Kelsey Brookes is a Zen scientist or a scientific zen master. We’re not sure. Either way, his meditations manifest on the canvas. He deploys his knowledge of the organic building blocks of life as a blueprint for his mind and soul-expanding psychedelic art pieces.
CONVICTS recently caught up with Kelsey on the phone. In between chats about the local swells and his recent trip to Mexico, we got Kelsey’s word on the mind’s natural chaos, the centering nature of creativity and the importance of trusting one’s artistic process to provide answers.
What state do you need to be in to create art?
What state do I need to be in? Well, you know, I’ve really come to think that what I really need to do is just come into the studio and paint no matter what state I’m in. Whether I’m happy or bummed out about something or I got into an argument with my wife — which we never do, of course — I try not to trust the state of mind I’m in too much. I just sort of go for it and see how it goes. There’ll be days when I’m just like, “Oh I’m super tired, I’m definitely not going to be up for working on my project. I’ll just give it a shot.” Sometimes those days are the days you finish your project that you’ve been working on for a month. So I’ve come to not believe in my initial intuition. No matter what’s going on, no matter how I’m feeling, I just start painting and the process of painting fixes a lot of stuff.
That leads to the next question. Is there a therapeutic quality to being an artist?
Well, let’s see. The practice of making art is a really happy place to be. Quiet, mellow. Everything slows way down. I’m a bit of an introvert so being by myself and having everything calm is a very comfortable place for me. That’s the way things are here at the studio. It’s super quiet, super calm, so that can be a really nice respite from everything else.
In spite of the peace you find in the studio, are there still elements of fear and doubt that you struggle with?
Yeah, that’s a pretty constant thing. The fear and the doubt are always going to be there, but they’re never to be paid attention to. That’s never a useful thing. It’s always just fear and doubt of things that are in the future or past. You’re anxious about the future or you’re upset about the past but none of that has ever been fruitful for me. Being in the present and making work is where it’s at.
So, in these troubled times, what are you finding beautiful about life?
I’m not kidding when I say everything. There are difficult things, for sure, but those can be learned from. I can’t imagine a more perfect place. This is it. I love it. If you’re alive and breathing, you’re as lucky as it gets. What else do you need? Just get out and make life as best as you can for yourself and try to help other people as much as you can.
What interests you about working with different mediums?
I have this thing about novelty. I enjoy the beginning of a lot of things. That time when you’re really learning and your ability is growing quickly and you’re learning fast. To me, that is a really exciting and fun time. I mean, I like to bounce around a lot through life in general, you know? I was a scientist who became an artist. I was a gymnast and then I became a surfer and then a rock climber. I’m always bouncing around to different things. I really, really, really enjoy the new, the novelty seeking.
When do you struggle to keep going with your art practice?
I mean, there are times when I’m like “My gosh, what am I doing?” I feel like that’s usually around a show. If I get something done and I’m not happy with the way it looks or I’m not getting the feedback or the sales aren’t good, then I get frustrated. That feeling of realizing what you thought was a good idea wasn’t a good idea like that can be jolting. It’ll make you disappointed in yourself. Figuring out what you did wrong isn’t necessarily a super enjoyable time, but it’s a really important time if you’re going to make progress and get on to the next level. That can be a difficult time but boy, it sure is necessary.
Can you talk a bit about the artist’s mind?
What I’ve learned from my meditation practice is that my mind goes all over the place. It’s up, it’s down, it’s sideways, right, left. I’m excited about something or I’m bummed about something, I’m worried about something or upset about something. I’m thinking about surfing and then I’m thinking about climbing. I’m thinking about something I said to somebody a few days ago. None of that is a place that you can make art from. That’s just distraction. You’re missing life if you’re wrapped up in that. Meditation doesn’t try to banish that. It’s just accepting that’s what’s always going to be happening inside your mind. As long as you’re alive and your brain’s working, you’re going to have all sorts of ideas all the time that are good or bad or whatever but they’re not necessarily worth paying attention to. I feel the same way about the art in the art practice. Your mind will bounce around and shine its light all over the place. Every once in a while, it might be interesting, so you can hold on to that piece and remember it. But most of the time I find my mind is better off ignored, to be honest. A lot of good ideas come from the act of painting. You mess something up and that’s a whole new theory right there or see something from a different angle. The point is that my mind races and bounces all the time. That it’s mostly worth ignoring. Getting to work is the most important thing.
That’s awesome. If you had to be so grandiose, what would you say you’re trying to achieve?
As I get older, my goal honestly is just to be a good person and help others as much as possible and have a lot of fun.
How do you fuse science and art?
Science is the platform I move from when I make artwork. It’s like the scaffolding or the bone that all the other artistic or aesthetic decisions get draped over. I come up with a concept that is rooted in some sort scientific comparison. It could be molecular biology. It could be number sequences. It could be any system that I am excited about in the science that I do. I used to work with bacteria and viruses and molecules, so I found a lot of inspiration from that and am excited about that world. I’ll use that as a beginning point and then flesh out artistic products so they can be two-dimensional paintings or three-dimensional sculptures or installations. The beginning of it all, the basis of it all, the guiding light, is science.