”The only thing I can say is: don’t let the “downsides” play a key role on your way to what you truly want to experience in your life”.
Growing up in Latvia, Jana Brike experienced a strict and oppressive early life, an influence that is now seeing her childlike freedom and wildness flourish through her incredible work in adulthood. Her philosophical views on life and learning shine through the moments she shared with us this week.
When did your creative life begin? Has art always been your path? Describe your journey to this point and how art came to be part of your life.
I grew up in a Soviet scientists’ village surrounded by research institutes of physics, chemistry, biology and a nuclear plant. I was very bright with math, science, programming, everything logical, but I was also socially borderline autistic.
I went to a very professional art school when I was about 10. Everything was taught in a very professional language, I didn’t understand half of it. We were just practicing painting and drawing, 5 hours a day for countless years. It was like those schools where they would teach the upcoming Russian realism painters, or later all the artists who would work for Soviet propaganda mechanism.
I went to study 7 more years in the Art Academy after the school, to finish with a Masters degree.
I did have my big periods of doubt somewhere in between that all. I worked at computers in a publishing house for a while, but never stopped painting whenever I could. And somehow, I came back to doing it full time in the end.
What are the upsides and downsides to the artist’s life?
I really love my life. Yes, I have had a full range of what can be glanced over as “downsides” along my road, starting from survival issues, to putting my trust in dishonest dealers I had to sue to get my money back.
So what? It has led me to a much better, less naïve and way more beautiful place to be.
What is a deadly obstacle to one, can be just a fleeting sign post marking possible paths ahead for another. The only thing I can say is: don’t let the “downsides” play a key role on your way to what you truly want to experience in your life.
Do you have a mentor or an idol? Which artists inspire you?
I have never had real mentor in the common sense of the word. There have been many people who have given me an opportunity, had faith in me and my work at times when I had lost trust in myself, and it has meant the world and more.
Sometimes I have felt a stronger inspiration and push in the right direction from people who I see are completely NOT what I would ever want to be like.
Do you have an underlying theme that you carry throughout your practice?
By most part I paint playful adolescence: their misadventures and emotional processes, growing pains and initiation into adulthood. I paint what I perceive as the feminine soul space, like a garden with both fresh blossoms and decay. I paint children.
Sometimes I have thought I paint children because I cannot be a child myself. I was raised up in a very restricted environment. To feel guilty and ashamed for just about everything was considered normal. I kept my wildness and craving to live with openhearted immediacy well hidden. I am luring that carefree wild child out to live a full life through my art. I as a person am still in struggle of doing it in my life.
What has been your most significant achievement or proudest moment as an artist?
I have always had issues accepting the achievement and accomplishment driven society of self-importance. One where you climb a ladder craving to show off that you are a generally approved, recognized and established citizen. There will always be someone above you, bigger, better and more significant, and you just climb and climb for new achievements.
So how can I even start to reply to your literal question?
My most significant achievement as an artist has been to get back up on my feet when I have fallen, or keep creating when I have lost trust in my work companions or myself. My proudest moment as an artist has been to keep expressing when my voice is ridiculed, or keep finding, capturing and creating beauty regardless where the world seems to be focused all around.
Have you got any other great passions besides art?
I love plants. I mostly know flowers by their scientific name, and I love to nurture some weird rarities that aren’t even supposed to grow where I live, but somehow survive for me.
One wonderful photographer friend once said I must be sublimating my own personal sense of otherness, of someone who grows in an uncongenial social climate by trying to make these exotic flowers grow for me – if they can blossom and set seed, then I must be capable of it as well. Who knows, maybe he was right.
If you had the power to change one thing, what would it be?
When I was in Thailand, I had my son Adam with me who was 6 at that time. We visited a Buddhist temple where they had a big orange scroll of cloth – people could write down their prayers. Adam wanted to write something. After a while I peeked over his shoulder, and what I read was:
“I wish for humankind to understand”.
He explained – “People don’t really know what life is and who they really are. Everybody is so lost and confused and just arguing about viewpoints. I ask my important questions and nobody knows how to reply – so I wish for humankind to truly understand the replies to their own big questions”.
He’s right you know. This would make the world of a difference.
It was one of most beautiful moments of my life.
What is your greatest dream as an artist?
When I am asked about my dreams and goals, I always remember how I used to play with my sister when we were Soviet children. We would play that we would circle the globe landing in different countries. At that time, being behind a political wall, it was as realistic as if today I would visit the Andromeda galaxy on a Sunday night.
The life I’m living right now is far beyond my greatest childhood dream. So I try not to limit my future within the “greatest dreams” that my brain could master. I just hold in my heart the sense of the experiences I would love to have, and rely on life finding ways and means to carry me there.