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Mark Murphy: Scribble 08 artistic inspiration and fine art resource Nov. 2, 2012

Kelsey Brookes Serotonin Studio Visits


Contemporary artist, former microbiologist, Kelsey Brookes is working on the final touches for Serotonin; Happiness and Spiritual States exhibiting at Quint Contemporary Art November 10 through December 29.

Over the past 2 weeks, I visited Kelsey’s San Diego studio to learn about the new direction he was pursuing with Serotonin. I opened the studio door and immediately immersed myself into a new imagined world where science and art converge. My eyes settled in and relaxed with the rhythmic beauty of Kelsey Brookes’ paintings comprised of black pigments, white paint and multi-colored symmetry. Closely examining each painted surface, familiar patterns began to reveal themselves to me: faces, Mandala of the Two Realms symbology, Rorschach Symbols, and cut paper patterns. Of course, Kelsey Brookes had much deeper context. My initial thoughts about Kelsey’s new collection might be described as, “Brightly painted dreamscapes, void of figurative and typographic stimulus, can be found on opposing walls in Kelsey’s rectangular studio.” Kelsey Brookes definitively evolved his work to speak a new visual language.

The work is still rooted in his colorful style of purposely rendered paint strokes on white canvas. And upon second glance, psychedelic patterns reverberated. I inched my way along one wall towards the end of the studio where Iggy, (Kelsey’s Dog), anxiously awaits, wags his tale and continues to keep guard, high above the back parking lot. Painted works are stacked in make shift shelves, large canvases pinned to the wall with other paintings

existing behind them. Amazing, body of work much different than anything I had witnessed previously.


Kelsey Brookes keeps on painting with less than one week to go. He paints careful strokes, standing upright, moving his composition from one side to the other every 30 minutes. He dips his brush into small paint containers, formulaically mixed and specific to how his formulas for color work on the surface of wood and canvas.

Kelsey works patiently, transforming every inch of white surface into rhythmic patterns of color. Having completely changed his process of painting, Kelsey Brookes, composed his exhibition based on molecular theories and formulas. Once the formulas were represented on the canvas surface, all of the white spaces in between were meticulously painted in.

“Once I implemented this process, I let the process take control. Less of me getting in the way of the process. The way I painted this show was entirely different. I worked with two assistants who helped me paint in the blank spaces. This helped me out with the meticulous process and allowed me to get more ideas out. It was great, as I have so many ideas going around in my head for the next show.”

After visiting Kelsey’s studio I decided that his conceptual exhibit required additional analysis and reflection. A quick, online refresher course about serotonin and molecular structures and I was immediately immersed into our past conversations. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that activates and excites one or more types of receptors in the central nervous system. It is popularly considered to be a major contributor to personal feelings of well-being and happiness. The central theme of Serotonin asks, “So what happens when serotonin pathways are altered?”

Kelsey provides a psychedelic and meditative interpretation of molecular line diagrams while his compositions deliver rhythmic patterns of vibratory color. During my second visit, Kelsey shared, “Color is necessary in defining the importance of what the molecules suggest. The spaces they inhabit, the atomic interactions, the distances shared between molecules, the forces that affect molecular structures.”


Kelsey, offered personal information that evoked immediate appreciation of his creative mindset for Serotonin, “Sometimes I wake up at 5 AM, I’ll lay in bed and meditate. Everyday, I start the day meditating for about 40 minutes or so. Meditation really helps me find my way through…I almost need the meditative process to do my paintings every day. There is a parallel between meditation and my painting.”


Reflecting upon my final visit, and before more than 120 pieces left for framing and gallery installation, Kelsey Brookes has created a contemporary language that transcends beyond words. A bold artistic vision featuring energetic paintings that melds psychedelia with transcendental states intersecting art and science. Serotonin; Happiness and Spiritual States is deserving of a trip to the Quint Contemporary Art gallery in La Jolla on Saturday, November 10 through December 29. (Additional reading, Studio Visit One, Brighter Bolder).


