Kelsey Brookes intricately assembles large iconlink images from countless minute paintings of beings and things that maybe related to the central subject or may not. Inside the form of a trumpeting elephant’s head or a dancing female figure, the viewer may come upon cartoonish creatures with boxy mouths and big ears, snippets of text, eyeballs with links to Buddhist and Hindu iconography, and a wide assortment of other curiosities. The overall effect is pleasingly maximalist.
Brookes’s technique suggests affinities with Ryan McGinness and Shepard Fairey. And like those artists, Brookes is a crossover figure. Straddling the worlds of graphic design and art, he has attracted a fan base from the surf and skate cultures for his illustration work. But this exhibition, “Bigger, Brighter, Bolder,” with 12 large paintings and an assortment of tiny ones, demonstrated that Brookes isn’t content simply to adapt his established style to canvas. The imagery here was looser, more painterly and the array of symbolic forms more expansive.
There were three broad categories of paintings on view. Most numerous were the animal portraits. Each creature depicted looked a bit generic in contour and pose, but the cornucopia of little forms within supplied a seductive energy. By contrast, the tondo paintings, all with slender rays radiating from the center like a cosmic pinwheel, were forceful and polished. Tiger, Tiger (2009) by itself constituted the third group. It’s imagery is derived from William Blake’s poem “The Tyger,” but Brookes’s palette verges on the psychedelic, and the picture incorporates Blake’s text into its landscape with a dreamlike effectiveness. If this work signals a new, higher ambition to bring together concept and form, background and subject, detail and grand design, then Brookes is an artist worth following.