Leonard Brooks

Born in London, England 1911
 / Died in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico 2011

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About the Artist

BROOKS, Leonard (Frank Leonard Brooks)

Born at Enfield, London, England, he came to Toronto, with his parents. For a year he took evening art classes at the Toronto Central Technical School (c. 1928); at the Ontario College of Art for six months under Frank Johnston. He then travelled and painted in England, France, Spain and in the United States at Woodstock, New York. On his return to Canada he settled in Toronto and in 1935 married Reva Silverman. He taught drawing, paint­ing and graphic arts at the Northern Vocational School and was active in art circles and participated in most of the major exhibitions in Canada, and the U.S. and in the Canadian Section at the 1936 World’s Fair.

He began paint­ing activities on the Great Lakes around 1939, visiting various docks and many of the ships that arrived and departed from the Great Lake ports. During World War II he left his teaching post in 1943 to enlist in the Navy (RCNVR) as an Able Seaman (1943). He was promoted to Petty Officer, then to Sub-Lieutenant in August of 1944. In September was appointed Official War Artist. Overseas he went aboard warships to paint the activities of minesweepers, motor torpedo boats off the coast of Normandy, in the Channel, off the East Coast and on the aircraft carrier HMS Puncher in waters off Scotland. On his return to Canada he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. He deposited 113 works in the War Collection.

Following his discharge he went to Mexico on a D.V.A. grant to study and decided to take up residence there with his wife Reva. He studied under Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, while his wife Reva pursued photography. Leonard and Reva travelled widely in that country. Their impressions of Mexico appeared in Canadian Art (Spring, 1950). Critic Rose MacDonald in the Evening Telegram wrote, “Like Siqueiros he paints in the abstract only as an exercise with a view to clarification, believing that this is the purpose of abstract painting…Since that time his figurative work evolved from abstract, to non-objective, to free-form collage acrylics with rich texture.”

Some of his paintings have been transposed into large tapestries by five Mexican weavers under his direction. Leonard and Reva held a joint exhibi­tion of their works in a number of centres including Eaton’s Fine Art Galleries, Tor. (1949). A.S. Cowie, art dealer, wrote the following, “His water colours of these Mexican sights are vigorous, skilfully composed, colorful, and airy. The people are pictured going about their business, not merely posing in costume for the tourist. One feels that the artist is delighted by what he sees, that he has an inexhaustible fund of compositions and never repeats himself; that each picture, in a word, is an experience.” Pearl McCarthy in 1954 had this to say, “He has avoided being trapped by his own or anybody else’s mannerisms on the whole, and has continuously sought an engagement between his own feelings and what natural sights the world has to present for our endless wonder.” Brooks has worked in a variety of media over the years including oils, acrylics, water colours, casein, duco, polymer, wax, and graphic mediums.

He has written a number of books on painting techniques including: Watercolor A Challenge (1957); Oil Painting Traditional and New (1959); Wash Drawing and Casein (1961); Painting and Understanding Abstract Art (1964); Painter’s Workshop (1969); Oil Painting, Basic and New Techniques (1971). He has had a lifelong love of music, is an accomplished player of the violin and has given free lessons to local Mexican children. He eventually was encouraged to head the music department at the Bellas Artes in San Miguel and as a result of his activity in music, an annual festival of chamber music is held which attracts players and listeners from around the world. He has held many solo shows during his career and his paintings have been exhibited at the following: Eaton’s Fine Art Galleries, Tor.; Roberts Gallery, Tor.; the Cowie Galleries, L.A., Calif.; Childs Gal., Boston, Mass.; Ohio Univ., Athens; Kenyon College; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, San Francisco; San Antonio Biennal Interamericana, Mexico and at the 2nd Annual exhibition at San Miguel (1960) where he won 1st Prize.

He is represented in the following collec­tions: LAG, Lond., Ont.; U. Guelph; AGO, Tor.; NGC, Ott.; Can. War Museum, Ott.; Dartmouth College, N.S.; Worcester Art Museum, Mass.; Mus. of Modern Art, Mexico City; Ohio U., Athens; Slosberg Collection, Boston and in many private collections in Canada, Mexico and the United States. His teaching experience includes: Ohio U., Athens; Doon Sch. of Art, Ont.; UBC; Art Inst., San Antonio, Texas; Wells College, Aurora, N.Y. His wife Reva, began photographing his work to make a record, then grad­ually expanded her interest to record the Mexican people and their land. Her photographs were included in the landmark 1955 Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and the Lincoln Center. Reva and Leonard spend most of their time at their home in San Miguel de Allende but make occasional visits to the United States and Canada. His affiliations have been: CSGA (1936-52); ARCA (1939) now RCA; OSA (1939-57); FCA (1941); Calif. W.C. Soc. (1949); CGP (1957-63); A&L Club, Tor. Travelled in Europe (c. 1932-34) (1961); England (1944-45); Greece (1967); Italy (1971).

Colin S. MacDonald

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Studied at

Central Technical School
Ontario College of Art

Professional Activities

Painted and exhibited in England, France & Spain as a young man
Taught art in Toronto for several years
Member of Ontario Society of Artists & Royal Canadian Academy
Official War Artist with Royal Canadian Navy in World War II
Guest instructor at San Antonio Art Institute in 1954

Watercolour - A Challenge 1954
Oil Painting - Traditional and New 1959
Course in Casein Painting 1961
Painting and Understanding Abstract Art 1965
Painter's Workshop 1969
Oil Painting, Basic and New Techniques 1971
The Many Ways of Water & Colour 1977

Solo Exhibitions

Roberts Gallery 1969,72,76,80,83
Numerous exhibitions across Canada
Also exhibited in Los Angeles, Boston, Mexico, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Vancouver, San Antonio


National Gallery of Canada
Worchester Art Museum
Art Gallery of Ontario
Dartmouth College
London Art Gallery
Numerous private collections in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.A.