San Diego's emerging art scene: Kelsey Brookes, "Serotonin; Happiness and Spiritual States" Written by | Susan Myrland | 2:08 p.m., Oct 30, 2012 Kelsey Brookes with his "Untitled: Meditation" painting in the background

If it weren’t for his calm gaze and centered demeanor, partly a result of surfing and meditation, you might think Kelsey Brookes was having an existential crisis. Seven years ago he quit his job as a molecular biologist at Gen-Probe, leaving science to become a full-time artist. Since then he’s made three radical shifts in style, moving from figurative to semi-abstract to fully abstract. It’s a progression that other artists can take decades to make. His new exhibition, Serotonin; Happiness and Spiritual States, opening Nov. 10 at Quint Contemporary Art, might surprise those who know his explosive paintings of seductive women and menacing animals, layered with drips and slashes of neon spray paint. Or his equally fractured but far more lighthearted circular paintings where goofy robots, cartoonish aliens and geometric shapes spin in glittering showers of confetti. That was the work that earned him a spot in the 2010 exhibition, Here Not There: San Diego Art Now at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, along with gallery representation in Berlin, London, Los Angeles and La Jolla.

But for Brookes, painting the figure took effort. He’d agonize over the placement of an arm, working on it for days before giving up and starting over. At Quint Contemporary he was exposed to the approach of fellow artist Robert Irwin. The two could not be more different in style — Irwin’s severe minimalism versus Brookes’ dense narrative imagery. Brookes admits he was confused by Irwin’s artwork at first, yet connected with the pioneer’s broad vision and willingness to take risks. Another turning point came last year during a surfing trip to Hawaii, where he met the Neo-expressionist painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel. The older artist advised him, “The most important thing you can do is find where you are in history, and move forward from there.” Up to then Brookes had been concentrating on production. “My world of art was ‘make this, put it in this gallery, get the money so you can make another one, hopefully bigger,’” he says. “I had never seen myself in the context of the greater art world. Where should I explore? How do I even start exploring?” The circular paintings became more abstract. He gave himself permission to simply focus on the strokes and his breathing, and let the process take over. It was a welcome release from the anxiety of figurative work. “I painted to get away from painting.”

Detail of "Untitled: Meditation" painting Since he’s not aiming for a likeness, he relies on instinct to know when a painting is finished, comparing it to the sense of knowing when to stop eating. “Part of doing abstract work is trusting that feeling. It’s not something that we’re good at. From the time we’re born we’re on a direct path from kindergarten to elementary school, high school to college. You just follow along and do what everybody tells you to do. Then at the end of it, you’re supposed to be self-orientated enough to do something new,

something that’s in your voice,” he explains. “It’s the same thing with art. You have to trust it. You just have to go forward and let instinct guide you. Let empiricism inform that instinct, but let instinct guide it.” The shift to abstraction also reflects where he is in his life. Now 34, married with a baby on the way, he’s trying to slow down, incorporate more subtlety and take more care with his pieces. He no longer feels driven by the manic energy that caused him to fling paint at the canvas. A friend teased him that the new work is too grown-up, and he’s proud of that. The paintings in Serotonin; Happiness and Spiritual States are cerebral, the palette slightly softened and the figure completely gone. Large canvases are filled with the molecular structure of neurotransmitters, constellations of brain-altering atoms connected by lines that appear to swell and recede. Other paintings recreate the hallucinatory visual effect of these neurotransmitters, what Brookes calls “bending the molecules’ own effects back onto themselves.”

Kelsey Brookes and his painting, "Mescaline." A third portion of the show explores Eastern religions and their influence on his life. An irregularly-shaped canvas is based on a stupa, the spiritual monument used for Buddhist meditation. As Brookes explains, “It’s what Buddha would be sitting in, but the Buddha is gone, like the figure is gone.” What does Mark Quint think? "Some viewers might see them as being a pretty radical change from his previous body of work. From a dealer’s viewpoint sudden changes can be confusing to collectors and potential collectors, but I think anyone who really looks at this new series is going to recognize and appreciate the continuing style of playful imagery, obsessive detail and unique painterly touch.” Brookes is at ease with the new direction. He considers it a step forward artistically while bringing him back to his scientific roots. “I feel that I’ve been hamstrung because I spent so much of my life studying science. Now, with this show, I am using that knowledge. I stopped working at the biotech company and then I was like, ‘I don’t have anything to do with that anymore. Let’s just go into art.’ I felt like I was starting over new. It’s not until this show that I’ve been able to combine those two. Now I’m standing on two legs.’

