James Brooks was born in in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906. In 1922, Brooks studied art at Southern Methodist University for two years. He then studied with James A. Waddell at the Dallas Art Institute. In 1926 he moved to New York City, where he worked as a commercial artist to fund his night classes with Boardman Robinson and Kimon Nicolaides at the Art Students League. Brooks began exhibiting paintings and prints in a social realist style in various group shows around New York in the early 1930s. He executed three murals for the WPA Federal Art Project between 1936 and 1942, during which time he met the painters Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston. Brooks enlisted in the United States Army in 1942 and served as an art correspondent in Egypt and the Near East. Upon his return to New York in September 1945, Brooks renewed his friendships with Guston, Pollock, and Bradley Walker Tomlin and began to solicit criticism from Wallace Harrison. Brooks developed an abstract style influenced by the synthetic Cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. In the summer of 1948, he developed a more fluid abstract style after being inspired by the random shapes that occurred on the back of canvases to which he had glued paintings with black paste. Many of Brooks's early works in the Abstract Expressionist style retained vestiges of the Cubist grid. He experimented with enamels, gouache, and thinned oils over various backgrounds such as crayon; his palette generally alternated between browns, grays, or blacks and more vivid colors. His works are in the Metropolitan, Guggenheim, Brooklyn Museum, Tate Modern, Dallas Museum of Art, and MoMA.