Artist + Curator Interviews, Event Photos, and News
From anime to hairdressing, she tells us about the experiences that inspire her and the process of bringing her imagination to life.
Sarah Joncas is a Toronto based artist who has been showing in galleries since she was 16 years old. Her work has matured into a fine combination of highly skilled realism and whimsically graphic beauty. The following interview delves into her process, perfectionism, and continuous growth. Be sure to stop by the gallery to see her current show "Suburban Surreal" before February 25th, if you are in San Francisco.
"..In places where nature has mostly been tamed and controlled, I like the idea of it becoming this ghost-like entity slowly taking over our familiar world.."
JV: Your new show, "Suburban Surreal" is so beautiful in its imagery as well as technique. Can you talk a little, in general, about the concept behind this series?
SJ: Thanks for the kind words! I hadn't gone into the work with an exact idea of where I wanted to go originally, but kind of felt my way through the themes I would eventually adhere to. I've found, over the years, that my work works better if I give in to intuition rather than forcing an overarching objective. In a vague sense however, I knew I wanted the show to be about the strange emerging from the ordinary. Our everyday landscapes giving way to something more magical. In the end I adopted nature as the main way of expressing that sense, using it to illuminate my characters inner psyche or present an imagination stirring amongst the familiar scenes of suburban/urban communities. In places where nature has mostly been tamed and controlled, I like the idea of it becoming this ghost-like entity slowly taking over our familiar world, in ways that also seem very private and intimate to the characters themselves.
JV: That is such an intriguing description. I'd also love to know a bit about your process. How long before the show did you begin the paintings?
SJ: For big shows like this I often start my work nearly a year before, this one was eight months previous to the opening. I'm conscious of time management and cautious about getting stuck, close to a show, with a ton of work to accomplish. I was the same way in school, finished everything early with time to spare. It can take many months to finish a piece, and alongside these big shows I'm also producing paintings for group exhibitions, so it's a bit of a balancing act. I'll work on about eight paintings at a time too, switching it up each day in between drying layers.
JV: Which did you start with and which was the last?
SJ: I started with the show card image actually, "Street Beats". That painting, in particular, was a lot of fun for me and inspired me to experiment more with an acrylic and oil combo for the show (the paint used separately in different areas, of course, not combined). The last work to finish was "Atropa Belladonna". I had a little time to spare and had this image in mind, so I went for it! Glad I did, the friends whose opinions I sought about the show seemed to really like that one.
JV: Is there anything significant behind the one piece that is clearly a self portrait?
SJ: I didn't intend that one to be a self portrait initially. I just really needed a model at the time and I was a convenient body! The lighting wasn't my usual choice so I couldn't just make it up without possibly compromising it in some way. For me the image was about nature lighting our path, like a lantern in the darkness.
There's also something about the bottling of it in the image as well, this taming and manipulation that happens between people and the world. The painting has both a positive and critical lining when I look at it.
JV: Interesting. Now I am wanting to revisit that image! What do you think you've learned and improved on the most since you started painting?
SJ: Technique over time, in the realness of my figures. It has taken a lot of time for me, no doubt. The characters have changed frequently in their proportions and rendering. I started out doing more strictly cartoon-like characters with some form, but over time I've started using photographic reference and visual aids to help me get better with realism. My work certainly still contains illustrative characteristics though I don't think it's something I'd ever really wish to abandon. It's too much fun.
JV: How long ago was it that you first started showing in galleries?
SJ: I was 16 when I started showing my work. I thought I wanted to go to school for animation or illustration, but then after I started painting and working on canvas for the first time, I got really into it and into the independence of it. I had a little community show in my hometown at the time and actually sold most of the work. After that, I had done some local news interviews and another town nearby caught wind so they invited me out their way and it all went on from there. I switched to studying Fine Art at OCAD rather than illustration.
JV: Some of the paintings in this show include a more graphic technique than others. Was it intentional to vary this piece by piece or just a result of experimentation?
