gone somewhere and picked a culture. I’m living it.” This led him to make his first finished body of work “I’d put you in a mirror” an ode to Dewsbury and Thornhill, the places he had walked past for years before this.
So Brook’s work is a progression of his working-class upbringing. That might be photographing, a vibrant custard tin, a mosaic-tiled fish and chips sign, or a Tunnocks bar placed in-between a towering three brick sculpture. With an ode to his community, Brook says he “wants to join art with protest, taking it outside of a gallery.” So, during lockdown Jim re-invented his original red and black Another artist on the dole banner, giving it a new lease of life “by making poles from old bush handles, so it can be used within a demonstration.”
As well as taking art to the streets, Jim has to fight for his place within art. Being a predominately middle-class industry with as little as 17% of working-class people in the creative sphere. He muses that a lot of art is driven from working-class culture, classed as ‘folk art’. “But when middle-class people do it, it’s art, it’s not working-class people’s fault, it’s the art industry.”
'SCAB' a sculpture of fake red flowers. 'Fish & Chips' a mosaic-tiled sign.
Brook continues to merge the latest political news with the history of Yorkshire to draw inspiration from his immediate surroundings. “When Thatcher died, mining villages in west and south Yorkshire paraded about with burning effigies of her,” he says. Something else caught his eye, too: mirroring the harsh divisions from past miners’ strikes, a florist shaped the word “SCAB” in flowers. In response, Jim produced his own take, “SCAB” sculpted in fake red roses. To him, the sculpture illustrated how the Labour Party abandoned the working classes much like the scabs abandoned the workers as they refused to strike in the 80s and before “It’s an attack and a historical piece.”
For Jim, a feeling of division has deepened closer than the north and south conflict when looking at his home of Dewsbury. In this former mill town, there’s a Muslim community “facing a lot of hostility,” Jim says, but it’s this melting pot of culture that feeds into his work. With Brook aiming is to “make mosaics and banners to reignite the traditional Dewsbury with a multicultural future.”
With this time of modernisation being felt with traditional Yorkshire, Jim is careful not to exploit its past, he is currently set on creating a new chapter of work. With a series of textile-based banners that will observe Brook’s life, drawing on photographs he has taken over the past few years as a reference point in the new series.
“The culture up here is engraved in working-class life,” he says. “If you’re living that, then why not talk about it and show it?” Through his practice, Brook hopes to create work that normalises our understanding for the love of his culture, community and the north.
“I’ve been in this northern bubble, I’ve not left this environment and if I’ve got the approval of those around me, that’s all I need.”
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