Larain Briggs may have achieved the right to be titled “Artist” by earning a degree at Camberwell College of Arts and by showing her works in numerous galleries, but art has been a part of her identity from the very beginning. She is grateful to be able to dedicate the time she does to her craft; not every artist is afforded the same opportunity to realize their potential, she knows this as well as anybody. Those that achieve this chance do so on the strength of their work and commitment to their creative vision, and Larain is no exception.
She was born in Essex, UK, northeast of London, and moved to Kent at the age of two. The first decade of Larain’s life was lived in the countryside with her parents and two older sisters before they moved to town. Larain was a perceptive child, and the juxtaposition of the sprawling countryside to the obscured spaces of a more densely inhabited town was not lost on her young mind. At that age, she was already an emerging artist and perceived her world through a creative lens. Three years prior, at age seven, Larain Briggs took it upon herself to produce a copy of a print of Van Gogh’s Boats at Saintes-Maries that hung on her classroom wall.
To copy a print requires technical ability, but to look at those wistful fishing boats lingering on the beach in the fuzzy foundations of modern art, and feel the desire create your own, that is the food on which technical ability feasts. Years later she would begin to formally study art at an adult education center where she met the artist, instructor, friend and mentor Nick Bristow RA. Prior to her study, Larain would be drawn in by the gravity of London; the city would have a significant impact on her artistic consciousness. It is no coincidence that so much creative inspiration around the world is divulged from the urban experience. It is a place of decadence and decay; it is thriving and suffering; it is pleasure and misery. Its dichotomy confounds, and Larain took notice. When she was 16, she took a job through a temp agency covering for a tea lady at a London American Express office. On her first day, she showed up overdressed in high heels and teetered under the weight of the heavy tea and coffee pots. Looking back, she finds humor in the scene, but what stands out most is the utter exhaustion she felt when she finally returned home. Yet, it did not dissuade her from life in London. In her 20’s, Larain would travel in from her town in Kent to go clubbing; indulging in the raw energy of the infamous London punk scene. As she grew accustomed to existing within the urban sphere, she pulled the curtains back on a time of observation and inner evolution.
Larain had to take various jobs to make ends meet, with creative fulfillment just out of reach. She managed as a capable woman does, tackling whatever came her way but did not quite know how to go about doing what she really loved. A turning point occurred when she took an IQ test in a women’s magazine and discovered that she was actually very intelligent. It was a timely infusion of confidence, as she reached a point where she felt she could not continue drifting. There are no assurances in pursuing an artist’s dream, as any artist can attest, and history can verify. Yet, Larain experienced the pervading feeling that she needed to wield her intelligence and talent. It was this realization that led her to the tutelage of early mentor Nick Bristow RA.
Bristow proved pivotal for the emerging professionalism of Larain Briggs as he helped her develop a viable portfolio, as well as the discipline required to combine her talent with her vision. At one point he set her to draw a single cheese plant for six weeks. Larain recalls, “as the plant moved, he instructed me to adjust my drawing. Each point on each leaf had to be plotted and drawn accurately. Each time I thought I’d finished, he’d let me know that I hadn’t finished and needed to check again how accurate it actually was. It felt as though it would never be completed, but I did complete it eventually.” Ultimately the relationship between Briggs and her mentor resulted in a portfolio that gained her acceptance into Camberwell College of Arts. Located in the heart of London, Larain found herself surrounded by a cauldron of human experience and her mind and artistic inspiration of Briggs rapidly expanded.
With its stiff angles and arbitrary rules, a city spawns counterculture and the urge to resist its rigidity both aesthetically and socially. Larain coalesced a life as a young student, finding meaning the spirituality of Rastafarianism. If this seems rather unconventional, Larain would say that was the point. However, her resistance of conformity was not simply for the sake of denying convention, or some youthful rite of passage. She rebelled against the notion that a professional woman must put on a skirt, don a pair of heels, and work at the office only to return home to be a homemaker. She had already witnessed it and saw it rob women of their vitality. Life experience has layered itself on her consciousness, but her rebellion is still alive, it continues to hold onto its object of contempt with the fierce grip of a woman with agency.