SJ: I was trying to play with that more for this show. I also played more with using acrylics in the background rather than entirely oil. I would like to get better with my acrylic rendering because they're less toxic and help me move along faster with my work, but I also like how they change up the mood. I don't think I could ever give up on oils for rendering skin and figures though, I love the smoothness and blending too much, but overall I feel the graphic elements just allow me more freedom and experimentation with my imagery.
JV: I completely agree about the smoothness of oil for figures. Your depiction of hands and skin in general is quite amazing. Does it take you longer to do components like that?
SJ: Yes, I spend most of my time rendering the figures. I can be a little obsessive about smoothness and blending! Sometimes I think maybe my work is sometimes too clean? I do find that process meditative for me though.
JV: No, I personally think the cleanness is beautiful! What is your absolute favorite thing to paint?
SJ: Portraits. Maybe that's easy to tell? haha. I like painting the facial features more than anything and pretty much always start my work by rendering that, despite my old art professors telling me to work with background first.
JV: The lighting on your subjects is painted so beautifully. Can you talk a little about how you source references? And do you light your own subjects?
SJ: It varies from work to work. Lately I've been using myself to help correct proportions though, or get lighting right, but I'll use friends when they're available as well. I'll also cobble together things from the net in photoshop, like if I need a striped button up shirt and don't have one myself, I'll find one I like and manipulate it for my own figures. I've stolen facial features from random celebrities and models too, say if I need a different kind of nose or eyes, I'll cut them out to use as reference. Some of the characters are completely made up too (though I'll try using some kind of visual aid just to know how shadow correctly casts upon a face). I can share a couple pictures where I used myself as reference, just not of my friends for the sake of their privacy.
JV: Great, thank you. That's fun to see. Lastly, do you feel like working on murals has influenced your more recent paintings in any way?
SJ: Two of the works I made for this show were actually directly based upon murals I did this summer with POW!WOW! and the LBMA. "Night Life" and my drawing "Fish Bowl". I really haven't had a lot of experience with murals, but it was an incredible experience participating in those events last July in Long Beach. Enough fun that I wanted to translate those murals into my more traditional approach.
Sarah Joncas' show Suburban Surreal is on display here until February 25, 2017. Pop in anytime Wednesday through Saturday from 12pm - 6 pm.
Crystal Morey is an Oakland based sculptor with a pristine and evocative new series called "Delicate Dependencies" opening tomorrow at Modern Eden. We are delighted to have had the chance to gain a glimpse into her studio process and the enlightening depth behind the work that she creates.
Interview by Jessica Violetta
JV: “Delicate Dependencies” is a new body of work for you, can you tell us where the ideas for these sculptures began? Tell us about the imagery you chose to include.
CM: In Delicate Dependencies, I wanted to create a dreamlike, captivating space; one filled with emotive hybrid creatures, here to warn us of our current trajectory toward environmental downfall. These figures are meant to show the sinuous connections between all living creatures, and the balance that must excites, in a healthy natural world.
I like to research animals that I find relatable in their actions and intriguing visually. In “Delicate Dependencies” I decided to focus on animals from the western United States, creatures that have an interesting history or trajectory, ones closely affected by human expansion.
I am interested in what we consider to be “fringe” or “indicator” species. These creatures are often the first indicators and casualties of environmental change, and are often found at both ends of the food chain – small creatures being susceptible to minute habitat changes and larger creatures affected by disruptions in a long food chain. These interests led me to include creatures such as a brown bear, red fox, peregrine falcon, mountain lion and California bighorn to name a few.
JV: There seems to be new, natural elements in your sculptures, can you tell us about the use of leaves and what they mean visually?
CM: The leaves are a completely new addition and one I am really fond of. I have been thinking about adaptation, natural evolution, and human driven environmental change and the addition of plant life into my work became the next step. Human and animal relationships have been very important in my work and thinking about the entire biosphere led me to this inclusion. I am interested in a chain of elements, of all living things being interconnected and dependent on each other for long-term viability.
