The psychedelic juju of popular festival artist Aaron Brooks
Aaron Brooks is a man of many hats. He is a countercultural artist, a fixture of the Colorado festival scene, a proud dog owner, brother and a husband. As an artist, he’s pretty damn successful, too. His art has found life on canvas, clothing, hat pins, dab mats, live paintings and of course, social media. A style he coins “expressive surrealism,” Brooks’ art drips with original and culturally inspired motifs, often through a lens of mind-altering experiences.
Whether it’s trippy transformations of familiar cartoon characters or dark and twisted creatures of his own imagination, Brooks makes art that is experimental, moody and freakishly his own. He recently sat down with Rooster Magazine. These are his life’s broad strokes.
Brooks hails from Hurricane, West Virginia, a town he describes as “small and full of mids.” Although he grew up drawing on everything (much like his entire family did) and loved cartoons and comics, he didn’t decide to pursue art full time until he was in college learning music production. A friend of his was studying video game design, which required art classes, and soon Brooks found himself more preoccupied with his friend’s homework than his own.
Once his mind was made up to become a career artist, there was no turning back. He hopped in a van and moved to Colorado in 2014. He would spend most of the next two years on tour with groups like Fortunate Youth offering live painting at their shows. He remembers this as a time when he was a hustler in festival lots — like so many others like him.
“Selling on lot was very fast-paced,” he says. “Taking customs during this time helped me to not be afraid to try and paint new things. Looking back, I met so many amazing people who taught me things without even knowing it.”
A sign of the times, his success has been steadily buoyed by savvy and personal use of social media. His Facebook Group, All Things ABrooks, has almost 16,000 members and plenty of daily posts. In a surprising twist of irony, he had nothing to do with the group’s creation. Rather, the group had everything to do with him joining Facebook.
His Instagram, @abrooksart, is a colorful ebb and flow of live painting, dabs from his Jerry Kelly x Danny Camp rig, updates on drops and adoring clips of his dogs Whiskey and Rude Boy. The live painting is every fan’s dream come true. The camera hovers close to the canvas. The canvas comes alive by the second with lines and colors and the violent, beautiful intersections of both. In the end, his path from nothingness to an expressed reality is laid bare for anyone to behold.
In a sense, his rise in Colorado has been meteoric. Now he’s a regular collaborator with Grassroots, a mainstay at the Black Box art gallery, and friends with artistic greats like Chris Dyer. Despite this success, Brooks is incredibly humble. He’s not shy about the fact that art isn’t easy, but his fans drive him in the most progressive of ways.
“I work every fucking day and night so I can make enough art that all my fans can afford it,” he says. “No matter how big or small it is. This is a challenge I have every day, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
His wife, Ellie Paisley, is a major presence in his life and the art world, too. He can’t even talk about himself without naturally defaulting to “us” — he and Ellie — instead of just himself. A cultural force in her own right, Paisley is an artist, creative director and influencer to her 144k Instagram fans.
Brooke says he really isn’t into classic art. Dali is as classic as it gets. His influences are strikingly more contemporary. At the top of his list, Ralph Steadman, to whom he credits his “no mistakes” and free-spirited process. Others include Basquiat, Alex Pardee and Skinner. But nothing drives him more than his fans and his family.
His latest adventure in life has been to move his family out to Colorado. First his older brother, Adam, and most recently, his younger brother, Andrew, who is also an artist, and goes by @reww_rewwart.
As for his fans, you can always find Brooks among them in Colorado. At festivals. At Red Rocks. Or at the Black Box. Look for the guy of many hats. Sometimes he wears a big straw one, and always looks right at home.