Cloud control: artist Brooklyn Whelan ushers in a new era
Brooklyn Whelan's mastery of the most whimsical of weather formations - clouds - is central to his body of work. The Sydney-based painter builds futuristic, sensory driven landscapes with his brushstrokes, infusing his clouds with a dreaminess reminiscent of his favourite '80s sci-fi movies. While usually content to depict electrical storms and kinetic energy using his favoured medium (acrylic on canvas), Brooklyn's latest project takes a sharp turn into the highly specific realm of virtual reality technology.
As a recently signed member of Samsung's team of makers, Brooklyn was initiated into the tech giant's world at the recent Splendour in the Grass festival. Creating a VR work called Cloud Runner which was on display at SITG, Yeong Sassall caught up with the artist to learn more about his process and his enduring love of sci-fi.
Clouds and weather patterns have been a central theme to your work - what is it about them that strikes such a chord?
I've always been drawn to weather patterns ever since I was young, they're like a constantly changing beast. Clouds can look like castles in the sky and at times I find myself staring in awe at menacing storm fronts. I've got great memories of being taught about the weather by my grandpa. He had one of those roosters (weather vanes) on his garage roof, I think heaps of suburban homes had one back in the day. There was always a strange type of excitement as a kid when the southerly buster (that sudden cool change after a hot summers day) was about to hit and grandpa was in a flap "battening down the hatches".
How did you approach your work with Samsung knowing you had use of 3D technology and VR?
It was an entirely different approach for me because it was not in my daily practice and something I've never done before. I knew what I wanted and how it had to look and feel, but getting it to that point was a huge process involving a lot of great people.
Did you know straightaway that you wanted to use VR technology?
Yep, I've been thinking about it for a while. As soon as Samsung approached me with the VR tech I knew it was time to put all those ideas into place.
As an artist primarily creating acrylic works on canvas it was super exciting to get the opportunity to make works that the viewer could actually immerse themselves in.
Did you find your creative process changed when going from painting to computer for the Cloud Runner project?
I think the biggest change was working with a team. Normally it's just me in my studio. Being an artist you're in total control of the outcome, so this was a much different experience. It was great having the crew from Heckler in Sydney working on it with me and learning and hearing their thoughts and ideas.
What excites you about the possibilities for artists and emerging technology? Is there anything you've been itching to do, but need new technology to develop?
It's a real exciting time. There is so much room to expand and explore. I've been working on a bunch of ideas, one especially is still a waiting game as the tech isn't 100% there yet and the others I hope to get moving on real soon.
Since we last interviewed you for Buro, you've exhibited in Hong Kong and the US. Does a change of environment invoke a new way of imagining your iconic clouds?
Not too much. Although I'm always being influenced by the things around me. I still have so much to explore with my current works and even the palette I use.
Sci-fi and futurism are central themes running through your work. Are there any specific movie scenes that stand out in your mind?
There are plenty. Blade Runner and the neon streetscapes is a big one. Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back... and I was even just thinking about the crazy storm over the gargoyle building at the end of Ghostbusters. That was pretty rad.
We've seen a resurgence of sci-fi of the 80s with the Blade Runner remake and the Netflix series Stranger Things - why do you think there's this nostalgia for this specific era/aesthetic right now?
I think Stranger Things hit such a cord because of that '80s nostalgia.. It was such a great era... The music, the movies, the clothes. It all seemed so fresh and original back then. The '80s had colour and an innocence to it that I don't think happens as much anymore. Everything seems to be a re-make.
If there was one classic sci-fi movie you could remake and reimagine in your vision, what would it be?
That's tough! I think it would almost be a crime to change any of them, even the bad B-grade ones had a style that can't be messed with.
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