I also find that the leaves speak to the delicacy and balance of our rapidly changing environment. They represent the inescapable cycle of growth, fullness and decent, a theme I am very interested in exploring.
JV: I love the phrase that you use when describing part of your influence as “human interdependence with the land and animals around us”. Is it possible for you to elaborate on how exactly this influences you?
CM: So much of what we see and hear about the state of our world is very upsetting. With humanitarian crises, natural habitat destruction, and wildlife devastation at the forefront, I think we can become desensitized, making us unable or unwilling to take in more information. For these reasons I choose a different method. I see “beauty” and “emotion” as having a power to reach people, to share a poignant, delicate and human moment. My hope is to create empathy for our environment and the creatures that live within it. I hope to stir a curiosity rooted in our relationship to plants and animals around us, and that we are here to share this planet together.
JV: You mention in your biography that you had an “alternative upbringing” and I can only assume that, by this, you are referring to being raised in the Sierra Nevada's, can you explain?
CM: Many of my inspirations and interests in the natural world stem from an alternative upbringing, one I closely connected to the landscape around me. For much of my early childhood we lived in unique dwellings without modern amenities such and electricity or pluming and chose not to indulge in television or mainstream radio. This lifestyle allowed for plenty of time to explore the forests, lakes and river canyons of the area, creating a strong relationship in the way I saw myself as a tiny component in vast sea of natural landscape.
As I have become older, with new life experiences, now living in an urban city, my perspective has changed and the world doesn’t feel as large, wild and free. Through living in an urban environment, manipulated and controlled by humans, the fragile quality of the natural world has become more apparent to me. I no longer see natural landscape as an expansive, never-ending space, I see it as a finite, irreplaceable space we must nurture and protect.
Nostalgia, memory and longing also play a distinct role in my work. I often find myself wishing I could return to the naïve child I was, engulfed in the magical wood, filled with imagination and wonderment, unburdened by the realities of today. And yet, I choose to live in the city of Oakland because I don’t want to ignore modern life. I want to be part of the art culture and environmental conversation about what is happening now, and how we as artists can use our voices to encourage ideas to change.
JV: About how long does is take for you to create one of your pieces? Is there a part to the process that you enjoy the most and/or least?
CM: I build all of my sculptures by hand, using porcelain clay. I start with a composition and gesture in my mind, I then visualize the piece with the emotion and thoughts I would like to convey. From there, I source photographic references for human and animal components to reference as I sculpt. I usually start by sculpting the legs, then move to the torso, the head and onto the arms and hands. Once all of the elements are in place, I then work up layers of detail. I love the intricate details like toes, horns feathers, fur, teeth, and the gestural composition I can create in the arms, hand and fingers. Porcelain is a very delicate material that takes time to set up and dry, this means I can often work on multiple pieces during the same time period. Once a piece has been sculpted, it must completely dry before being fired to roughly 2200° F in a ceramic kiln. From start to finish, including drying time, a piece can take about two months. Creating sculptures with porcelain can be very challenging, but I love the history associated with material and the delicacy and translucency I am able to achieve.
JV: Your current work is so gentle and provocative and we are so excited to see it in person. Any ideas of where your art will take you next?
CM: As a full time studio artist, I am continually trying to challenge myself with new projects. I find it important to deepen my interest, themes and concepts while also pushing my abilities. Through this new collection of work, I have enjoyed the new addition of trees, leaves, leading me to new adaptations of plant and animal. In the next year I hope to continue to expand on these ideas and can’t wait to see where I end up!
I really appreciate your time and interest in my work and I am so happy to share my thoughts and work with you! For more information, please visit my website at www.crystalmorey.com or follow my work on Instagram @cmorey! Thank you!
Delicate Dependencies is on display from October 14–29, 2016 at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco.
Tracy Lewis is another fantastic artist among many who are currently on display for the “Femme to Femme Fatale” Beautiful Bizarre group show this month. Known for her delicate yet evocative watercolors, Tracy’s art has understandably become highly sought after in galleries and the homes of her admirers. She graciously extends her knowledge to those interested via workshops in California, where she lives, as well as vacation destinations.
