Brooke Shaden Focuses on Themes of Death and Rebirth, Beauty and Decay

Brooke Shaden Focuses on Themes of Death and Rebirth, Beauty and Decay

Brooke Shaden earned degrees in English and filmmaking from Temple University before transitioning to still photography. Based in Flagstaff, Arizona, she focuses on themes of death and rebirth. Her digitally collaged photographs have been featured in books and magazines, and exhibited in galleries and museums around the globe. She has been interviewed for numerous photography-related publications. Inspired by her childhood fantasies and fears, Shaden acts out the characters of her dreams.

Not Real Art Artist Of The Day Series

After losing her grandmother as a child, Shaden became fascinated by mortality and its uncertainties and fears. Her dreamlike nude figures covered with decaying leaves, dried insects, and found corpses of birds emphasize the ephemerality of physical existence. Weaving elements of fantasy with Hitchcock-style darkness, she spends hours combining images to create an otherworldly effect.

There are only a few experiences we will all share, death being dominant among them. The fear and uncertainty surrounding mortality is one of the most unifying ideas in the world. My art explores death and grief because it is the language of connection that I understand best. Art, at its height, is a mode of connection; either to promote connection to oneself, or to others. When art lends itself to shared experiences and tears down boundaries, both real and perceived, I think it has then done its job.

Shaden has kept up an active exhibition schedule during the pandemic and served as a foster mother for children in need. She has three solo exhibitions scheduled for 2022. Her work has been well received in the art world, but she has been criticized for posting morbid images online. By destigmatizing conversations about death, and providing support to those grappling with COVID-related issues, Shaden hopes to promote ‘a safe place for people to talk about darkness.’

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Brooke Shaden — Artist Statement

Brooke Shaden. Headshot
Brooke Shaden

My work is almost entirely self-portraiture focused in conceptual, dark imagery. By studying my connection to darkness, I create worlds that embrace and normalize death, grief, and difficult emotions. Spurred on by my own fascination and fear of death, I have studied and implemented ways of bringing those ideas to the forefront and starting conversations around them.

I create my images with the concept first, sketching and then writing out every detail of the world that I want to make. Shooting the images is the fastest part of my process where I often only shoot a few images before I finish. I composite my images in Photoshop, which can take anywhere from two to 50 hours, depending on the complexity.

Mine is a process of introspection, but equally one that considers audience and societal norms in order to change the discourse around tough topics. My goal is to create a reality where weird is normal, and where we can all live our infinitely complex lives knowing that we all do, in fact, contain multitudes.

Brooke Shaden – Grant Submission Work

Brooke Shaden. Samsara 3
Samsara 3
Mixed media photographic print + oil paint and dirt
30 x 30 inches

The shape and form of death is very important to me in my "photographic autopsies" and this image of a dead bird combined with a self-portrait shows the connection between animal and human, and life and death.

Brooke Shaden. Samsara 1
Samsara 1
Mixed media photographic print + oil paint and dirt
30 x 30 inches

Created with a sculptural piece made from wire, spray foam, paint, and syrup. The subject morphs into the shape, bringing to mind the decay process after death with form and flesh.

Brooke Shaden - Samsara 4
Samsara 4
Mixed media photographic print + oil paint and dirt
30 x 16 inches

Examining death through self-portraiture, I created my own process of decay on top of paper and paint, an ode to artists' dedication to craft as well as the artful process that mortality claims of us all.

Brooke Shaden. Samsara 5
Samsara 5
Mixed-media photographic print + oil paint and dirt
30 x 30 inches

I commissioned a glass coffin for this image after a trip to India where I saw a glass hearse driving a dead body down the street for all to see. Inspired by other cultures and the lack of barriers they put up between life and death, I created this image to speak about destigmatizing death and grief in my own culture.

Brooke Shaden. Samsara 2
Samsara 2
Mixed media photographic print + oil paint and dirt
16 x 30 inches

The word "adipocere" refers to a waxy substance secreted by the body after death. This triptych examines adipocere in sculptural form combined with a subject who is trapped, or immortalized, in her own legacy.

Brooke Shaden – Artist Bio

Brooke explores the darkness and light in people, and her work looks at that juxtaposition. As a self-portrait artist, she photographs herself and becomes the characters of dreams inspired by a childhood of intense imagination and fear. Being the creator and the actor, Brooke controls her darkness and confronts those fears.

After studying films for years in college, she realized her love of storytelling was universal. She started photography then in 2008, excited to create in solitude and take on character roles herself. Brooke works from a place of theme, often gravitating toward death and rebirth or beauty and decay.

Ultimately, her process is more discovery than creation. She follows her curiosity into the unknown to see whom her characters might become. Brooke believes the greatest gift an artist has is the ability to channel fears, hopes and experience into a representation of one's potential. While her images come from a personal place of exploration, the goal in creating is not only to satisfy herself; her greatest wish is to show others a part of themselves. Art is a mirror for the creator and the observer .

Brooke's passion is storytelling, and her life is engulfed in it. From creating self portraits and writing to international adventures and motivational speeches, she wants to live a thousand lives in one. She keeps her curiosity burning to live a truly interesting story.

Brooke on the Web And Social Media

Here is where to find out more about Brooke Shaden on the web and social media:

About the Artist of the Day Series

All artworks have been published with permission of the artist. Our "Artist of the Day" series is a regular feature highlighting artworks from the 100's of grant applications we receive. The "Not Real Art Grant" is an annual award designed to empower the careers of contemporary artists, and this is one way we honor all entries we receive. Find out more about the grant program here.

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis

Kirsten Bengtson-Lykoudis is a writer, photographer, and former New York gallerist based in Richmond, Virginia. She has a masters in fine art, a BA in Russian literature, and is earning a masters in nonfiction writing at Johns Hopkins University, AAP.