Her life as a student in London was a significant time of experimenting with her outward identity, but that did not prevent Larain from taking critical steps in understanding her inner self, a process too many young urbanites miss out on. Any city is often a multi-front attack on one’s senses; the amount of information one must constantly process from the outside is staggering. Moreover, when surrounded by so many people it becomes easy to settle into conventional narcissism, where one is always perceiving themselves from the perspective of an onlooking stranger. Larain was wise enough to realize that caring for and studying her own psyche was paramount her health, and this form of individuation became a topic of her formal studies.
By way of studying the techniques and philosophies of the Surrealists, she encountered the work of Freud. Briggs is certainly not the first artist to grapple with Freud’s philosophies. A devoted Freudian might say it is no coincidence that a copy of a Degas, who’s work often explored individual isolation, was the piece that Briggs first exhibited at age 14. A casual student of Freud may note that Larain’s life split in between the countryside and the city represents a duality similar to the conscious and unconscious mind around which Freud’s work revolves. Such observations make for interesting conversation, but what can be concluded is that when Larain took an interest in analytical psychology, she undertook a fresh way of understanding herself as an individual, and it was reflected in her work.
To analyze oneself in this way is to uncover a raw honesty regarding who one truly is. It is to divulge the repressed memories and pain woven into the fabric of one’s identity. It is to see beyond concrete sensorial perception and dive into the murky abstractions of individualism to realize the astonishing power of the unconscious mind. By performing such an investigation, Larain developed a more complete understanding of herself and accessed a wealth of artistic inspiration. The resulting personal security proved essential for the obstacles that laid in waiting for Larain Briggs.
Upon graduating from Camberwell, and after her degree show, Briggs describes a particular point of pride in her young career. “I received a message requesting me to call the Sweet Waters Gallery based near Marble Arch in London. They wanted to exhibit my work, and went on to exhibit my work at The Art Fair ’91 and The Sophia Arts Fair in Bulgaria.” Just as quickly as her career trended upward, so did a major event eschew its progress. Having married in the last year of her degree studies, she gave birth to her son. Her marriage soured, and she soon found herself as a single parent with no support from her son’s father, forcing her to sideline her passion to better support her young child. Sacrificing her hard-earned dream, she once again dove into education, this time studying to become a secondary school teacher.
It was difficult for Larain to proceed from exhibited artist to teaching special needs literacy and numeracy, but it gave her an opportunity to further engage psychology, and study the work of Carl Jung. She played to her strengths and went on to study Art Therapy. Her sacrifice is a testament to her love for her son, and her ability to tackle life’s unforgiving challenges. Larain is an artist and her compulsion to create will not be contained. Around five years ago her son became independent, and she once again became a full-time artist.
Today Larain lives on the coast and surrounds herself with nature’s splendour. She eventually came to realize that the city exacted a toll on her physical health and her psyche. She draws inspiration from her inner world and unconscious being when she works; what she internalizes living by sea has been therapeutic. “It’s simply beautiful,” she says of her home. Larain no longer needs a punk scene or dreadlocks to maintain her rebellion. She may be a mother, and a fiancé, but having realized herself as an artist, she is a woman who lives on her own terms.
From the mundane to the momentous, she is fully engaged in keeping up with all the tasks that her career blows her way. She describes her day as “typically trying to catch up with myself.” Aside from expending the energy needed to craft elegant paintings and digital works, she toils in exhibition deliveries, social media engagement, and website upkeep. It is a slight marvel that she still finds time for her family and friends. Though challenged, her ambition has never wavered as she strives for validation as a serious artist. Her work speaks for itself, but that does not mean Larain Briggs rests easy. A comfort zone is a foreign concept as she constantly changes many aspects of her life, and pursues new perspectives to keep her work engaging. It is an important aspect for her identity as an artist to be in a constant state of self-study and revision, yet for a woman who has been a lifelong student of herself, one perspective has never changed. That is, “beauty of any description is a source of joy.” Author - Drew Parrish