Interview by Jessica Violetta.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Omniscient by Tracy Lewis
On view through October 8, 2016 at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco for Femme to Femme Fatale curated by beautiful.bizarre Magazine.
Glenn Arthur is one of many artists showing in the Beautiful Bizarre curated group show Femme to Femme Fatale here at Modern Eden Gallery this month. Collectors swoon over his sleek, intricate acrylic paintings of feminine beauty in stylistic twists. With a tremendous fan base and following, Glenn’s work speaks for itself. But we are curious to dig a little into the nature of his work ethic, freedom, and enjoyment after having arrived at this level of admiration and artistic success.
Interview by Jessica Violetta.
All images courtesy of the artist.
JV: I am personally a big fan and have enjoyed watching your work progress, always becoming more beautiful and refined. How does this growth resonate with you, if at all? Do you ever notice yourself experiencing drastic changes in your art and/or reflecting back on the progress you have made?
GA: Recognizing my own growth as an artist is a strange thing. I never notice it happening until I look back at my older work and see all of the differences compared with what I'm currently working on. I do constantly strive to improve my work so it's always nice to see that it has happened although I can never really pinpoint when it's happening. Of course, as an artist, I'm never satisfied with making just one type of art. I like to try my hand at several mediums which pushes my growth in different directions that I might not have thought about on my own. Surprise growth is just as welcome as intended growth!
JV: It also seems that artists like yourself are able to increasingly indulge in the aspects of the art-making that you personally enjoy, the more your fan base expands and support is received to literally watch you do….whatever it is that YOU enjoy to do! Is that a fair assumption or do you feel there is some freedom left to be desired?
GA: The fan base is always a factor for me when making my art, but not in the way that it dictates what I choose to make. I'm a multifaceted person with a lot of different interests so I'm always aware that some of the art I make will get a huge response and some will get a very small response. I know the true fans of my work understand that I love creating everything from surrealistic art to anime fan art to sketches of hummingbirds as silly characters. I've never felt stifled when it comes to creative freedom. If anything, the people who enjoy my work continually encourage me to try new things and I love that.
JV: Your work often infuses what you’ve referred to as your “signature” hummingbird. What is the story behind incorporating these pretty, playful birds?
GA: I always feel bad answering this question because I feel like people are expecting a deep response about some kind of personal symbolism that hummingbirds portray for me when in actuality, I just think they're super cool! I've been fascinated with them for as long as I can remember. They're such fast little birds though and out of sight in an instant, so putting them in my work is a way for me to keep them around longer. It's also just tons of fun to dress them up and give such tiny creatures a larger than life personality.
JV: I think many people, including myself, truly enjoy looking at artwork that is primarily about beauty, femininity, tasty details, and the dedicated craftsmanship behind it. Have you ever felt pressure to deliver work with different subject matter and/or what would you say to aspiring artists who also desire to focus on beauty and craft like yourself?
GA: The art that I share publicly is the art that truly inspires and speaks to me aesthetically and emotionally. What a lot of people don't know is that I also do a lot of private illustration work which gives me the chance to explore a lot of art that I wouldn't normally make. Of course these illustrations look nothing like my personal style, and I don't share them publicly, so even if someone saw them they probably wouldn't know it was made by me. Being given opportunities to make so many different kinds of art really makes me appreciate my own personal style so I never really feel pressured to deliver anything different. The best advice I can give to any aspiring artist is to be prolific! I make some kind of art every single day. I may not share it all publicly, but a day never goes by without a pen, pencil or paintbrush in my hand.
JV: Again, just based on observation, the enjoyment you take in your work really seems to show. There are plenty of theories about the importance of artists being able to fully indulge in what they do and that coming through to the viewer. But you also claim to be a perfectionist and your discipline is evident too. Is there anything you can say about balancing these two dynamics in artmaking - pleasure and discipline?
