Born in Soviet-occupied Latvia in 1980, Jana Brike is a figurative painter creating extraordinary whimsical scenarios through which we glimpse into an intimate world of what she describes as a ‘poetic visual autobiography’. Common to all of her works is the wondrous and regenerative presence of nature, especially the archetype of water that together with other elements composes an intuitive and personal symbolism through which the artist engages with themes of exploration, growth, innocence, curiosity, transcendence and love. Her detailed dreamscapes show human figures, often adolescent females, in playful and unselfconscious discovery of the world around them. There is often a juxtaposition of harshness with softness in her paintings, with figures showing bloody scratches, incisions or redness on their skin and surrounded by butterflies or flowers.
Vulnerability and intimacy is also an important characteristic of Brike’s work. Nakedness and nature often go together in her paintings, and Brike has described the human body as ‘vulnerability in its nakedness’. The frequently portrayed adolescent girls, sometimes depicted in scenes of erotic exploration are metaphors for the continual discovery of ourselves and represent the growth we all do throughout our lives no matter what our biological age or gender. Her works in this way act as a paean to free-spirited femininity, a celebration of Earth and nature, and freedom from oppression.
Brike still lives and works in her hometown of Riga, Latvia. The native Latvian history, a rich inter-generational oral tradition of storytelling, folklore and close relationship with nature, continues to inspire Brike’s creativity. In some ways, her paintings themselves are a reclamation and celebration of this pagan culture that flourished before the invasions that started with the Crusades in the 13th century and ended with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.
As when she was a little girl, Brike still seeks refuge, wisdom and inspiration in the lush meadows and forests and Baltic beaches – the same scenes that are portrayed in her paintings. She speaks about the deep abstract symbolism of ancient Latvian poems and their insights about the relationship of humans to nature and the cycles of life and death that connect them.
In Brike’s words, she seeks to portray ‘a real pure wild woman in her girlhood body, her path, trial, catharsis, symbolic death and revival’.
In developing her works, Brike describes her process in terms of a free-flowing stream of consciousness. She abstains from having a prescriptive method in order to maximise her own intuitive personal symbolic expression. Whilst her sketches act as standalone pieces, she develops her paintings with the support of reference materials such models, landscapes, and moodboards. Old Russian traditional painters, especially Symbolic and Romantic, are visual inspirations for her work, as well fairytale illustrations. Ultimately, living an inspired life, her relationship with her native environment, and her role as a mother, all combine to create Brike’s uniquely personal yet universal visual language