it all starts with nature; the magnificence of a rolling storm, the brief beauty of a fleeting cloudscape. contemporary artist brooklyn whelan paints with an otherworldly eye, commanding a mastery of light, shade and colour that is both calm and striking.
we visit brooklyn in his studio to discuss his journey, artistic influences, and how his latest work is contributing to the australian bushfire relief effort.
growing up, did you ever imagine you’d become an artist?
i'm not really sure i ever thought about it like that. i just made lots of drawings and painted heaps for as long as i can remember. then in the 80's, there was the graffiti explosion. i gravitated towards that because i was catching trains to school and it was everywhere. it was a brand new subculture for a kid that needed a creative outlet, along with skateboarding… which also had a dope graphic design/art element to it.
so i guess i've always been an artist in one way or another…
was there a moment that led to your decision to take a step away from a career as an art director and become a full-time artist? how did you manage the transition?
i just got bummed on the robotic monthly magazine stuff. my wife also became really sick (luckily she's great now) and i thought, “fuck it… i've gotta do something with this life”, and just went for it. the transition meant that i bailed the full time gig and did some freelance jobs in between painting, until the balance eventually tipped in my favour.
your signature cloudscapes aren’t merely reflections of the natural world observed – can you tell us about how your works are inspired?
nature is the primary influence, followed by the music and films that i've grown up with and still continue to be inspired by. old movies like blade runnerand probably 'cloud city' from the empire strikes back definitely come to mind when i look at my works.
your art has now been widely exhibited and is recognised on an international scale - how did you go about getting your work noticed in a commercial sense? how did your collaboration with nelly duff come about?
i'm not really sure... i'm always of the mind-set that if you work hard and produce good work, people will end up finding you. i was lucky that nelly duff did just that and approached me to do an edition of hand-screened prints. we've had a great working relationship since and continue to hatch plans for more releases.
can you tell us about the rise exhibition and the work you’ve created for auction?
refill magazine have done an amazing job putting this show together. it's a huge line up with some really talented artists. i was stoked to be invited. i've painted a big fire plume with a lot of heat using oils, acrylics and also the charcoal from burnt out trees which the organisers delivered to each artist.
the works are being auctioned with all proceeds donated to volunteer-run organisations providing on the ground support for those impacted by the bushfires. you can find out more here: https://www.32auctions.com/riseexhibition
" i'm always of the mind-set that if you work hard and produce good work, people will end up finding you. "
what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career to date?
work hard and stay humble.
what’s your preferred medium to work with?
acrylic and oils.
what does a typical day in your life look like?
it's pretty normal. make a coffee. walk the dog. drop my daughter to daycare and head straight for the studio. i'm really routine for the most part of the week.
on your bookshelf?
the beastie boys book and spot goes to the park.
on your tv screen?
we're so bad at trying to stay focused on a series in our household. we just started watching yellowstone and wu-tang clan: of mics and men, but it's definitely survivor and who wants to be a millionaire. ha!
playing on repeat?
song - trim by underworld
album - in colour by jamie xx
are there any words of wisdom that you live by?
not really. i'm always trying to improve myself as a human. maybe if anything it’s, "you get what you give”.
what are some of your go-to spots to eat, drink and get inspired in sydney?
my favourite restaurant is definitely ester. for quick take away, it would be thirsty bird and my drink spot right now is my deck at home.
what’s next on the agenda for you?
right now i'm painting for a solo exhibition here in sydney at studio gallery in late june and then another in new york at tambaran2 in late october.
brooklyn's latest work, created using charcoal from burnt out trees and auctioned to benefit those impacted by the australian bushfires sold out at the recent rise exhibition.
this interview was conducted before the escalation of the current situation unfolding in Australia and across the world. whether taking a break from the news cycle or spending time at home, enjoy this moment of creative escape.