The beauty of Jana Brike's work is balanced by a deep sense of mystery. Who are these young, otherworldly creatures? Where are they? What are they trying to tell us? One thing is certain: the artist wants you to find a story within each painting. Paper Darts' Amina Harper interviewed Jana Brike to learn more about her influences and goals for the storytelling behind her work.
Paper Darts: I'm becoming more and more a fan of your work with every piece I see. I sense great romance and mystery within the imagery and I want to start out by asking you how storytelling has influenced your work.
Jana Brike: Storytelling has not influenced my work—it’s the heart of it!
Storytelling is a wonderful element of our mental process, way older and more profound than the analytical mind. In many ways we are just a story that we tell to ourselves about ourselves and about existence. The story structure is so embedded in our consciousness that the things we remember most profoundly and that touch most deeply are those which have been delivered to us through a story.
I love to see how my story intertwines with the viewer’s story through the creation and perception of my artwork. I do use the archetypal template of a story for my art, in the sense that you can “read” and understand it in story form but on so many different levels and ways, regardless of the audience’s cultural and personal background, age, or education. Creating it can be a rich, beautiful, multifaceted experience for me and hopefully for others. And it brings me so much excitement. I do hope to expand more on it in the future, in different fields like animation and books.
PD: Your work features many unifying themes (the color white, snow, young girls, etc.). What significance do they hold within your story? What do they symbolize?
JB: The symbolism has never had a one-way meaning, and in many ways it is like a dream, which is as much a mystery for me as for anybody. I agree that several themes do reappear. My personal, intimate meaning for some of them gets clearer to me with time, but I do not push intellectual interpretations too much. In many ways, adding symbolism is intuitive childlike play.
But the color white really has a special significance, as the white light is the one that contains all the other colors in it. For me—when everything is just bathed in soft bright white light ’til it becomes light itself—it means lack of judgment, expansion of consciousness, understanding, and (most of all) unconditional love,
It’s also a reference to my background and roots, the Baltic culture. The name “Balts” literally means “white.” It is a very old culture, spiritual in nature, and Latvian—my first language—is very antique. It’s from the oldest Baltic group of Indo-European languages and closely related to Sanskrit, and it has stayed relatively unchanged for centuries (unlike other European languages). Baltic folklore, being one of most extensive folklores in Europe and relatively unchanged by Christianity, also has had way greater impact on my last body of work than before. I actually have one folksong secretly attached to each of my new paintings.
PD: Is there a Baltic folktale that resonates with you the most or is your favorite? If so, tell it to me. (I love stories.)
JB: The last Latvian folktale I read and enjoyed a lot was about a farmer who was always wondering how someone can be eternal, how eternity is ever possible. One day he wandered into a forest and saw an unusual bird. He followed the bird deeper in the forest, and he sat in a clearing and listened to the bird sing. A brief time had passed before the breathtaking song was over, and the man decided to return home. When he walked out of the forest, everything around had changed. He didn’t recognize the people he met, and they told him that some farmer by his name was seen walking into the forest a hundred years before and had never returned. And thus the man understood how eternity is possible.
The most recognized part of [Latvian] folklore, though, is short four-line poems that have been orally passed from generation to generation for hundreds of years. Collected in written form recently, there are more than 200,000 of them. They are very poetic and tell about daily life, but they’re cryptic in nature—there is often deeper meaning attached to them.
What I love about their view on the world is that spirituality is not something one just does on Sundays or something accessible to a few chosen people detached from casual life, like in big mainstream religions. The “god” aspect is not something disconnected, existing only in the metaphysical realm. Is is contrary through and through, individually manifested in every second of every day, in every single activity, in every single object—moving or still.
I think this world outlook is somehow locked into my DNA.
PD: I notice that your work is very spiritual; very ethereal and otherworldly. How is the process of making work spiritual for you, and what kind of spiritual energy do you think your work possesses?
JB: I personally don’t think of my work as especially “spiritual.” For me and from my personal viewpoint, everything is alive, everything is spiritual—just some things, or people, or outlooks manifest it more transparently. Everything comes into existence through consciousness in one way or another. Everything is energy in motion. What I aim to feel through my painting process is wholeness of being. To feel the absolute completeness of every moment. And to be happy for no other reason than that. So, in that sense, the practice itself is indeed sort of spiritual.
PD: What kind of stories do you hope to tell in the future? Do you have plans to animate more, or illustrate a book? How do you see your artistic story continuing?
JB: I am working at an illustrated book right now with a Latvian author, and I have another illustrated storybook planned with an author from South Africa.
There is a clear thought about an animation, too. I am in the script-writing process.
I feel an increasing urge to step outside the frame of just painting. I plan to do fewer, but larger, exhibitions—expand in different mediums, focus more on installations and not just the paintings. I’m really excited about how it will evolve!
Jana Brike's solo exhibition "Songs of Purity" opens on May 8 at the Distinction Gallery. New work created for the show can be seen below.
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