How To Be An Artist – Interview with Troy Brooks
“I am Franz Kafka as a drag queen, spilled onto a canvas.”
Very few artists can make me so emotional as Troy Brooks. He and his Girls came into my life about two years ago while I was researching for my writing. I fell in love with his paintings right away. His dark, emotional, pop-surrealist style spoke to me. First, I thought many things I see in the Girls’ eyes and on the paintings just my own emotions and memories.
And while I think it’s still true since then I learned a lot about their creator Troy and his troubled childhood as a young sensitive child, teenager, and how he became the man he is today. Read about what the paintings mean and what they want to represent.
His Girls are usually caught in deeply emotional and transformative moments. He also often uses symbols and metaphors very organically in his paintings. Most often you can find animal symbology such as Bumblebees, Butterflies, and even sharks appear in his work.
Feminism also inspired his work, he found validation in his paintings. His girls are powerful and domineering as a child who was humiliated for being too much like a girl he found a strong way to represent his feminine side.
His work obviously spoke to many strong and influential men and women. Probably one of the biggest names on the list is Madonna herself. Actually, Troy’s first painting I saw was his “Madonna painting” – The Wallflower Opus.
I didn’t know the whole crazy story about the painting and how it eventually got to Madonna until one day I found the post and the full story on Troy’s blog. In short, his painting “accidentally” got given to Madonna as a present without any kind of compensation or even a “Thank You”. I recommend reading his posts. He writes in great details on how he creates his works, source materials, influences, and also about his own personal experiences and events in his life that all shapes his art.
The Wallflower Opus – Troy Brooks
Troy is a self-thought artist. He learned everything growing up from his Mom, who was also a painter and helped Troy to use his imagination and to find an outlet where he could be himself and have authority over something. Classic Hollywood 20’s 30’s and 40’s, Noir Movies, old photography books also influenced his art.
Troy about his Girls.
“My girls are sort of the product of a perfect storm. Things like early sickness setting me up to be maybe a bit more reflective at an early age, pent-up energy, the feeling like I was born the wrong sex when I was little, getting tortured at school for being too feminine, and a deep-seated need to leave a fingerprint. The only agenda the women in my paintings had was to provide me a door. For other people, it allowed a window.”
His favorite painting from his own works is called “Daddy”.
“One of my girls from 2011 will always be a sort of hallmark for me. She’s called “Daddy” and she sprang from a 2011 series I did title ‘Colossus’. It was heavily influenced by the writings of Sylvia Plath. Her poem “Daddy” was what started this piece. That series came out of a painful time and Sylvia Plath was probably not the best thing to marinate in.
Now, when I look at this painting, I see layers I didn’t know were there, which is often what happens when the work is allowed to surface intuitively. I think, to a degree, just about everything I’ve ever tried to express through my art is woven into that one.”
Daddy – Troy Brooks
Troy got well known in the contemporary art scene in this past decade with exhibitions around the globe in galleries such as ReadHead in Toronto Canada, London’s prestigious James Freeman Gallery, New York’s Jonathan LeVine Gallery, Arcadia Contemporary, Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles, just to name a few. He had the Colossus’, Veiled Hearts, B Girls, and most recently SHINIGAMI – Gods of Death exhibitions. His latest works were mainly inspired by his Mom’s passing away.
Troy about SHINIGAMI – Gods of Death
“The women in my paintings are surrogates. After a series of recent deaths, culminating with the passing of my mother in late 2016, the subject of death made itself unavoidable. I’ve used this Japanese folklore of the Shinigami for my own satire of death mythology. The Shinigami have been reimagined here as the courtesans of a 1920’s opium den. They exist in the space between life and death, conducting the transmigration of the human soul.”
Requiem – Troy Brooks
I feel very thankful that Troy, one of my favorite painters whose art is so close to my heart answered to my email and said yes to this interview. I hoped to get to know him, and his ways of work a little bit better. Hopefully, this interview will be a fun, interesting, and maybe even useful read for art lovers and up and coming artists as well.
Question: Do you remember your first interaction with art?
Answer: My first interaction with art was watching my mother paint when I was two years old. I started drawing beside her easel when I was very little. My first drawings were Wonder Woman.
Aureola – Troy Brooks
Question: Please describe the intention behind your paintings. What would you like to express/achieve?
Answer: I think it’s interesting when beauty is threatening. I tend to paint women you can’t objectify because of the tension hanging in the air around them.
Question: Do you think it is better to be an artist these days or was it better in the past?
Answer: I feel really lucky to be an artist of today because I was able to build an audience by people sharing my work on the internet all over the world. On the other hand, the industry is ultra-saturated and congested which probably muddies up the natural aristocracy of talent.
The Guff – Troy Brooks
Question: What is your favorite genre of music to listen to while painting? Or do you prefer silence?
Answer: I love scratchy vinyl records from the 1920’s. I love Duke Ellington. But when I paint I usually listen to lectures, interviews, and audiobooks. True Crime is my usual go to.
