"Several trips to Canyon de Chelly inspired this painting. Cast shadows and form shadows were painted with unusual blue greens in contrast to the vibrant red rocks. This painting was a fun breakthrough to using red, not a common color used in my palette. When nearly finished it seemed important to add a human presence to the scene, a dwelling on the back mesa, to acknowledge the presence of the Navajo Nation families that still live there."
- Denali Brooke
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“My creativity gave me hope. It gave me a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small, and the joy that I needed during very difficult changes.”
Denali Brooke’s work highlights the beauty of our natural resources as well as a spirit of resilience and hope that has carried her through living with chronic pain. At the age of 5, Denali’s mother saw her affinity for creating and sent her to a parks and recreation center to learn and practice. Her father, a self-taught painter, took time to teach her how to use acrylic paints and even let Denali paint a few murals on the walls of their home. Her interest in the arts and crafts world only increased from there. Denali states that at age 12, she “became an entrepreneur of sorts, walking from door to door selling hand-woven macramé plant hangers to neighbors.”
Throughout her childhood, Denali was captivated by the natural world, so much so that she wanted to be a wildlife conservationist. She enjoyed drawing animals, and eventually in college, she took her first life drawing class. However, she also felt a strong affinity for helping people, which led her into a career in social work. Denali spent 10 years doing counseling; clinical coordination in a national research project; and publishing in major drug and alcohol rehabilitation journals. She left the field in 2006, and returned to art and began working primarily with pastel. Having lived her adult life mostly in Arizona and New Mexico, she moved to Oregon in 2021.
She explains that her creativity gives her hope. It has helped her stay open to possibilities that she might not have normally considered. It has helped her to remain curious and flexible. “My creativity gives me problem-solving skills, or at least tenacity. Whether in helping a friend, fixing a broken appliance, or approaching a new art challenge, I have faith that with perseverance something will be learned or something even better will reveal itself,” she says.
Denali believes that humans can do extraordinary things, including finding joy through pain. A catastrophic car accident in 1986 changed her life entirely. Losing an artist friend in the accident connected her with the fragility of life and vulnerabilities we all share. Living with the resultant chronic pain, she states that “pain reminds me of the preciousness of each moment. It reminds me that we all have pain. Knowing this helps me connect with others in a more meaningful way, which only spurs me on to want to share what I do.” She has learned to be gentle with her body when creating, parsing her time at the easel in order to manage the pain. She has also learned to work with different mediums and in different ways, as risking failure creates the opportunity to grow. She knows all too well that life can change in an instant and believes there is no time to waste. She says “say what you are here to say, now, and in what manner you are meant to say it.”
Denali’s artistic inspiration comes from her kinesthetic and emotional experience of a person, place or thing. She shares that “With abstraction, I enjoy allowing my imagination to show up and let the painting tell me what it needs.” Denali is first inspired by how light, shadow and color create the form of an object, scene or person. She prepares for painting by starting with a skeleton sketch of what she wants to convey, working out value, masses and composition. She uses several mediums, both wet and dry, layering them in big masses, and then works in smaller shapes, lines, and texture until the subject or desired result appears. Denali believes it is much like sculpting. Her process sometimes includes ceramic tools to carve into some areas, and a brayer to roll out big masses with oil paint. She enjoys using pastel in her work, citing that “the immediacy and the vibrancy of pastel color” makes it a staple of her work.
In terms of her dreams for the future, she hopes to teach again and create a small community art school. She wants to continue to connect with others through her art and push herself to new levels of mastery. Additionally, contributing to the wellbeing of the planet through her art by giving charitable donations to tree and wildlife organizations is a priority. Currently, she donates posters of her art to schools to bring hope about global peace and awareness of the wildlife that are affected by war.
Denali’s most important accomplishment is never giving up her dream of being an artist. No matter how difficult, she learned to support herself with little means. Other accomplishments include having grown personally and professionally, becoming a teacher, and being recognized internationally for her art. In her free time, Denali enjoys walking. Her walks include visiting her favorite heritage trees and watching nature. Denali expresses great interest in the climate crisis, the preservation of trees and wildlife along with economic justice and food security. One of her favorite activities is plein air painting, where she can get outside and intimately connected to the elements and sounds of nature.
“Every time I stand at my easel, courage must show up as well. I summon my "inner warrior" to create what and how I feel about the subject.”
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