“Art just seemed like more fun and more freedom.”
San Diegan Kelsey Brookes used to work in microbiology. As a former disease control scientist, he spent his days in the lab, peering through microscopes at all sorts of funky viruses.
During a hiatus between jobs, Kelsey spent eighteen months in Australia with a friend. They lived out of their car, learned to surf and travelled the land. He also used the time off to focus on painting and drawing.
Kelsey considers the trip an important period of his life. It was the first time he had focused on what he wanted to do, rather than what other people or aptitude tests told him he should be doing. “Everything that I learned and enjoyed there is what I based the rest on my life on,” says Kelsey. “Everything else just fell away. That time in Australia was like the birth of my life.”
He soon ditched science and focused on painting. This impressed me.
I told Kelsey's story to a girl I know well. She said, yeah but that’s what smart people do. That’s what their intelligence affords.
Perhaps. But it’s not Kelsey’s ability that excited me, it was his courage to forge a new direction, and leave an old one behind. Dreams: that’s as close most of us ever get to pursuing what we want.
Some would say art is an unlikely career for a former scientist. Kelsey disagrees. “The only differences in the creative pursuits of artists and scientists is the active implementation of the scientific method,” says Kelsey. “Artists do the same thing as scientists, only free of imposed constraints. The root of art and science is the same creative, questioning impulse.”
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a sudden leap, nor an easy transition. Says Kelsey: “I began displaying some work at local coffee shops and restaurants. After some of those paintings started selling I realised that if I really minimised my expenses, I could make ends meet.”
And that’s all he needed. Just a glimmer of success, a sniff of opportunity.
“I then quit my job in the lab, and pursued art full time. Coffee shops led to restaurants, and restaurants eventually led to small galleries. I was off.”
Kelsey’s paintings are kaleidoscopic. From afar they resemble symmetrical prints, but up close they show intricate molecular patterns - biology at its most basic. His work is a study of patience and detail. You can take the boy out of science……etc etc.
Kelsey’s been doing kinda well. And by kinda I mean really. His CV lists solo exhibitions in La Jolla, Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, London and Berlin. He’s art has appeared on albums of the ‘Chilli Peppers and Flaming Lips. He’s collaborated with RVCA and VANS.
Kelsey’s future plans are to “continue to probe the hidden underlying structures of life and the physical universe and make art about it.” Hallelujah to that! He also has shows coming up this fall in New York at Pace Prints and Jacob Lewis Gallery.
His latest exhibition ‘Position’ is showing at Library Street Collective, Detroit, until 10 June 2017.