Question: Why and how did you choose your medium?
Answer: I chose oil paint because that was what all my favorite painters used. Had I known it was going to be such a delicate alchemy I might have gone acrylic.
Question: What inspires/motivates you?
Answer: What inspires me is a simple, deep need to make things. I’ve always had that impulse since I was very little. I just mostly wanted to create things. What motivates me is the idea of leaving some kind of fingerprint. Posterity I suppose.
Question: How do you come up with ideas/techniques for new paintings?
Answer: Doing it 24/7 keeps your chops sharp. I make a lot of folders of ideas for future works.
Jilted – Troy Brooks
Question: What other artists influence you, both contemporary and classical?
Answer: Lisa Yuskavage is one of my favourites. I think Otto Dix and Kees van Dongen were probably my earliest influences but the biggest direct influence on my work were the old Warner Brothers film noir cinematographers. The way they shot movies in the 40’s was pretty breathtaking and that tension is all over my work. Nothing today comes close to the atmosphere they created and those film stills are how I learned to draw.
Question: If you could steal credit for any great piece of art which one would you claim?
Answer: I adore the sculpture Big Fish by Johnson Tsang.
Question: Which artists would you first recommend to a person who is new to the art world?
Answer: Roberto Ferri, Aron Wiesenfeld, Johnson Tsang, Barnaby Whitfield, Christian Rex Van Minnen and Evan Penny.
Question: Do you have book, movie, music recommendations for fellow artists & art lovers?
Answer: The album I’ve been listening to the longest is Boys For Pele by Tori Amos. It’s been in my head for 20 years and it still breaks me at the knees. If you like my paintings you’d probably like my favourite movie, Possessed from 1947, about a woman with schizophrenia. I love reading Van Gogh’s letters to his brother.
Nimbus – Troy Brooks
Question: Do you ever lack inspiration, motivation? What do you do to overcome?
Answer: I’ve never had a lack of inspiration. Meditation is very important to keep the mind clear. The more still your mind is the easier ideas can surface.
Question: Do you remember the first painting you sold?
Answer: Not really.
Question: What’s a typical day in your studio like?
Answer: I get up at 5 am, make coffee, meditate, start painting around 6:30 and then stop at noon to go work out. I take a half hour nap at around 2 pm and then I get back to painting. Usually, I’m painting until about 10 pm.
Question: What was the cruelest feedback you got? How do you overcome bad reviews/feedback?
Answer: Sometimes when a big blog or magazine publishes my work and it gets exposed to hordes of people I might see a dismissive comment. One time someone just wrote, “I don’t like it” under one of my paintings and of course it stings a little but the negative comments are very rare. The truth is if people weren’t interested in my work I just wouldn’t share it but I would keep doing it. I don’t paint because I’m good at it. I paint because I love the work.
Bitter Rose – Troy Brooks
Question: What would your advice be to those who want to be artists?
Answer: My advice is to not seek advice. Everyone’s path is so different and if you petition people for guidance or compare yourself to someone else you’re likely to miss out on opportunities and advantages that are specific to you. You should start wherever you are with what’s around you.
Question: Do you have any upcoming shows or collaborations?
Answer: I have some pieces going to AFA Gallery in New York this December and I’m preparing for a solo exhibition in Los Angeles at Corey Helford Gallery in February 2018.
Question: What are your future plans as an artist? Where do you see your work heading in the future?
Answer: I’m working on a film project with my friend and CGI artist Chris MacLean.
A Season Underground – Troy Brooks
Nebula – Troy Brooks
Many of my friends and people I met do not really love paintings or art. In the general public, these kinds of art have lost meaning. There are no paintings on the walls. Or if so they’re probably just worthless printed copies “clones” of well known classical paintings that don’t really resonate with the owners’ personality and being but instead they just hang there so the walls won’t be empty anymore. While anyone could buy real art for the same price that speaks to and about them while also supporting an artist.
In the general public loving and caring about art is considered “artsy” which is for teenagers, for the elite, or societies’ outcasts – poor artists who are always hungry and cold in the winter. In schools, they only teach us how to understand art and not how to feel it. They don’t teach us how to find artists that can touch our hearts, help us, and transform us.
I hope that every person who reads this and thinks that art, paintings, contemporary or classical art are not for her/him will learn that you don’t necessarily have to understand art. It just has to resonate with you. You just have to love what you’re looking at. Paintings are like songs, it should make you feel something, happy or sad. And even more, it should help you deal with those feelings. Art can make you feel understood and a lot less lonely.
I think it is even more unexpected to see a painting and feel “Wow, this is the exact same thing how I felt at that moment”. Because it is a lot rarer. You may love Troy Brooks or not – although I hope you do because I think he deserves everyone’s attention and love – but eventually, you’ll find someone whose work will touch you.
The Shallows – Troy Brooks
Fake It So Real – Troy Brooks
You can also watch videos on Troy’s Website. One of my favorites is from 2017 about his Shinigami exhibition.
Nativity – Troy Brooks
Thank You For Reading!