Louisa Gagliardi

The digital paintings of Louisa Gagliardi embody the physical world into traps of time that fixate our hyper-lived realities into a setting of human melancholy. It’s not the recurring subject-matter of men smoking and drinking in bars, hands holding hands or faces, that necessarily dictate means of lethargic pensiveness. Above all, it’s her images’ installed nostalgia that makes us pause and dwell in memory — whether inside our own, or that of others. Sudden notions of gentle self-effacement prevail the space as we stand in front of the artist’s tokens of contemporary living. We might feel lost, but also alive.

Gagliardi’s softcore dimensionalities of color and the digital create a simultaneous atmosphere of past and present. An anonymous continuity of having lived and living that never gets tiresome. Just more truthful, and somehow less ghastly. The images’ sweeping, elastic void of loneliness lingers on, eventually deconstructing our inherently-human condition into a place of warmth and familiarity.

How we’ve all been here, equally lonesome and lovely. And how we should remember that, just for a while longer. Hands continuously recur within your paintings, and often find themselves within the position of holding things. Sometimes living bodies, other sometimes inanimate objects. This repetition emphasizes the innate relationship between hands and their general functionality of holding, how they provide shelter. What do hands symbolize for you? How does the relationship of hands change — if it ever does — when involving the living, and the inanimate?

As you mention, hands can serve many purposes. They are tools, and provide shelter from immediate danger, but also shelter in social situations. Biting your nails in public, smoking or holding a beer just to look busy and diffuse attention. Or on the contrary, they can be an accessory, a decoration. The way we can pose with them, painting our nails, embellishing them with jewelry. In my paintings, they are used in both ways: symbolically, as well as direct tools of composition. The same goes for the smoke, or the objects holding things.

As for the relationship with the living or inanimate, I don’t think it really changes. We use our hands to take or reject things. And that’s the same with any kind of body.

But don’t you think there’s always a different intentionality the way we hold things? Dependant on our history, how we can hold things more carelessly because we are used to it, or the contrary. How we hold things when they are new and we haven’t yet familiarized ourselves. Personally, I think these notions of humanity are lovely and important to keep in mind when studying us closely.

You are absolutely right, I didn’t think about that. Sadly, the first object that would come to mind — in that careful and almost clumsy way — would be a new phone. Even though it’s the exact same model as the old one, it feels totally foreign. Or handling someone else’s computer… Not very sexy I know… And then, of course, it applies to people, the first touch of someone you’ve been longing for, or holding a baby…

How we hold that new phone as opposed to the older one… there’s so much care involved. It’s about unfamiliarity, but it’s mostly about care and deeming it special. And that very specialness fades over time… Eventually, we always get used to everything.

That’s true, sadly, the grass is always greener on the other side. I recently had a show at the Louisiana Museum in Denmark, and the work focused on that same notion. Being raised in the Alps in Switzerland, surrounded by nature, I never realized how amazing it was until I left it. Getting close to being 30, I’m starting to crave nature. Same in relationships, I’m lucky to have an amazing partner, and sometimes I realise that I take him too much for granted.

That’s why it’s almost always good to come back.
I’m interested in the faces of your paintings. They are there, we can detect their physicality, but at the same time they are partially veiled by organic situations. Like the smoke of a cigarette, or a beverage can. A type of facelessness which seems to be an accurate characteristic of post-internet society. People exist — somehow, somewhere, yet the entirety of their being becomes also impossible to grasp within these new realities. We are faceless faces, in ways. Do your portraits wish to evoke any of these ideas? Why intentionally memorize and document a person half-way, and not entirely?

I see the faces and subjects I create much more as avatars than male/female. If you define gender or race, the painting can quickly become about that, especially in today’s climate. And that’s not my intention. I want the viewer to be able to project him/herself, or imagine a narrative in the painting without being stopped by those very characteristics.

Don't we always project/imagine ourselves as soon as we witness situations that are or seem familiar?

