Q&A: Jessalyn Brooks

We first came across Jessalyn Brooks on Instagram. The LA-based artist immediately had us scrolling and double-tapping with her colourful, blocky images of contorted female bodies and characterful faces. Art - for better or for worse - has never been easier to discover thanks to social media and the internet and we find ourselves falling in love with prints and sketches through our phone screens far too frequently. In the case of Jessalyn, this is certainly a good thing. Her work has an air of Picasso about it with a female-focused, 21st century twist. Focusing on women’s shapes, faces and features, her drawings feel current and as if they have an underlying message about body shape and gender.

Jessalyn herself is equally as exciting. Working from her top floor studio in LA, we love that the artist masquerades as a jazz singer when the sun goes down and we had a feeling she’d be full of fun and interesting things to say. We weren’t wrong! We grabbed ten minutes with the West Coast painter to chat curves, colour and going dancing.

How did you get into painting?

Oh boy, how did I get into painting. Well, I went to art school for a year after primary school. I had a professor that I admired so greatly. He was an elderly, dark, provocative Londoner that made me question my thoughts on religion, good and evil, and everything else I had been taught growing up in Ohio. At that point in life, I was only doing still life, life painting and all the classic, first-year art school stuff. I was very into realism - you should see my old stuff. It’s a trip! I could not, for the life of me, “figure out” contemporary art. Naturally, I mean, I was 17. This lead to some pretty heavy conversations. I was obstinate, stubborn and frustrated. My professor eventually convinced me to pursue music and to come back to art later in life when I had the mind for it. He was right. I’m not sure I was ready. I still don’t know if I am! I didn’t paint or draw ANYTHING for about 12 years until now. Is this a weird answer? I’m off to an awkward start - typical.

Was it something you always wanted to do?

Drawing and painting was always something I HAD. It was a tool I used to cope with. As a kid, I was a bit of a loner, who secretly wanted to be loved and adored (as most loners do). I would draw things for my classmates and teachers as a display of my worth. I can remember being in fourth grade, kids would gather around me and draw random squiggles and I would render some sort of animal or creature out of it. I felt like I had a magical power. Wings. Ugh - to be in 4th grade again. It’s funny how the “magical power” turns into something else entirely. Again, normal questions, freaky answers.

Tell us about your jazz singing!

Jazz! Always a love. I’m not sure when I started. Somewhere in the early teen years. I started singing jazz professionally while I was living in Detroit. Probably around 20. Actually, and I say this a bit under my breath, I did full-blown MUSICAL THEATRE for about six years of my life. Regional and touring shows. But from that, came a deep, deep love for jazz because many standards are from musicals. I love spouting off which tunes are from which shows on gigs. In fact, if someone knows, I buy them a drink. Of course, jazz is a deeply rooted and historical art form. The “show tunes” came after. I’m very inspired by it in my work. It’s always on. Some of my favourite composers and players are Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Jimmy Van Heusen, Monk, Cannonball Adderly, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans - I could go on and on. Unless it rips a hole right through you, I don’t understand the point of it. Like much else in life.

A lot of your artwork is based on the female form. Why is this and how do you hope to portray women and their bodies?

The female form. Well, it’s sort of something that just felt natural to me, well, because I’m pretty familiar with it. I, myself am a female form! I love the breath of a line. Seeing where the breath line goes in those seconds is an intuitive, instinctual thing. It’s a combination of compositional instinct and flashes of every curve, crevice, joint and hard line you’ve familiarised yourself with throughout your life. The female form has lived and gone dormant in art so many times throughout art history. I do believe women are having a moment right now. This is the most powerful we have been in human history. I want to document that.

How would you describe your style?

Sometimes I feel like I’m still figuring out my “style”. Which I’m finding out is ok. I will say, at the moment, I’m very inspired by blocks and shapes of line and colour. Like, if a female form were a concrete building. Maybe I need to be an architect. Ah, maths. No.

What’s your approach when it comes to colour?

My approach to colour is very improvised. That’s kind of how I do it in life anyways. Again, instinct is kind of a key word in all of this. I’m a big fan of Indian Yellow, the oil colour. When I mix it with other cadmiums and hues, I just gives me that gushy, saturated satisfaction of colour. That and cadmium orange. Those two little things are great joys in my life.

You’re based in LA - does this influence your work/the way you work in any way?

LA - sigh - well. I’ve lived in some pretty intense, emotionally provocative places, Detroit being one of them. God, I loved Detroit. I’m inspired by people doing human things. What they look like when they know no one is looking. When fame isn’t the end goal. Obviously, most people move to LA to be seen. I get that. But when you’re near the centre of it all, you miss out on authenticity. LA has those moments. You just have to search for them. Luckily, I’m a good detective.

