It’s Pride Month,
and as a proud LGBTQ+ led organisation, PAPER Arts is very excited to be able to bring you a month of curated queer content, profiling some amazing work coming out of Bristol, by queer artists and members of the community.
We spoke to Brook Tate
a Bristol based Artist whose practice spans painting, composing, singing and songwriting.
Brook told us about teaching himself to make art, and through that, learning to accept himself.
We asked Brook how he got started in art, he explained that as a child he was always surrounded by creativity “My dad’s very creative, he’s a builder. He was always making things at home, drawing pictures and stuff like that. When I wanted a toy, he would always say, Oh, don’t worry, I’ll make one, and we’d end up with this homemade version of a toy from the shop”
Brook described how when he was in secondary school, he discovered drawing, “I just found it fascinating how shading made something 3d on a piece of paper.” “And then when I was like, 17, 18 I found some oil paints in my dad’s garage, and just started copying pictures that I found. Old painters mostly, I really liked this one by a painter called Lawrence Alma-Tadema. It was this beautiful picture of a woman looking over a balcony. And I just thought I’ll try and copy that and so I did.”
Brook grew up as part of a strict religious community, The Jehovah’s Witnesses. “ I ended up being quite secluded as a teenager, I’d just be in my bedroom, a lot. I think lots of teenagers go through that phase and I happen to have discovered some paints just before that time. So that ended up being like, my world really, and I loved it.”
Faith and a queer identity
Brook explained that as a Jehovah’s Witness, further education isn’t encouraged “the idea of going to university was never on the cards.” “ But my parents were so wonderful because they let me go to go into college, I did one year of English, Dance and Drama”
At that time, Brook’s ambition was to be a missionary. “My goal was to be rowing in a canoe down the Amazon River and preaching the Bible, like genuinely that was what I wanted to do. I think a big part of that stemmed from being gay. At that time, I was like, I have to make my life really fascinating because I can’t have a boyfriend and I’ll never get married, and I’ll never be in love with someone so if I’m sacrificing that I have to make my life really fascinating”
After college, Brook moved to Ireland, and then for a while to China where he was preaching in Mandarin. Following that, he made the difficult decision to leave the religion “It’s quite a complicated process to leave that religion, and it’s quite painful.”
Brook told us that going through that transition was when he discovered song writing.
“I started writing loads of songs in my bedroom in Hastings then when I got to Bristol I was trying to work out what I believed and what happened in that process.”
When he first came to Bristol Brook Told us “I just ended up, exploring, and meeting people and having conversations, really personal conversations, and realising a lot about myself”
Brook told us how in that period of this life, he realised that he had a lot of internalised homophobia “I kind of didn’t realise that it could be a thing because I’m gay, I can’t be homophobic.” He told us how he had been avoiding queer culture
“I’d been avoiding that part of myself because it has led to a lot of pain within my family and my old community so I was kind of like, well, it’s enough that I’m out with my friends. I’m gay. I don’t need to actively engaged in the queer community, I’ve been hurt enough from being gay.”
Stepping out of your comfort zone
He talked about finding a level of comfort within his life that he didnt want to step outside of, he told us how when teaching people to paint, he always told them to make pictures of objects or people that they find beauty in or feel a deep attraction to, but addded how he found it really hard to follow his own advice “I only painted girls, I didn’t want to paint portraits of boys because I was worried someone might look at that and think Brook clearly thinks that guy’s good looking, maybe he’s gay!”
But then last year, Brook started envisioning images of men “intimate moments of men like, just holding each other or leaning on each other”, images that he felt he needed to realise as pieces of art “once I started doing that, it just kind of opened the floodgates”
Thats how Brook’s project Gay Hurts came about, a collection of paintings and drawings “it’s about homophobia and my fear of intimacy, a fear of intimacy with myself, I guess.”
“I was wanting to express my love for other people within my work, not love for myself”.
Brook told us how at first he thought he would share these pieces as journalistic artworks, not centering himself within the narrative but then he changed his mind.
“I said wow I feel like something’s changing in me. So then when I was making all this stuff with a lot of feelings and thoughts behind them, I felt I should start posting them. I needed to tell people what they were about and that’s when I decided to come out and be open, I had been terrified to do that.”
“The reaction was so wonderful and I was like, wow, I’ve got all these people behind me, they don’t care, they’re not judging. I was just like, oh my god, this feels so much better, being able to know I can do anything and people will be there is so nice.”
Brook explained that in being open, he feels like his horizon has widened “where I’m aiming to go creatively can be so much further than it was before, because I was I was kind of making as much as I could within the parameters that I felt were put in place by my past and certain people in my life but I think taking them down was like, Well, finally, I’m just going to be able to do whatever, I’m just going to express myself.”
Brook described the catharsis he felt through making these works “art has been like a little spade, I’ve been able to dig into myself and find these emotions.” He added that around the same time he started creating Gay Hurts, he also started to speak to a therapist for the first time, all this self reflection has allowed him to accept himself as he is “Brook, it’s okay that your gay, you are okay. Making Gay Hurts was like me like giving myself a hug, telling myself to just keep going and to stop being scared.”
Brooks Proudest Achievement
We ended our conversation by talking about Brook’s proudest achievement “My proudest achievement is that I’m making art at all. When I think that if I wasn’t gay, I may well have been a missionary, preaching something that I no longer believe. So I’m glad I’m proud that I’m making art in whatever form it takes.”
Brook’s story of the path to self acceptance is something many queer people must grapple with, and we are so inspired to hear about how he has harnessed his creative skills to live authentically and proudly.
You can see more of Brook’s work here.