James Brooks was born in 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri (U.S.A.). Between 1923 and 1925 he studied at the Southern Methodist University of Dallas, Texas and in 1926 he moved to New York City, where between 1927 and 1930 he studied at the Art Students League with Kimon Nicolaides and Boardman Robinson.
During the 1930s he worked with lithography, winning the first prize in the competition organized by Dallas Museum in 1933. Then he completed various murals: for the Post Office of Little Falls (1936), for the Queens Public Library (1937, today destroyed) and for the Marine Air Terminal of La Guardia airport (1938).
In 1942 he enlisted in the United States Army in the Middle East as an art correspondent, with head-quarters in Cairo. He traveled to North Africa, Palestine and Egypt.
James Brooks' career was accompanied by assiduous teaching activities at many universities and institutes of Americans art: Columbia University between 1946 and 1948, the Pratt Institute of New York between 1948 and 1955, the New College of Sarasota, the Miami Art Center, and Queens College during the 1960s. He closed his experience in the field of teaching, working at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, during the 1971/72 academic year, and at the Cooper Union of New York in 1975. During these years, he frequently received honorary prizes, medals, and grants which speak to the value of his work, including the Guggenheim Foundation prize in the 1969.
During the 1940s and ‘50s Brooks began to show in different group exhibitions hosted at major American museums, including the Dallas Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and until at least 1959, at the Whitney Museum of New York, at the annual painting's exhibition.
His first solo show was held in the Peridot Gallery of New York in 1950. In 1952 he held his first solo show in in Paris at the Galerie de France, that hosted another solo show in 1953. During the middle and the end of the 1950s, Brooks exhibited with the Stable Gallery of New York, whereas around the 1960s and specifically 1965, he showed at the Kootz Gallery of New York. He participated in the important exhibition event "across the border" at the Document of Kassel in 1959, and then in the exhibition “The International Art of a New Era”, which toured in the U.S.A., Japan, and Europe. Also in 1959, he exhibited in the Biennial of Mexico City in the 1960.
Among Brooks' most important exhibitions were: “New Direction in American Painting” that toured in various locations of the United States (1964); “Art of the United States 1670/1966”, Whitney Museum, New York (1966); “200 Years of Watercolor Painting in America”, MOMA, New York (1967). Other exhibitions with a historical documentary character to which he contributed during the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, not only in the United States but also abroad (in Italy 1976 and 1980, Australia 1977, France 1979, Japan 1997, among others) helped introduce Brooks' work to a wider and diversified public.
At the Finch College Museum he exhibited the paper works between 1950 and 1975. These exhibitions would travel during that year to several other North American museums. Also in 1975, during June and July, Brooks exhibited for the first time at the galleries Lorenzelli of Bergamo and Milan.
Around the end of the 1970s and ‘80s Brooks began a collaboration with two other galleries in New York: Himmelfarb Gallery and the Gruenebaum Gallery, with whom he exhibited in a rich succession of solo shows (with the Gruenebaum, until 1988) while in 1983, the Portland Museum of Art devoted to a retrospective exhibition.
James Brooks died in East Hampton, New York, in the 1992.
During the 1990s the Joan T. Washburn Gallery in New York organized Brooks' solo shows: in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998 and 2002. While in 2003, a selection of artist paintings from 1960 to 1985, was exhibited at the Artemis Greenberg Van Doren Gallery in New York.
Lorenzelli Arte paid tribute to James Brooks in 2005, thirty years after the first personal exhibition, presenting the public with a body of work including oil paintings dated from 1969 to 1972.