GA: I have a saying that I always refer back to when it comes to discipline. "Practice makes proficient." Although I do consider myself a perfectionist, I know that perfection is an unrealistic goal. I'm also my own worst critic which renders perfection unattainable in my mind. So the next best thing is proficiency. To me, being proficient in something that brings me pleasure, so I guess the more I strive for it the more I enjoy it. I don't know, maybe that makes me some kind of masochist? I also have an undying fear that I'll forget how to make art if I ever stop which might factor into my strange views of pleasure and discipline.
JV: We are looking forward to having your solo show here at Modern Eden in May 2017! Have you begun to prep for this yet, even just in brainstorming or sketch phases? Give us hints of what to expect!
GA: I'm ridiculously excited for this show! I've recently become obsessed with growing succulents and cacti and I'm planning on painting a whole series inspired by these gorgeous plants! As with all of my work you can expect a touch of surrealism and whimsy and of course hummingbirds! I've already got a bunch of sketches and studies in the work and can't wait to get started on the full paintings!
JV: Lastly, I believe you are currently living and working out of northern California. How is this, in your opinion, compared to being in the LA area right now? (Clearly we are a bit biased…)
GA: I was born and raised in Southern California living most of my life in the Orange County area. I still love it down there, but at this stage in my life I really wanted to slow things down and enjoy more nature which the Bay Area is perfect for. I'm specifically in the East Bay which I have fallen in love with and it's great that San Francisco is only a short drive away so that I can get my fill of big city life when I need to.
Intertwined by Glenn Arthur
On view through October 8, 2016 at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco for Femme to Femme Fatale curated by beautiful.bizarre Magazine.
Handiedan is a Dutch collage artist based in Amsterdam we are excited to have as part of our next group show Femme to Femme Fatale curated by Beautiful Bizarre. Her work impresses with its ability to exercise a refreshingly unique approach while maintaining a truly pleasing aesthetic regardless of how near or far we are to it. Intrigued by both the beauty and the process, we’ve had the opportunity to interview her for some elaboration.
Interview by Jessica Violetta
All images courtesy of the artist.
JV: It comes as no surprise that your work will be featured in a show with this title and theme. “Femme” seems to be a common theme within your work but so does “Femme Fatale”. Is there anything you could share with us about your choice to so often include a pinup style female (or more than one) in your work?
H: To me, I like how the sensual female form can symbolize both soft and strong, radiates both power and vulnerability. An origin of softness and growth, a purity, sexuality of beauty and decay. I like to use the classical pin-up because of the high cultural value and they exhibit a tasteful response to female sexuality. To use this as the basis of my work and translate/transcend them into a new aesthetic form surrounded within symbolism.
An extra aspect is when you look at a technical aspect. As an extra gift, when digital reproducing these magazines with a scanner: a graphic moiré pops up. It’s sort of a tiny graphic grid. I love it how this moiré works on the paintings and how it interacts with the pixelation of low resolution web images in my digital collages.
JV: The way you are able to entice a viewer into your artwork with such overall charm and then have us come to find that you have actually hand cut and carved the components with mastery, it feels to be a gift that keeps giving. Do you find similar satisfaction with this duality when creating the work?
H: I love the fast and intuitive way of designing and montaging in the computer. It gives unpredictable outcomes that surprise me. It sometimes feels like my unconscious is able to become conscious and appears right in front of me while I create my originals.
I love the timely part of my hand cut collages. It slows me down and lets me go deeper into the meaning of the piece and the process towards the final result.
I love to combine the autonomous techniques of hand cut collage with the modern possibilities of the digital collage techniques. It gives me a definite satisfaction to combine these two techniques, and to see how they complement each other both in the layering of the artwork and in meaning and technique.
JV: You have had the opportunity to show in various forms - from gigantic outdoor murals to small scale gallery works. Do you have a favourite experience so far?
H: My most favourite experience is the combination of both.
The quiet focus of working for months by myself in my studio creating art for a show.