Wednesday, Oct 31, 2012

Kelsey Brookes gets trippy Scientist-turned-artist will take you to a happy place with ‘Serotonin; Happiness and Spiritual States’ By Amy T. Granite

“Serotonin” by Kelsey Brookes - Courtesy: Kelsey Brookes / Quint Contemporary Art Kelsey Brookes is putting the finishing, trippy touches on paintings for Serotonin; Happiness and Spiritual States, his second solo show in San Diego that opens from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at Quint Contemporary Art in La Jolla (7547 Girard Ave.).

Brookes, who traded in his lab coat for a paint-stained T-shirt, uses his scientific background and mind-expanding drug experiences to paint the molecular world as if Hunter S. Thompson were looking at it through an electron microscope.Brookes has taken the structural framework of LSD, mescaline and DMT molecules and made largescale, psychedelic representations of what they’d look like if, say, you dropped a tab, or several. The effect is a tidal wave of colors that floods your eyeballs with a swirling interplay of patterns that seem to move on the canvas without the help of drugs. Several of the works tower over Brookes’ head, and there are smaller pieces, too, that exhibit his precision and painstaking-detail style. From the center of the canvas, Brookes’ patterns bloom outward in a maze of pulsating colors, which he had help coloring in, he says. Though he doesn’t dabble with hallucinogens anymore, Brookes says he’s able to get to a similar place through meditation. Practice makes perfect, or, at least, something amazing to look at.

Amy blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @saysgranite.

Voice of San Diego

A Scientist-Painter Considers the Molecules of Well-Being

• Photo by Sam Hodgson.San Diego artist Kelsey Brookes, and his painting "LSD," are

shown in Brookes' North Park studio.Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 4:13 pm Updated: 12:53 pm, Fri Oct 26, 2012. by Kelly Bennett Kelsey Brookes traded in his life in the microbiological world — chasing West Nile virus and testing blood transfusions for HIV — for art. The scientific concepts fascinated him while he worked in labs at the Centers for Disease Control in Colorado, and at Gen-Probe here in San Diego. But he was mostly performing grunt work. He’d draw on test tube sealing cards while he waited for processes to finish, and his friends in the lab would collect them. He faced two options, he said: Go to graduate school or find something else he loved to do. “I imagined myself as an old scientist, you know, 50 years old, and I imagined myself as an old artist,” Brookes said. “I guess I decided I’d rather be the artist.” But the 34-year-old painter can't help but keep exploring how and why things work. Brookes' latest projects take the simple molecular line diagrams you remember from high school — the ones scientists use to relate a molecule in a simple, visual way — and corresponds them to what those molecules do to our visual perception.

It layers the outcome of the molecule, or at least, how Brookes perceives the outcome, on top of the diagram itself. Take serotonin, below. Each of those bursts represents an atom in the serotonin molecule, corresponding to the diagram Brookes is showing us.

Some of Brookes’ work caught the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ attention this year: a series of nine 7-inch records being released this year features Brookes’ artwork. You can see his new work in a show at Quint Contemporary Art in La Jolla opening Nov. 10. Brookes had me and photographer Sam Hodgson up to his second-floor studio in North Park this week for a conversation about molecules, hallucinating and his pursuit of wellbeing. How do you choose your color for this work? It’s unlimited. Anytime I can find a color that I haven’t made yet, I will mix and make it. I’m limited by the pigments I can see in the human visual spectrum. I’ll be walking down the street and see a flower and take a photo of it. And then I just take its components apart and reasemble them.

Why serotonin? Serotonin’s an interesting molecule because it’s in your brain all the time. It’s what they call endogenous, meaning your brain manufactures it, and it’s used inside your brain. And so there’s a bunch of other molecules that look really, really similar structurally to it, but they produce visual and mental hallucination. They do it by triggering the same pathway that serotonin uses. Those four that I decided to focus on are LSD; psilocybin, which is the active ingredient in magic mushrooms; mescaline, which is the active ingredient in peyote; and DMT, the active ingredient in ayahusca and a few other shamanistic preparations. They all produce these crazy visual hallucinations. I decided to depict the molecules based on that hallucination. The molecule makes your brain feel a certain way, and I just take that way that it makes your brain feel and focus it back on the molecule.

