Brook Hsu’s work appears spontaneous and generously open, concerned with ancient myths and how they can help to name contemporary fears, anxieties, grief and joy. It flits between oil painting, drawing, sculpture, confessional text and felted works, fixating on symbols like boots and dogs, and using offhand phone notes as material.
The artist has exhibited in shows across the US, Canada and Mexico, and in 2016 graduated from Yale University with an MA in painting and printmaking.
You recently had a show at Deli Gallery in New York titled Panic Angel—can you tell me a little about it and the ideas behind it?
This body of work was extremely difficult for me to make, emotionally and spiritually. In Panic Angel, I’m really trying to find something to believe in. I moved out to LA right after grad school. When I was offered the show at Deli I was feeling totally uprooted and basically lost. Reflecting on the work that was made, I think Panic Angel is really about understanding loss and grief. It’s about love and how to keep on living and loving after really difficult life circumstances. I cried while making some of those paintings and some people cried during the opening. It’s extremely heartfelt.
Shoes have been a recurring motif in your work, what is the appeal of this image for you?
I started working with the boot form after my hospitalization in 2015. I was diagnosed with a mood disorder and went through many different medications, feelings of numbness, sleeplessness, loss of libido, etc. Sometimes to go to sleep at night I look at boots. I scroll through hundreds of boots on apps like Farfetch and Polyvore until I fall asleep. In a way, the image of the boot is a placeholder for sanity. It’s a strong form, made to trudge through the muck and survive all sorts of abuse.
Your paintings are often concerned with mythical or fairytale creatures. Where does this interest in myth stem from?
It’s not something I really talk about, but creating a space for spiritual practice in art making is something I care for deeply. Mythical figures such as the ancient Greek god Pan and fairies serve the role of what I call a “spiritual surrogate”, a god that I can relate to. I didn’t grow up practicing any kind of organized religion. So, what spirituality I have developed for myself is a mix mash of what’s around.
You have made a lot of work using paint on carpet, and the results are both beautiful and strangely a little disturbing—they seem stained, like they might be part of the aftermath of some ritual or exorcism. How and why did you begin to use this technique?
The start to rug painting is one of those embarrassing art school moments. During a studio visit, a professor told me to never touch canvas again (lol). I was walking around Home Depot with no intention of buying anything when I saw these big off-white shag area rugs on sale. I thought, “Wow, what an amazing ready-made surface.” The attitude I take when I paint on carpet is completely different from other materials and that’s what excites me. I feel like I get to be bad, staining carpet and pulling thick swathes of paint across the surface. To say the least, the carpet paintings are monsters to deal with.
Would you say your work is autobiographical?
Yes. There was a time when I never shared anything with anyone. I kept everything bottled-up deep inside because I thought that sharing my experiences would be alienating for other people. At one point, I realized that using autobiography in my art can be a way to make the work relatable. For instance, telling the story of my mother dying of breast cancer, which was a primary focus of the show Panic Angel, is there in part because the loss of a parent is something we all go through in life. I’ve also made a lot of work about the experiences of having a dog. Autobiography provides a space for me to forget about being cryptic and forces me to be more honest, which allows the work to arrive at deeper meanings.