What do you do to unwind?

Unwind! I dance. I fucking love dancing. No better feeling in the world. “Let’s go dancing” will be on my headstone. Unless I’m cremated. Which is more likely.

Thanks Jessalyn!

All images: Jessalyn Brooks

Share this:

More From The Journal

  1. Rule Of Three

    Celebrating the diversity and freedom of colour on different skin tones, Glasshouse’s resident makeup artist Emily and photography duo Al and K collaborate for a shoot that bends the rules of colour theory.

    More +
  2. Period Matters

    As more and more topics are placed under the sustainability spotlight, we have turned our attention to an interesting one: periods. As menstrual products start to modernise and with attitudes towards our monthly cycle becoming more open, we are delving into the subject and taking a look at some of the consciously-created menstrual products that we’ve introduced in the salon and online.

    More +
  3. Fashion Month: Round-Up

    As the curtain falls on the Spring/Summer 2019 catwalks, we have gathered together some of our favourite hair and beauty looks from all four cities.

    More +
  4. Reads: 11 by Jasmine Deporta

    Jasmine Deporta has been a favourite photographer of ours since her series Sofa Safari, where she matched her models outfits with the furniture they were sitting on. Now she’s back with the release of her first ever book, 11 - a personal journey through her last 4 years of work. We caught up with her to find out more.

    More +
  5. Hair Story: Ayesha McMahon

    As part of our Hair Story series at Glasshouse Journal, we spoke to up and coming model Ayesha McMahon about her natural hair and the story behind it. From free flowing curls to intricate braided styles, Ayesha walks us through her favourite looks and her love for her fro, along with her thoughts on the misconceptions of black hair in society.

    More +
  6. Turn of the Season

    ​Inspired by the tones and textures of Autumn, we’ve collaborated with still life artist Sophie Kirk and East London florist Still Life Flowers for an editorial shoot celebrating the new season, featuring some of our favourite Glasshouse Shop items.

    More +
  7. Nude by Kana London

    Inspired by sculptures and skin tones, the Nude Collection from Kana London is a unique take on ceramics for the home. After launching the collection at London Design Festival, we sat down with founder Ana Kerin to discuss the inspiration behind the project and the crossover between art and practical objects.

    More +
  8. Masterclass: Growing Your Hair

    Our ultimate guide to growing your hair. From the best treatments to the foods you should be eating, these top tips with help from our Creative Director Mia will help you to achieve longer locks whilst maintaining the long-term health of your hair.

    More +
  9. Photography: Yumna Al-Arashi

    ​London based photographer, filmmaker and writer Yumna Al-Arashi uses her art to challenge perceptions of women and Eastern culture, offering a new, more powerful narrative for us to explore. We sat down with her to find out more about the inspiration behind her work.

    More +
  10. Bug Clothing: The Magda Pants

    Glasshouse friend and collaborator Amy Ward designs linen easy wear that’s made to last and to be loved. The Magda Pants are her first foray into trousers and Amy has hand-picked an inclusive mix of interesting women to show them off. We chat to Amy about her open and ethical approach to clothes and running an independent business.

    More +
  11. On Art: Weronika Siwiec

    ​Self-confessed ‘creative’ Weronika Siwiec has tried her hand at everything from graphic design to building a natural house. However, her playful illustrations of women and their bodies is where the Amsterdam-based artist has really found her stride. She shares her thoughts with us about nudity, femininity and a slower pace of life.

    More +
  12. Masterclass: Second Day Hair

    ​Whether you struggle with frizz, kinks or greasy hair, we’ve put together the ultimate guide on second-day styling to help you avoid washing your hair everyday; saving on water and keeping your hair healthy.

    More +
  13. Introducing: Mia Waldern, Creative Director at Glasshouse

    As Mia steps into the role of Creative Director at Glasshouse Salon, we head to her East London home to find out more about her upbringing in LA, her love for animals and her passion for natural and organic beauty.

    More +
  14. Illustrated Form

    ​An exclusive new editorial in collaboration with illustrator Alexa Coe and photographer Thea Lovstad, shining a spotlight on the female figure from a woman’s perspective and the new nude.

    More +
  15. Work with us at Glasshouse Salon

    Fancy being a part of our close-knit Glasshouse team? We are looking for a talented Hair Stylist to come onboard.

    More +
  16. Hair Musing: Taja Feistner

    ​Our latest Hair Muse is shaking up the summer months with a haircut that’s fresh, directional and neatly cropped. Taja Feistner is the model-slash-eco-warrior with a conscience that’s as cool as her short back and sides. We learn more.

    More +
Load more posts