So were you under the influence to make these? I wasn’t tripping when I made them, no. But I’ve had plenty of experience with that stuff. Just, you know, from college and partying and taking drugs, as you do, just for the experience. Those are the five molecules that I’ve depicted, and the rest of the work is what you feel — things you might see during a trip, the different hallucinations in the visual system. Serotonin is interesting because it regulates some pathways in your brain — not only hallucination, but your feeling of well-being, general happiness. But it also touches on something I thought was a little more interesting, worth checking out, which is the sense of something spiritual. It somehow regulates that system as well.

You’ve made work that references, even in some of the shapes of your current work, religious traditions. A lot of that whole world is a community coming around an icon and trying to interpret together. Is it important to you that people look at your work with other people? It’s something I haven’t really directed thought toward, artistically. I can see why you’d ask that because I’m using images that are meant to bring people together in communion. We’ll see at the show, I guess. (Laughs.) Let’s say you have an image. There’d be a priest there, usually, interpreting that image of Jesus on the cross or these stained glass windows or whatever it is. This is iconography devoid of all of that. Irreverent, in a sense. Does this work make you process your own happiness differently? I guess maybe my sense of what happiness is is a little bit more subtle. For me, it’s a feeling of general, overall stability and wellness that I would interpret as happiness. Do you have that right now? I think that’s kind of the great work of life, is trying to get that. I don’t know if it’s perfectly achievable. I think it’s something that can be understood in the sense that I’ll never have that, so just be OK with what you have.

Can you tell me more about what you’ve been learning about meditation? It’s so new for me. I’ve been meditating for maybe two-and-a-half, three years. And it’s still brand new. It’s definitely work that, kind of like surfing or like painting, can extend through the rest of my life. Instead of being these huge moments where everything makes sense, I feel like it’s just a slow unfolding. It’s something I do every single day for 45 minutes when I wake up. I just wake up and I either lay there on a yoga mat or I’ll sit up and do the whole sittingthere-and-waiting-for-something-to-happen. Following my breath. It’s a calming thing, but I think there’s something deeper. Outwardly, I feel more calm and more accepting of general bullshit that happens throughout the day. But I think there’s greater work being done. We’ll see. Ask me in 50 years. When you’re meditating, are you thinking of color combinations? No. The way I like to visualize it is meditation is something I do in one particular little sphere. And it’s generating a state of well-being and calm and acceptance in that little sphere. When I open my eyes and move forward from that little sphere, hopefully it comes with me. I can take that concerted effort of concentration and put it into the art. Whereas I feel like if I just woke up and said, “Fuck it, let’s do this,” slammed a bunch of coffee and then got here, my art would look like it, you know? But to make something that looks like this, you have to sit in one place for weeks on end.

Why do you live in San Diego? My friends do not do art; they’re not Hollywood actors. They’re just normal people. When we go out to dinner we’re having normal conversations about general life struggles. To me, that is real. That’s how I grew up. When I go to L.A. or London or New York, and I end up in these weird places with these weird people, it’s great and surreal and fun, but it just doesn’t feel real to me. San Diego feels real, and it feels right here. — Interview conducted and edited by Kelly Bennett, who is a reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach her directly at or 619.325.0531.

Red Hot Chili Peppers Prep Singles Series Eighteen unheard tracks from 'I'm With You' sessions to be released over next six months by: Rolling Stone

Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers performs during the Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival in Manchester,Tennessee. Douglas Mason/Getty Images

The Red Hot Chili Peppers plan to release 1 8 unheard songs from the sessions that produced their latest album, I'm With You,over the next six months. Starting on August 14th with the release of "Strange Man" and "Long Progression," the group will make each installment available both digitally and as a 7-inch vinyL "Magpies" and "Victorian Machinery" will follow on September 11th. "Some songs seem to have a lot more of an agenda than others," said Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer in a statement. "Some songs play well with others and some songs need more attention and a little extra care. Here are some songs that seemed to want to pair up and take a later train. Keep your eye on them, they're up to something ..." Each 7-inch will also feature cover artwork from Kelsey Brookes, whose radiant, energetic pieces stem from a background in microbiology, surf culture and folk art. According to the statement, fans will also be able to combine all nine of the 7-inch records released in order to create a larger piece of artwork. These won't be the only unique releases from RHCP this year: Following their recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the group announced a covers EP that found them recording songs by other inductees including Neil Young, the Beach Boys and Iggy & the Stooges. The band is currently touring the world in support of I'm With You, their tenth studio record.

Kelsey Brookes Master Reviews  

Quint Contemporary Art represented artist Kelsey Brookes master reviews

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