Laura Berger's characters and colors are hard to miss, or at least anywhere but a desert landscape perfectly organized into aesthetically pleasing shapes and spaces. However, Berger's work is more than just aesthetics, she uses creating as a cathartic process to explore complex thoughts, focusing on the expression of feelings into a piece, minimizing the hindrance of words and convoluted thoughts that can cloud emotive expression. Her work has been increasingly circulated around the web and in galleries over the last few years, making her a must-watch artist for art-scene enthusiasts.
We caught up with Laura Berger to hear her back-story, and therefore learned a bit more about where these beautiful pieces came from. Read on below.
What's your story of becoming a working artist? Where do you remember start painting, quit your job, and when did you start painting in the style you do now?
I've had a really slow, organic, and initially kind of accidental path to my art career. It really goes to show you that no matter how much you try to plan (read: freak out about) your life, things just sort of naturally follow their own path. I wish I had known that and freaked out a lot less about what was to become of me when I was in my 20s, haha.
Ever since I was a kid, drawing and painting were probably my favorite hobbies so I've done them for fun forever. I actually studied theatre in college; my major was performance, my minor was design, and the first real painting work I did was there. They needed a huge stage-sized replica of a French Renaissance painting for a backdrop for a production, and the task was given to me so I totally just got thrown into the fire. I definitely cried several times during that project but it all worked out and I learned a ton about technical stuff and color mixing. After school, I worked freelance doing scenic art and also waited tables, as performance majors do. Then, when I was 27, things kind of fell apart a little; my long-term relationship ended in a really rough way, and then 6 months later my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After he died, I tried to run away to Costa Rica to teach English, as some do when their life falls apart, but then I got mugged at gunpoint (what can I say, I was on a roll,) so I just scrapped all plans and traveled around aimlessly for awhile. When I got back to Chicago, I was alone, grieving, and trying to rebuild everything. I started painting every night after work because I literally didn't know what to do with myself and I thought it would be something positive to focus on. The paintings were not good, but that was the beginning of my learning process. It was when I learned how to create my own imagery, and also the beginning of a disciplined painting practice. I quit my job about 8 years ago now and I was completely terrified, but I took a leap. I'm sure I've been working towards my style this whole time, but I've really started to feel more comfortable or settled in with my technique and voice in the last few years. Of course, it's always and forever evolving, I'm constantly striving to improve and keep growing.
Up until we first spoke, I always thought you lived in California. Even once you told me you live in Chicago, I still think you live in California and have to remind myself. Something about the muted tones, palms, and light, reminds me of California and the desert. What do you think draws you to this kind of imagery? What kind of place do you associate your environments with?
Haha, I think I feel the same way actually! Most of my work opportunities have been coming from California, and I've always felt a strong connection and pull towards there. I feel really good and comfortable on the west coast, so hopefully I'll find a way to be living there sometime... maybe not too long from now :)
I know for sure that I feel the most grounded and healthy when I'm by the ocean or mountains. My dad was only 61 when he died and he had never gotten to travel outside of the US, so that really gave me a sense of urgency about things. I made a vow to myself that I would visit at least one new country every year, starting then. So when I first started painting I was traveling to places like Mexico, Latin America, Indonesia, and Japan. I also did a bunch of cross-country road trips with California as the destination, and I had a really amazing trip through southern Utah that was definitely formative in many ways. We were camping with no tents, just out in the open air with all of the gorgeous rock formations, stars, and wild animals, which was new and very powerful for me. I feel like all of those experiences and sights mix together with the life history in our brains to create a whole new thing. That mixing really forms the visual base and the general vibe of my work. I don't really think consciously about those things when I'm working out environments, but maybe that's the filter things are coming through. I mostly like to work with shapes and colors, I focus more on the feeling of an image. I often paint environments to communicate feelings of ease, freedom, or calm.
Your work really evokes an illustrative quality, did you start out as an illustrator? Normally when someone has illustration chops, they go one of two ways: either their painting practice builds directly on their illustrations, or they try to lose all the vestiges of detailed illustration, usually in favor of more abstract work. Do you remember coming to that crossroad?
When I started making art, I knew more people who were doing illustration for a living than working as full-time painters. I'm sure that was influential in the way I viewed possibilities, because it was all just a whole new world to me. So, I'd say I started out doing more illustration with some painting on the side, but then I loved painting so much that I ended up putting most of my energy and focus there, which eventually made it my primary medium. This was another really organic thing for me, which I didn't think about too much, it just sort of happened naturally over time as I grew as a person and artist. There's so much crossover in everything though, and I love doing all of it. It's really good for me to switch around with different forms of expression. I like to do animations, sculpture, design work, and they all feed each other to create a nice cycle of inspiration. I'll feel a little burnt out on painting, so I'll make an animation, and then the movement or something in it will end up giving me an idea for a new painting, and then I'll be excited to paint again.
Ok straight up, what's your most listened to album? Not the cool one but the embarrassing one...
My most listened to album is probably Un Día by Juana Molina. I'm not embarrassed by it, I love it! Ok, now I'm trying to think of an embarrassing one that I've listened to a lot. It would probably be something from when I was growing up, when I only had like 5 things to listen to, and would just listen to the same things over and over again... I loved Appetite For Destruction by Guns n Roses. Also, I know all of the words to most Salt n Pepa songs. Is that cool? It's probably pretty uncool, but is potentially useful at parties.
What's your process like when doing a brand collaboration? How do you approach it and make sure you're not taken advantage of?
I've only done a handful so far, but the projects I've worked on have been super inspiring in entirely new ways for me, and I always learn a lot, so I'm looking forward to hopefully doing more collaborations in the future. When someone approaches me from a brand, the first thing I usually do is research the company, if I'm not familiar with them, and make sure it's something I can align with. Having integrity is important to me, and I always want to stay solid across the board with my values, so I try tirelessly to get clarity on things in that realm. If that feels like a good fit, then I look at the proposed concept to see if it's something that seems like it will naturally work well with my work, without trying to stretch to fit it into something that feels dishonest. Of course, I always want to get an agreement on paper before starting work. I really think the most important thing with any kind of collaboration or project is being able to tap into how I feel in my gut about it; does it make me excited? or do I feel any kind of trepidation or uneasiness? If it's not an entirely positive feeling, I'm learning that it's better to let it go and keep that space open for the right thing to come, or, to just have more spaciousness to work on my own.
Do you book yourself up ahead of time and use that as an incentive to get lots of work done, or are you able to make work every day and fit that to a show/collab/mural?
For the last few years I've been booking up the year in advance so my time is almost entirely spent working towards those exhibitions and projects. Deadlines really do help with discipline and productivity, no question about it. But, it also sounds like a dream to just make things in a fluid way and see how they all connect together. I'm totally holding onto that lifestyle goal for the future...
If you weren't a working artist, what would your dream occupation be?
I really miss singing, so I'll go with that. Maybe I should be a backup singer because that seems like less pressure. I'd get to hang back and do all of the nice harmonies, maybe I'd have some barely noticeable dance moves and possibly a tambourine or a maraca or something like that.