33 year-old Kelsey Brookes is re-inventing psychedelic art for the 21st century.
‘Desires of the Soul’ is his first full UK solo show. A life-sized skeleton inspired by Tibetan art holds up a black cobra and an hour glass while neon colours starburst in the background. Exaggerated animals take to an iridescent sea aboard a full-to-bursting ark. Hermaphrodite chimerae beckon the viewer into their own private realms on the furthest reaches of perception. The art is impulsive, extravagant, poetic and spontaneous, an echo of the spirit.
Kelsey’s paintings mix primal imagery and potent signifiers with vivid, kaleidoscopic abstractions. In keeping with the finest examples of psychedelic expression Kelsey’s artworks are neither a bad trip nor a fluffy love-in, but a dramatic expression of our impulses that supersedes conventional western mores. Enhanced sensation and the gamut of human experience are represented through an ancient concept: the ‘chimera’, an amalgamation of different beasts and human forms. Primitive eastern devotional and religious art, spirituality, sexuality, and the ongoing conflict between the reptilian and more evolved aspects of the human mind: these are just a few of the aspects given birth, screaming celestial harmonies, onto the canvas.
“This is the most densely painted work I have made yet,” says Kelsey. “There’s more focus on implied motion, background colours and intricate details – they’re more complete paintings in a number of ways.”
A former scientist, willpower and self-mastery influence Kelsey’s work as much as mind expansion and sensation. “The complex backgrounds are made using lots of painter’s tape and time. The technique I use is dedication, discipline, and repetition.”
An unusual inspiration for ‘Desires of the Soul’ is Kelsey’s migrane headaches. The powerful affliction is often associated with not only visual hallucinations but also perceived smells and other ‘synaesthetic’ experiences (the interpretation of one sense as another, for instance ‘hearing’ colours). “I get the migraines a couple of times a year,” he says. “Just before the headache sets in I get thirty minutes of free psychedelic imagery, which I thoroughly mined for this show. The migranes especially influenced the decorative parts of the work. The lines and the geometric patterns come directly from my hallucinogenic experiences just before the headache.”
Kelsey says that psychedelic drugs and other hallucinatory experiences “were an introduction to seeing the world from a different perspective. Not any particular perspective, just the knowledge that there were many different ways of understanding. In that sense the psychedelic experience plays a major role in my creative thought process. The imagery classically used to translate that mental state, at least in the west, appeals to me but also can easily be dismiss as frivolous. I’m attempting to address and translate that work through my own experience.”
About the artist
Born in Denver, Colorado 33 years ago Kelsey Brookes originally pursued a successful career in molecular and micro biology. He received a sought-after fellowship at the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention working with viruses, including developing a system for identifying HiV in the blood of blood bank donors, until “becoming a painter who dabbled in science” aged 27. “The jury is still out on whether I can actually paint but it sure is fun,” he says.
He approaches painting as an instinctive form of expression, and his artistic and scientific careers as spiritual development. “The deeper I look into any contemplative tradition, both in spirituality and in science, the more I realize it is not the answers but the questions that are of real value. I try and follow my instinct and resist concept and didactic ideas as I paint. What I am painting is not an answer to the questions but rather an illustrated version of those questions.”
Now based in San Diego, California Kelsey is an avid surfer who collaborates regularly with adventure sports brand RVCA. A regimented individual and in his own words “a relentless self-analyser” who’s “not going to give himself a break just yet,” Kelsey believes that “one’s path is one’s guru... To that end I meditate every day, I do yoga twice a week and take mushrooms once a year. To be honest thought, the mushrooms are just for fun. The real work gets done in my meditation and yoga practice.”