On a certain level we must. We recognise situations because of past experiences, or stories that have been told to us (which too, we would need to picture through our mind, applying our own memories). It sounds a bit like a puzzle: does a piece resolve itself by putting these different elements together?

Is projection the most important consequence you’d like for your audience to experience? Do you think it’s problematic when people project themselves in art? Should art generally establish a personal connection?

The projection isn’t that important. If they can ‘feel’ anything at all, that’s already great. If I think about how I experience art, I can love a piece purely for its aesthetic values, for the treatment of a texture, or the cleverness of an idea...

Since we’re talking about projection, I immediately thought about where I project myself the most directly, physically even. It happens a lot with Impressionist paintings. I can see myself in these landscape, feel the temperature, the light, the wind. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s almost therapeutic. A bit of nostalgia, of course, since most of these memories stem from childhood — nature and “playing outside,” going on hikes with my family (we would go every weekend, and, of course at the time, I didn’t appreciate it at all…). I’ve been trying to implement nature and that same type of playfulness in my recent works.

I think projection is necessarily about nostalgia. Whether our own, or that of others. And somehow there’s a lot of beauty in that. Maybe it’s actually what we (I) want art to do: Whatever it is, to remember. Because, don’t we live for the memory of things?

Definitely. And at the risk of sounding cheesy, I wish I could live the moment as intensely as the memory. But I always forget to focus on it, and the moment has passed…

In terms of getting your day and work started, what’s necessary to happen beforehand? Do you need a moment of silence, in order to contemplate whatever should come next? Or is your intuition more fluid and lets your hands do what they want to do?

In order to have a really productive day, I need to wake up very early. The alarm rings and I make a mental to-do list as I wake up. In order for my intuition to move smoothly, I need to have a plan. I know it sounds paradoxical, but I need to have a clear space and window of time in order to create. I love the early morning, because most people are either still sleeping, or on their way to work. You have a some hours before getting emails or calls. I’m creative in the morning and more administrative in the afternoon. At night, I can’t work. I get too anxious.

I feel similar to early mornings. At dawn, everything still is yours. Perhaps this relates to your idea of anxiety, your mind no longer being your own as the day progresses.

Exactly. As the day progresses, everything mixes and different elements of private and public start to overlap, it becomes more difficult to focus.

Do you think your collaboration with Études added another dimension to your work? Would you like for your work to access different atmospheres, depending how and when it’s viewed?

It was so great seeing my work in a different context, to be provided with this new canvas. If I’m honest, my part was fairly similar to the usual. It’s Études that made it come alive on the garment, as well as in the context of the show and the overall narrative of our collaboration. If done carefully, it’s fascinating to see the work exist in different contexts and atmospheres.

When you feel blocked creatively, what usually works for you? Do you need to be in a certain kind of mood in order to work? Like a degree of melancholia, for example. Do you think your work mood is necessarily emotional, or unemotional (if there is such a thing)?

Well, first I have to get out of my panic mode, which is me trying to overproduce instead of making a piece really work. Once I realize that I’m wasting my time, I get out of the studio, and go do something else. Going to a museum can usually be a good way to solve the problem. Also, as weird as it sounds, I need to be in a very good mood in order to be efficient. I need to feel positive and confident. The emotions are always there, but I can’t have them be too present. Otherwise I get anxious again...

How does living in Zurich influence your work? Do you think your work, its premises, would drastically shift if changing cities?

I didn’t really think so. But last year I went for a two months residency in LA, and my palette changed so much during that time. While my colors are usually really dark, they suddenly lit up. I think it was a combination of the weather and the huge California sky. But also the “going out of your comfort /discomfort zone.” I finished the work for a solo show and realised how dark it was. I almost had to laugh at myself on the pathos of it all. Of course, all the pieces reflected the places I was at while making them. But I had to leave Zurich in order to realize what mood I had been in that whole time.

Conversation with Louisa Gagliardi, Zurich, March 2018. Interview by Lara Konrad. Photography by Stéphanie Gygax