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Vanguard: Laura Berger.

Photos: Alex Maier

We’re proud to announce a new Vanguard features with Chicago-based fine artist Laura Berger. As a painter and sculptor, her work is focused around women in various states of rest, relaxation, and comfort - often set against a backdrop of soothing earth tones and geometric shapes. There’s a strong spirit of contentment in her pieces.

We were introduced to Laura via our friend Jeroen Smeets, who runs an incredible project called The Jaunt that partners with artists to send them on week-long inspiration trips around the globe. In return, the artist creates a limited-edition silkscreen print which is sold to help cover trip expenses. Laura traveled to Lima, Peru in May of 2017 as part of The Jaunt, and has been hard at work since her return on both prints for the project as well as six original paintings that we will be displaying at our LA flagship store this Friday, July 28th. We will be having an opening reception on the evening of the 28th from 5-9pm, and Laura will be in attendance. These six paintings will available for sale along with two silkscreen prints produced by The Jaunt. If you’d like to receive an exhibition catalog, please email info@thejaunt.com.

As is the case with all Vanguard features, we worked with the artist to produce a limited-edition giveaway that we will include with webstore orders free of charge. For this feature, we made custom 48-page bound A6 notebooks with cover artwork that Laura created specifically for the project. These notebooks will be available at the opening on Friday, July 28th and will begin shipping with orders on Saturday, July 29th while supplies last.

We read in a previous interview that you earned a performing arts degree in college. How did the transition from theater to painting and design come about? Are there similarities between these two endeavors? 

Yes, my major in college was in performance and my minor was design, so I did a fair amount of painting there. I worked on costume renderings and scene painting - doing these huge backdrops and stuff. The first one I did was a giant replica of a French Renaissance painting so it was pretty different from what I'm doing now. It was terrifying in both scale and content because I had zero experience in either of those realms, but it was a great way to be thrown into the fire and learn how to sort things out on my own. I learned a lot through doing those things - about color mixing and other technical aspects of painting and also about the general dogged persistence and blind faith one needs to do any creative work.   After school I almost immediately lost interest in acting, but I freelanced as a scenic artist for some different theatre companies for a couple of years.  After that, I pretty much dropped the whole theatre thing and was trying to figure out what I really wanted to do.  Painting came back in when I was going through an extremely rough patch in my life - my dad had gotten sick and passed away quite young and pretty much everything else in my life had also fallen apart at about the same time. So I was super lost and looking for something to focus on to distract me and help me keep busy and I started painting every night. I had no other intentions for it other than self-soothing, but then from there it very gradually and slowly evolved into my career. I never imagined I'd be doing this full-time when I was sitting at my kitchen table painting during that time, so I feel incredibly lucky and grateful. And surprised haha.

We find strong currents of freedom and connectedness in your art. Can you share more about this with us?

For sure, I think those are definitely two of the main themes I've been working with lately. I guess they're just these fundamental things that we're all searching for in one way or another, and they're interesting concepts to me because they can be applied on so many different levels. Some people in the world have absolutely no freedoms, while so many others enjoy so many. Then there are people who are liberated externally in most ways but who are searching for personal freedom - from difficult thoughts or relationships or histories, from insecurities, etc. There are so many ways we all strive for this very fundamental thing; it's a common ground that we share. And connectedness is a similar thing to me, particularly in this age where we're all more "connected" to each other than we've ever been, but studies are showing that we're actually feeling way more isolated. I'm interested in exploring how we can tap into our true nature that we're all born with and feel simultaneously more loose and also more understood and safe.

The political shitstorm that's currently afoot here in our country really just acts as a giant exclamation mark on these themes for me, and maybe gives the ideas a different weight or shape than they had before. Art that's about basic human things can definitely take on all sorts of new political meanings with everything that's happening. I think we're all feeling that about a lot of things now. As a citizen, I feel simultaneously like nothing is in our hands and everything is in our hands, and also hyper-aware of how much we need to be helping each other out and being thoughtful and good.

Tell us about your trip to Peru with The Jaunt. What particular memories or experiences did you look back on as you created these new works for our show?

For my trip I spent the week in Lima, which is a city I heard a lot about because my husband is in the restaurant industry and I used to be also, so we love to eat and Lima is arguably one of the best places to do that activity. There is huge pride taken in the uniqueness of the cuisine and it was such a cool way to learn about the amazing diversity of cultural influences that have had hold there.  I've also always been drawn to Peruvian textile design and ceramic art, and I'm fascinated by shamanism and the different spiritual traditions, symbols, and mythology of the Incan people. So it was amazing to be able to visit the museums and learn more about these things firsthand.  Lima is full of interesting contrasts - you'll be walking around and there are extremely modern buildings, spanish colonial houses, and enormous crumbling pyramids all on the same block. The city sits right on the ocean and there's a lot of beautiful plant life, a lot of which was exotic to me, so there's a wonderful connection to nature there as well. One of my favorite experiences was staying a couple of nights in the home of Victor Delfin who's a well-known painter and sculptor there; I believe he's 90 years old. The grounds are packed full of his artwork and it sits on a cliff overlooking the sea. It felt very special to visit his studio space and spend some time there surrounded by these things he'd spent his life making. I drew from all of this when making my work for the show - the contrasts, symbols, the repeated elements and patterns in textiles, ceramic forms, colorful buildings placed right next to each other that created interesting palettes, my own personal feelings. And hopefully just the general vibe that I felt there will come through a little as well. 

Where did you grow up? How has moving to Chicago influenced your artwork?

I grew up in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, which is a pretty small but decently liberal little town. Then I lived in Minneapolis for a short stint before moving here. Chicago is a city with so much diversity which is consistently inspiring on so many levels and I feel like I'm always learning something or experiencing new things. I think living in a big city can always feel a little bit like I'm simultaneously overstimulated / there are too many people and then also that I'm sort of lonely because there are only a handful of people that I have a deep connection with that I see on a regular basis - everyone's always hustling to stay afloat. I can see these things reflected in my work for sure.

Tell us about the collaboration piece that you worked on with us.

We made a small blank book together and the artwork I designed for it features some of the tropical plant life that I saw so much of in Lima and incorporates some abstract shapes to stand in for other natural elements - maybe the sun and the ocean. I chose to do the drawing as a simple black line drawing with a couple of bright pops of color and an earthier-toned background as a way to visually represent those contrasts that I felt the city between modern and ancient / natural and constructed.  We thought it would be cool to make a little book that people can toss in their backpack or pocket when traveling to jot down ideas or sketches. Of course, that doesn't have to be exclusively for big international trips or anything - I think it would be just as nice to take it with you on your travels down the block and sit down on the curb and write out some thoughts or draw a nice tree.

Join us on Friday, July 25th from 5-9pm to view new works by Laura Berger inspired by her trip to Lima, Peru. Presented in conjunction with The Jaunt.

3sixteen LA
941 E. 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012