The Wonderful Women I Know is a photo series designed to highlight the incredible artists in my life. The women whose works delight, intrigue, and inspire me. These are their stories.
Good vibes are hard to come by, especially in a city like New York. The competitive hustle is infectious, but can bring with it a cold front rivaling the winters in Green Bay, so whenever you stumble across someone with great vibes, you tend to want to hold on to them. Brooke Pelczynski is the Queen of Good Vibes. Hidden behind the moody eyeliner, and her penchant for wearing all black, is an intelligent, curious, and wonderfully spontaneous spirit pulsating to a rhythm all its own. That same spirit bleeds into her work, which is quirky and full of character. A polychromatic collection of faces, bottoms, and geometric shapes, Brooke’s work is jubilant and playful, constantly inviting the viewer to smile along with it. “What’s so funny is I have how it started. I saved it. I was drawing like a bunch of faces together and then I was like ‘I bet I can get them to fit together. I bet I can make them really weird looking. Oh, I think I like this!’ and that’s how it came about.”
The female form is another star in Brooke’s ever-evolving collection. Using her own body as the inspiration, Brooke creates collages out of her curvaceous assets. Appreciation of her shape did not come naturally after years in rural Pennsylvania. “In Pennsylvania it’s very much like they want the string bean and I was never a string bean. I will never be the string bean. Coming here it was like ‘hmm’ people like what they like and that’s the end of it. [It] doesn’t even matter what you look like because somebody fucking likes that and I never realized that before I came here.” Intentional or not, Brooke’s work rides the wave that’s pushing for more body type diversity in our art and entertainment. The women in her work are daring and seek pleasure without care. They flaunt their breasts and bottoms and gain power from your gaze. They are an extension of their creator who isn’t above using her looks to bring attention to her art. “I would bat my eyelashes to get whatever I wanted if I knew it would work. I’m gonna use what I have to my advantage and I’m not hurting anybody by doing that.”
Brooke prefers immediacy over premeditation. While she doesn’t preach the power of presence like your kooky yoga instructor next door, it is essential to her work, and a big reason behind her affinity for watercolor. “You have to work fast, because the second it dries it’s useless, unless you’re trying to make layered watercolor work, which I don’t like, because it’s not in the moment. I like things that are right now.” The challenge excites her and she uses it as a gauge to judge her progress as an artist. Because the medium is so unforgiving, she has to make quick decisions and trust her instincts. It’s a constant drive to be more decisive and efficient. Some may challenge the intellectual sophistication of work created under such conditions—perhaps they would even be right to—but the emotional authenticity of it is undeniable.
“My parents were like you need to graduate college and get a real job and I was like NOPE!”
Being an artist wasn’t a forgone conclusion for Brooke, who hails from Leighton, Pennsylvania. She played the clarinet for a year before deciding she was musically challenged and even made forays into sports before finally taking a print art class. Although she is the only artist in her family, she describes her mom as ‘crafty’, saying “My mom is like ‘Oh, let me turn this box into a beautiful centerpiece!’. I don’t know, shit like that, like A.C Moore. My mom is A.C Moore”. Brooke was always a doodler and middle school was when she came out of her shell. “I was going through my emo phase. As a white female, in the sticks, I went through an intensely sad, emo queen phase, like pre-teen phase. I would just go in my room, close the door and turn my music on. I would draw like all these sad things, even though I had nothing to be sad about.”
She stuck with art throughout high school and even decided to enroll at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) for Illustration. But she still wasn’t certain a career in the arts was for her after graduation. It wasn’t until her parents told her she couldn’t and that rebellious edge kicked in that she finalized her decision to do it. “My parents were like you need to graduate college and get a real job and I was like NOPE! I’m gonna do this illustration shit freelance just because you guys told me I can’t.”
Much like Michael Jordan throughout his career, Brooke latches on to any little slight for motivation. A freshman professor told her she was a terrible drawer and it was the equivalent of throwing a incendiary grenade onto a camp fire. “I was like ‘What the fuck?! Who says that to somebody? I can’t do this. Then I was like ‘fuck her, I can do this!’” This burning desire to prove people wrong and quiet all doubters fuels a lot of Brooke’s artistic endeavors. The stunning 5' oil painting of the sitting woman was done in response to an ex-boyfriend’s snobby remark demanding that she “paint on real canvas, instead of just paper.” She’s been condescended to since the very beginning and because of her fear of confrontation, she internalizes it and it manifests itself in her art. All of these mental punches pale in comparison to the other challenge in her life, and perhaps her biggest motivator, multiple sclerosis.
“I make a lot of work in fear that my MS will take away my ability to hold a paint brush…”
Brooke discovered she suffered from the debilitating disease in her junior year at SVA. She recalls,“The problem when it first happened was I was making art and thinking I’m fucking up and I don’t know why. It was fucking scary. I was like ‘I’m never gonna paint again!’ I cried for one whole day and then I was like No, this is stupid, no more crying!”. Multiple sclerosis is a demyelinating disease that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and it’s communication with the rest of the body. The disease reveals itself in a myriad of ways and it’s patterns can change over time. In Brooke’s case MS has eaten away at her sense of feeling. “When it first happened it was really bad because it was progressing quickly and I wasn’t medicated. I have no feeling in the left side of my body, mostly my arm and my leg, and on my right hand a little bit so sometimes holding a paintbrush is crazy and it shakes a lot.”
But the world doesn’t stop for anyone and Brooke knows that. Sensing that her time may be cut short by her condition, she produces work at an incredible pace. “I work every day. I don’t do anything else.” She floods Facebook and Instagram with her work—she recently created a second Instagram account dedicated solely to her art—all while working as a nanny to help pay the bills. It’s an arduous grind for the 24-year-old, one that often leaves her feeling isolated from the rest of her peers. “I just have no socialization with other artists. I work from home and I’m a nanny so I see toddlers and then I go home and I do my own thing all the time, which is great, but sometimes it’s just nice to be around other artists.”
The connections she yearns for not only benefit the soul, but the wallet as well. Many artists struggle with the reality that their business acumen, or lack thereof, is the most important factor in whether they succeed or not. No matter how solitary the art form is, you’re still in the people business and Brooke admits she’s got a lot of learning to do. “I’m not very good…I don’t know [at] telling people ‘I’m selling prints, come buy my shit!’ I do need somebody. I need somebody who is like a chit-chatter and I’m not a chit-chatter.” But until then, Brooke is going to keep drawing on anything and everything in sight. She can’t settle, her time is too precious to waste away doing something she doesn’t love. While the stability of a staff job is appealing to her at times, it’s not in her nature to stay caged down. This girl’s gotta get up and go.
Written and Photographed by: Roman France
Editor: Allison Vicenzi
Additional Art by: Brooke Pelczynski