Interview and photography by Ivan Feerman
Surf photography by Evan Schell

Kelsey Brookes is a San Diego-based surfer/artist blends science and aesthetics to create one-of-a-kind pieces for galleries, museums, and is a part of the artist group formed by RVCA. We caught up with Kelsey to learn more.

What drives you as an artist?
What makes me do art? Well, I think your process always changes. The paintings that I was doing two years ago look totally different. I mean they look similar – but conceptually they’re in a different place. You can’t do the same thing twice. It’s kinda impossible. Things are always gonna change. It keeps it interesting and it’s more subtle. I find that the older I get, the more I’m appreciating subtlety. I appreciate more subtle changes, the really tiny ones that aren’t as big. And I feel like that it can be helpful to appreciate the more changes in life.

Tell us about your process.
I don’t really know why I’m doing this. I just sorta do it. When I watch my daughter, when I watch her draw, like, she just loves it. And she just does it just because she loves it. When I saw that I thought, maybe I’ll have to keep asking myself this question. I’m a guy who makes art, and that’s why I guess. There’s probably some deeper psychological thing that we could figure out about it, but so far right now all I’ve figured out is that it’s an instinct in all human beings and I decided to not let it go.  

When did you catch your big break?  
It wasn’t just one defining moment when I was like, “This is it, now you’ve made it as an artist.” It’s been ten years, there’s been so many fits and starts. I’ve seen it go from really good to really shit. It’s just a cycle. I don’t think that there’s like a “boom and everything is great.”  It’s just like the whole world, it’s just a cycle and it’s not linear.

Tell us more...
Luckily because of that London show, and the group in London did really well, it opened up Europe to me. I wasn’t doing anything really in San Diego. I was doing mostly coffee shops.  But I was doing big gallery shows in Europe. And then it slowly moved back here. I did some stuff in New York and in the mid-west, and then I finally started getting some stuff here in San Diego and LA. It was a weird way to start, but that’s what was going on during that time period. It was just me trying to figure out what I was doing. I’m coming to the slow realization that instead of ignoring art and ignoring science and then embracing art, that I needed to embrace both of them.  

Where was your last or recent most exciting surf trip?
I went to The Mentawais last year. That was insane. I never thought that I’d get to go there. Oh man, there are so many barrel possibilities there. There were so many days that were like the best day here. So you get that for like, two weeks straight and you’re like pretty good. I’d definitely like to go back. 48 hours of straight travel to get there though, that was pretty crazy.

Was there something that led you to making the artwork you currently produce?
My whole life leading up to it led me to it. The first time that I embraced the science part of my life in the art world. I had always kept it separate before that. But then, once I started to let science inform my decision making with art, then it was like I had the two pieces of the puzzle that I always needed to make art that different and unique. Before I was only using that aesthetic part, the things that I liked to look at. I didn’t use anything else to conceptually make it a solid unit. And then once I got both, once I rooted the concept of each painting inside of science or empirical data, then it became something different.    

What part does surfing play in your artwork?
I think that when I surf I feel like that these lines that I’m making, follow the idea that I start. I’m trying to make the smoothest transition in between. I feel like with surfing, I’m not trying to make airs, I’m trying to be as efficient as I can, as fast as I can from one part of the wave to another.  It’s the same with these lines (referring to his artwork) I’m following the same principals when I surf. Just the economy of motion and simplicity. It feels like you need to let aesthetics guide you in so many principals in life and I feel like in surfing there’s so much room for aesthetic.     

Any advice you have for artists trying to make it?
There’s a Chuck Close quote that he has that I always agree with and it’s something along the lines of: “Inspiration is for amateurs, everyone else – just get to work”. Go to work, make work and out of that process of doing whatever you do, you’ll fuck up. And that fuck-up becomes an idea and that idea can be mixed with another idea, so you have to be in the studio working.  There’s no secret, you just have to work. And I like that, because it puts the power back into the person’s hands.