The fast and energetic focus while creating a wheat past mural in one week, with a lot of direct interaction with your audience and the project team gives a lot of energy.
Either way of working gives a new and different energy and the possibility to re-focus. I think combining results for me as a good way to grow, learn and develop my art.
JV: As someone who collects vintage illustrations for the aged aesthetic but also seeks out modern art, I find your artwork to be like a successful hybrid between the two. Have you also been a connoisseur of materials like this before you began to use them to create original work?
H: The original work I’m creating today, is a direct result of what I always have done.
I always had a fascination of things that are aged or ‘have a story locked in time’.
For example, a little piece that fell off an old tree or dried flower, a trashed empty record sleeve or yellowed metro tickets. All to me little treasures.
I can however also see this in modern things that I think are different and raises curious, or that triggers a happy feeling. Like my vinyl toy and crystals and gems collection.
I like to gather things that have a story and it’s even more interesting to combine or compose them together. To see a surprisingly new and totally different story appear.
JV: Being in San Francisco, we know there are both differences and similarities about art and life in Amsterdam. Are you satisfied with the opportunities available for you where you are now and/or have you shown or traveled to other places that seem to welcome what you are doing even more?
H: With my art I mainly exhibit and do projects abroad. I’m very grateful that I am able to do what I love all over the world and meet all these different kind of people.
As a basis, I find Amsterdam a great city to live and to develop my art. A nice and open atmosphere to create. I think a lot of nice things are happening in Amsterdam. Especially the last few years, new galleries and projects full of new art energy popped up.
JV: Aside from the commonality of depicting the female form, are there any overarching themes or concepts that you typically have in mind when making your work?
H: My art works are a treasure trove of symbols and patterns scattered on and through the background. You can find meaning in the tattoos, in patterns of decorative symbolism and hidden meanings, with a focus on Quantum Physics, Metaphysics, Mythology, Sacred Geometries, Cosmology, Astronomy and Space and Time theories.
JV: Your mural in Berlin for Urban Nation is breathtaking. Can we look forward to you creating more large scale public work in the future?
H: Thank you.
After creating the mural in Berlin in 2014, I’ve created several large wheat paste murals for Wall Therapy in Rochester and one for RMP in Richmond this year. Sadly, because of harsh weather conditions these walls didn’t last.
There are plans in the make for a new large mural project in conjunction with my solo exhibition at Jonathan LeVine Gallery next year. Very excited about it!
Flos Vitae by Handiedan
On exhibit for Femme to Femme Fatale from September 17 through October 8, 2016 at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco. Inquire for more info
This August brings the San Francisco debut and the gallery’s first major solo exhibition of new works by Latvian artist Jana Brike. Fifteen new oil paintings will be on exhibition, including several major works on aluminum that stand out as some of the finest pieces in the artist’s respectable oeuvre. In 'Superabundance', the artist is in her stride, working with a deft hand, she weaves a soft and supple, hyper-visual narrative. Her dream-like subjects are wrapped within the forest’s lurid color and pattern, where certain revelations are both discovered and feared. The works explore the overwhelming range of emotions, from the innocent to the ecstatic, sorrow to joy, and peak at the place where sensationally charged beauty meets a dangerous and wild nature.
Interview by Jessica Violetta
JV: Your new series, Superabundance of Ordinary Being, appears to still capture the beauty and innocence of your previous works but also feature a much more obvious reference to female sexuality. Was this intentional and, if so, what was the driving force behind that imagery?
JB: There is always this juxtaposition of two sides. One is being “sexy” or an object for the viewer. The other is a sexuality that is deeply internal, inherent, and almost primeval that comes from a sacred, creative force. More like a physical self-awareness that I believe exists in all things alive in this universe, non-dependent of a partner or a viewer.
The first one is what I feel is expected from a woman. It is like there is a prism through which society filters images of women that often surprises and even scares me.
