Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you stumble across an artist who has the power to lift you out of the grind of everyday life, transporting you somewhere else entirely using only the alchemy of colors and shapes. Maybe they take you somewhere familiar, like something out of a dream, like a feeling in your bones that you don’t yet have the words for. Or maybe they take you somewhere unexpected, somewhere surreal and far away from everything you know, immersing you in an otherworldly landscape that drenches even the most mundane activities with a quiet feeling of the mystical.
On rare occasions, you find an artist who can do both, such as Austin-based artist Adrian Landon Brooks, whose paintings and drawings act as a vivid visual narrative illustrating the human form and rituals, set against an otherworldly, color-coated backdrop. Inspired by the simplicity and iconography of Neo-Folk art, his work is pared down yet detailed, ripe with emotion and an unspecified spirituality. Brooks often incorporates found items into his pieces, such as the blocks of pecan wood that act as canvases for his latest collection, infusing his art with a sense of history and binding it organically to the natural world.
His stunning and simple black and white ink drawings pay homage to the strength of female energy and the beauty of the female form, while exploring the interconnected relationship between femininity and nature, (particularly the moon) with a dreamy reverence and a keen eye for detail. His drawings are powerfully fragmented moments, spliced from a daydream or a nightmare, juxtaposing surreal imagery with all too real emotions, such as love, loss, and yearning.
In both his drawings and his pastel-soaked paintings, Brooks doesn’t shy away from the strange, and beneath his brush typical scenes turn slightly off kilter, part human and part holy. His work is blissfully free of inhibitions and refreshingly void of male figures, resulting in a candy-colored landscape that reverberates with mystery and is populated by half naked goddesses (sign us up). His art is illuminated with a sense of a higher power, and although it is uncertain whether that power is nature, the divine feminine, or spirituality, you can feel it nonetheless, lingering lovingly at the intersection of the familiar and the strange. We chatted with Brooks about his creative process, what spirituality means to him, and how his art changed after his daughter was born. Catch his latest collection of work, Oh Me, Oh My, at Stephanie Chefas Projects in Portland until December 23rd.
Live FAST: Hello! Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started as an artist?
Adrian Landon Brooks: I grew up in Houston, Texas with my mother, who is a very creative person. I knew that I wanted to be an artist when I was about 12 years old and she was fully supportive of my vision. Like most people, my teenage years weren’t that great, so drawing was a good outlet for me. When a gallery in Houston hired me as an art handler, that experience showed me that my dream was attainable. The gallery owner was very supportive and encouraged me to go to school. I moved to San Francisco to attend San Francisco Art Institute and I was deeply influenced by The Mission School art movement at that time. My first show was at an artist run warehouse in downtown Houston where I displayed 40 ink drawings and covered my first huge white wall. Seeing the public interact with my artwork provoked a feeling I had never experienced before.
LF: Do you find there are common themes throughout your work?
ALB: The common themes in my paintings have to do with repeated imagery, mystical narratives, materials, and the colors that I choose. I usually have a general idea or composition in mind when I am working on a series so I might explore certain objects or images throughout that series and see how fast I get bored with it. The most obvious example would be the golden moons and halos that always seem relevant to me in my paintings. Some parts of the paintings will carry on throughout the years and other parts will be retired after they start feeling stale.
LF: Who or what inspires you?
ALB: My wife really changed the course of my art career tremendously, and my life in general. Before we met I was pretty distracted with partying and other nonsense. She gave me the focus and stability I think I was craving for a long time. I don’t regret the things that got me to this place, but my time was much more productive once she was in my life. She gave me someone else to do good for besides myself. This happened again when my daughter Willow was born. I was honestly pretty scared that once the family life started rolling I would somehow lose my creative life. I am happy to say that the opposite is true. I am surrounded by family and friends that want nothing more than for me to be happy and succeed. For that I am forever grateful.
LF: What is your creative process?
ALB: I am always working towards the bigger picture or thinking about a body of work as opposed to thinking solely about the painting in front of me. I have general themes that carry over into most of my paintings but I try to leave room for some discovery through trial and error. My time in the studio is very regimented, like normal work hours. It helps me to stay productive when I stick to a schedule and get to work even if I’m not feeling that creative at the moment. It’s extremely gratifying to work through the lull and come out of the day with something accomplished.
LF: Much of your work, especially your drawings, exclusively features women. Tell us a little bit about what inspires that.
ALB: I have always had strong female role models in my life and was raised primarily by women. I think that appreciation carried over in to my work from the very start and I have paid homage to the female form ever since. I view the female figures in my work as goddesses and symbols of just as much strength as beauty. I am also your typical heterosexual man, so the female form is inspiring on its own, without any other deeper meaning.
LF: Your painting work often incorporates found pieces of wood. What do you think they add to the work?
ALB: My family and I relocated to the hill country outside of Austin, Texas to build a little dwelling on some wooded land. I think the building process and my new surroundings really inspired my studio work over time. It wasn’t long until I started scavenging wood and debris from long hikes in the hills. All of the wood I use is locally sourced and either from my property or nearby mills. I think the aesthetic of the wood is an incredibly important part of the artwork and serves as a perfect background to my paintings. I would be hard pressed to recreate any of the natural grain and patina in the wood pieces that I choose.
LF: Your work seems steeped in the spiritual and contains references to mythology. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
ALB: I do consider myself spiritual in a very broad sense. I don’t spend too much time worrying about the specifics nor do I have any involvement with a religious group. Overall, I think it’s healthy not to be egocentric; instead I stay open minded about what could be happening in the universe around me. I have never had much of need to define what spirituality means to me beyond that.
LF: What advice would you give to your younger self?
ALB: Spend less time at parties and more time in the studio!
LF: What’s next for you? What are you excited about?
ALB: My show at Stephanie Chefas Projects in Portland, which opened on December 1st and is on view until December 23rd. Oh Me, Oh My is a collection of narrative paintings on reclaimed pecan wood exploring themes of humor, nudity and quiet reflection. The subjects are celebrations of the human form set in an otherworldly reality. These are the moments in time when you turn off your phone and stop to listen to the rainbows.
LF: How fast do you live?
ALB: Even deep in the woods, my life rarely seems slow or boring.