ARTIST INTERVIEW: Joseph Brooks
Joseph Brooks started crafting turquoise into unique pieces of jewelry art in 2005, but his love of raw beauty, adventure and extravagance go much further back. As a boy growing up in New York City, Joseph would spend hours studying rocks and birds at the American Museum of Natural History, meticulously cataloguing and studying each stone or rare species. During his influential career in the music industry his intuitive sense of style, music and global trends put him at the center of 1980s LA Punk scene, exposing the thirsty community to the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, U2, The Damned, Duran Duran, the Smiths and many other big-name bands. As the owner of the legendary music store Vinyl Fetish and the resident DJ at several high profile LA music venues, he curated a collection of the very best from around the world to expose a whole generation to a sound they had never known. Today, his focus has returned to his first childhood loves; stones and birds. Chasing the gems of the earth and air, he and his husband have traveled the globe from Patagonia to the Amazon, the Andes to the Himalayas, Sumatra to Papua New Guinea with the hopes of spotting yet another rare species or stone. Its this insatiable passion to seek out, discover and share beauty with others that is the foundation ofJoseph Brooks Jewelry.
Describe the path that led you to the work you do now. Did you take any big risks to get where you are?
I have always been entranced by the natural world. Starting at a very early age I would look forward to leaving the noise and concrete of New York City each summer, for the majesty of the New England wilderness. I would spend those warm days exploring the forests, caves and mines of New Hampshire studying every rock, shell and fossil I could get my hands on. It was on one such adventure that I found a large Aquamarine crystal that completely blew me away. I was 8 years old and that stone changed everything in my life. From then on I was hooked and my collection had begun. Much later in Los Angeles, I had traded my stones for the Rolling Stones, running my record store, involved with several music clubs and events, working as a visual artist and silversmith. I was in the middle of this really exciting time in LA music history, but I knew that lifestyle wasn’t sustainable and I needed the balance back that I had in those summer’s in New England. It wasn’t immediate but I shifted my focus and was able to merge my love of stones with the unique personal expression that is at the heart of the music I was also so entranced by. I set out to create jewelry that connects the wearer with the energy, the essence and the feel of the stone itself sharing with others the calm that nature has always provided me.
What do you do, or where do you go to seek fresh ideas or renewed creative energy?
Immersing myself in nature has been my main source of creative rejuvenation and inspiration. Following the loss of so many of my closest friends to AIDS, I experienced a massive shift in my life and decided that it was a priority for me to visit the last remaining pristine and vulnerable places on earth. I realized that all life on this planet is beautiful and fleeting and that I had to see it before it or I was gone! To 14,000 feet in the Himalayas through India, Southeast Asia, down through Sumatra, all the way to Papua, Cameroon across to Madagascar, Colombian Andes through the Amazon to Patagonia I had to see, taste and feel it all. Throughout these travels I have had rare glimpses of over 7,000 species of birds, had close encounters with gorillas, tigers, orangutans and rhinos and have met more friends and naturalists than I can count. It has become my spiritual mission to be bathed in the green ray energy of these remote locations and it is in these precious moments that I have my most profound creative inspirations. It has truly been a gift to travel and have these experiences and I know without them the richness of my work would be lost.
Are you inspired by the environment around you? How does the home/city/nature you live in affect your work?
I have spent much of my energy over the last 20 years to create an spiritual as well as actual sanctuary in my home. As an avid bird lover and a die hard Angeleno I have made it my mission to make my home in Mid-Wilshire into a Designated Wildlife Habitat. By replanting my entire yard in California Native plants I have attracted over 70 species of birds with 5 species currently nesting! My studio also resides inside this oasis; a side room filled with shrines of gems and minerals, bright textiles and and a huge map of the world so I can sit at my desk and dream of my next adventure. My sanctuary keeps me sane and calm and able to focus on my designs and be inspired by the things I love most.
Did you have any artists in your family, mentors, or other important creative influences?/What is the first memory you have of encountering art or the artistic process?
As a child I spent much of my time in the woods with a naturalist named Tim. I say naturalist but Tim was more than that… he was magic! He knew every secret of the natural world. He knew where to find crystals and gems more beautiful than I have ever seen since. He knew every name of the plants, animals and insects we found. He could pick up venomous snakes and conjure spells to change the weather. I remember once after camping for days eating only what we foraged and sleeping under the stars, a storm overtook our camp as he was preparing whatever meal we had found ourselves for the evening. Seeing that rain was inevitable he gathered several herbs from nearby, muttered some words and dropped the leaves into our cookfire. As the rain began to pour it was as though our camp was sheltered perfectly by some invisible umbrella creating a wall of raindrops too each side but never letting the wetness penetrate our camp. If I hadn’t been there I would have never believed it happened, but I was and it did! Tim as my mentor exposed the unseen world to me which changed me forever.