But the second is all still heavily tabooed: female sexuality strongly centered within itself, with its wisdom of nature cycles, unapologetic with no obligation. It has no wish to concede or show off but to simply exist within the female body as it is – with its blood, sweat, milk, fur, marks of childbearing, and marks of aging.
I believe this awareness and understanding is part of the real self-power for a woman. This is not what I paint directly, but it is the climate in which I have grown to be a woman, and aim to come to terms with in my own body and self. I am honestly just starting to find out what it even means to be woman as a vessel for the female energy of everything living rather than simply what society defines my role as (ie. mother, wife or lover). I am still on a path of discovery toward being a woman internally, and the sacredness of it. And these discoveries are so deeply experiential that they are beyond verbal description.
JV: Another interesting new detail that we noticed is your use of imaginative “tattoo”-like drawings on the skin of the figures or animals in the artwork. Is there symbolism behind this for you?
JB: Yes, skin is a big and important organ that is both a wall of protection and an important interaction with our external environment. It is like an imagined border. Therefore, painting the skin of my characters has always been important to me. All the little details - hair, scratches, bruises, pimples, moles, scars, bluish or red blood-vessels, dirt, cosmetics and now lately…drawings. I just find it fascinating how drawing on skin is used to convey a message – with tattoos existing from the beginning of civilization, kids scribbling all over themselves, or the way a young girl would write a boy’s name on a secret spot of her body after first discovering affection. It is like externally displaying what is going on inside, as if you can’t hold it in any longer. Important stepping-stones, interactions, revelations, or discoveries leave permanent marks inside of you and are now being shown to the world to be “read” like a book.
JV: This series features several pieces where more than one figure is in the scene. Is there a significance in the interaction between the characters?
JB: There are, of course, times where you just need another. It is not a need so desperate that you are incomplete without them but rather a need that derives from their ability to bring out certain properties in you that are hidden yet full of goodness and potential - catalysts for your experiences, understandings, feelings, and new beginnings. But the number one relationship in life is with the self and all external relationships just grow out from there. I honestly believe that no other person can give you what you haven’t already developed within you. So the vast majority of my paintings feature just one figure, one human, and their environment.
I painted this entire series while in an extremely difficult internal place. I have had to come to terms with receiving negligence, rejection, and a lack of love as extreme opposition to my own offering of true love, daring to be open, and vulnerability of one soul to another. And while I consider it to be sacred to connect with another soul, it is cast away by the recipient like disposable excess in a world full of competition for achievement, without even a few kind words. Being in this place has felt like hitting rock bottom of everything I used to believe in. Risking and losing it all completely has left me with the same broken self as before, numb in disbelief, and an impossible mission to find ways to love that rejected self and the beauty and worth of it regardless of external acknowledgement. In that place, even the idea that you can learn from every experience is shattered, because what is there to even learn here? Is it a survivalist lesson that you should not love so sincerely anymore? No way.
But I’ve learned what may be the ultimate lesson – the fact that life breaks us and it hurts. And not even solitude can save us because the yearning for expansion, sharing, and adventure break us just as badly. So we dance the dance of life, fall, and get back up when we can, dance again, sometimes with broken legs or arms or hearts, and if we open our eyes, we see that the whole world is a part of the same broken dance. The flowers are wasting their sweet petals and the fruit is wasting their sweet flesh, decaying and turning into new life in a bittersweet cycle and when we look long enough, we start to notice that we are not just the dancer, but also the music, the space in which it is happening, as well as the viewers watching it all happen.
It is pointless to complain and just wait for the world to be perfect before we really start living, because life will never be perfect and the only life is now.
I do not have all the answers, I am just on a journey like everyone else, and all I can say is that the superabundance of feelings and living a life through our human self, acknowledging that no one is singular or alone, allows us to all hold hands together. And I can’t convey all this through my paintings, but I believe they can connect some of these points through which our hearts meet most genuinely.
JV: You’ve been so kind as to share a glimpse of your studio and work process with us. Could you share a little more, in words, about the way you work and what your studio is like?
JB: In the wintertime, I am actually in the worst “hermit mode” and all time spent in the studio goes according to my personal ritual. I actually start by burning candles or a fragrance of some sort, do a short breathing meditation, eat very light, and work very long. I do that daily. In the summer I am much more flexible. Sometimes I paint outside by the countryside or travel with my smaller works and it is all way more playful. I don’t get as much done as the winter, but it helps me to not get burned out. My studio is a big mess when I am in the middle of working on a series. It starts with an overall feeling, state of mind and heart, and then the images come flashing in my mind. Then I sketch, gather reference material, and paint until I am happy with the emotional vibe it conveys.
JV: Do you typically work on one piece at a time or are there several in progress at one time?
JB: If it is a set for a solo exhibition, I work on them all at once. They are like chapters in one whole story, complete within themselves, but integral parts of a bigger picture. I need to work on them all together.
JV: Do you listen to music while you paint? What is your favorite?
JB: It depends on the phase of work. When I am working on the ideas, I like silence or just sounds of ordinary life around me. If I am just starting on a painting, where I’m still making decisions, I like classical music with ambient vibes like Chopin or Satie -something peaceful and beautiful. If I am painting things mechanically, which takes the longest, it can be many things –various kinds of music, audiobooks, lectures on countless subjects, and sometimes even movies.
JV: In all of your work to date, we see a clear and wondrous nod to childhood, innocence, and fantasy. Would you say that this is one of the biggest influences for your work?
JB: All the heroines of my current exhibition are young adults but I would agree that there is an aura of innocence, hope, and naive love and trust in them. I can’t say it is an “influence”, because “influence” suggests some external element that was not initially mine. It is more like a way of life through the things I search for and fall in love with in others – openness, rawness, an unguarded soul shining through – something I find to be way more common in children and more of a treasure in adults. There is an undeniable beauty in childhood, with its wish to touch the world in an unguarded way, its authenticity, and its hope and trust in things to come while fully living in the present. Adults are too fearful, armored, and protective of our personas. We lie and pretend and wear masks and are too guarded and disappointed to dream. I am not nostalgic though, because it is not the simple-mindedness or ignorance that I long for, but rather what I would call the “innocence of maturity”. It is a place where I have seen life, know what it brings, know that I can be broken by it, but still have goodness and the bravery to fall in love or dream. So my models are always adults in their late twenties or thirties at least, I just distort the proportions and the way the skin captures the light. I like to think that I paint portraits of souls more than bodies.
Maybe, somehow, I work with and heal my own emotional pain through this process of painting a return to innocence and I hope I do so for others as well. But it is all very intuitive and spontaneous, not fully conscious, and quite playful.
JV: So many of your pieces in this series seem to focus on a particular looking girl with light hair and eyes. Do any of your characters derive from real life relationships for you?
JB: That character is me, of course. I come from Latvia, North East Europe. There is nearly no racial diversity here. Historically, almost everybody has been tall and light. That is the look of the indigenous people here. The issues of social injustice and oppression have always been connected to nationality here and it has been important for me to understand what my personal heritage means. I always feel like I need to explain and apologize for that, particularly to my American audience. When I paint people of different looks, it gives me an opportunity to step back and feel things from a different perspective. I always need a live model though, so I paint important people I meet in my travels, who have let me photograph them.
JV: Your work is such an intriguing blend between fantasy, realism, and surrealism. Do you come up with the full scene before you begin or do you let the work speak to you as you go?
JB: A lot, truly, a lot of things – backgrounds, details, and sometimes even the main characters – change quite considerably while I work. I come up with more of a feeling that I want to convey before a fully developed scene. For this exhibition, it has been a certain vibe of painful sweetness, love, and longing in one overflowing heart. Sometimes certain images have been in my mind but I haven’t worked it out enough to put on canvas, so I have to rework it quite a bit. But I am happy with the final story it tells.
Jana Brike's Superabundance of Ordinary Being debuts August 5, 2016 at Modern Eden Gallery. The exhibition is on view through September 10, 2016.