Night Fruit: A Conversation with Laura Berger
"The emotions are feeling more on the surface in these paintings," Laura Berger told us in her recent feature in our Fall 2020 Quarterly. Despite all of the anxiety that’s flowing, I’ve been feeling a strong internal push to try new things, take more risks." The results of this series is Night Fruit, Berger's new solo show on view via appointment at Hashimoto Contemporary NYC starting on Noveber 21, 2020. On the precipice of the opening, Hashimoto's NYC director Jennifer Rizzo shared a conversation she had with Berger about what this year has meant to her work, taking notes, and exploring concepts of community.
Jennifer Rizzo: Hey Laura! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, it’s been such a joy working with you and we are so excited to open your exhibition in NYC! Your latest body of work, Night Fruit, was made during and influenced by the many personal and societal changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us about that journey for you? Was working on the exhibition and exploring these ideas a cathartic experience?
Laura Berger: Hi Jennifer, thanks so much for having me! Yes, it's been such a strange and challenging year on so many levels for so many of us. It has definitely opened up a lot of new questions about our society and has plunged us into entirely new experiences on the psychological / emotional plane, not to mention the physical one, so there's certainly lots of fuel there creatively. I've been really grateful that I have my painting practice to lean on. Even just having ideas for paintings come to me has been something that can provide a little boost of excitement or a feeling of possibility for the future. I often find myself resisting working when times get tough, but then as soon as I start I feel so much better. Painting is such a meditative thing; it's nice to be able to occupy your brain entirely with the ongoing decisions you're making as you work—choosing colors and thinking about shapes and composition. At the same time, creative work of any kind can be a great therapeutic aid as well and can absolutely be cathartic / help to work through inner conflict.
I love the idea that the figures are simultaneously you, me and the collective “us” —your work has explored the concepts of community and connection for many years, did you find yourself thinking about these concepts in different ways due to the pandemic?
I'm not sure if it was a coincidence, but my ideas this year suddenly started becoming much more narrative and have been coming to me very quickly, so I can't help but wonder if there's a relationship between that shift and the need to find ways to process this new life we've been living. This has been a time of a lot of reflection for so many of us. It's been interesting to see how our different relationships adapt to and change shape with all of the strangeness and difficulties of this year, and without all of the usual distractions of life it's also been a time of some serious forced intimacy with our own selves. So beyond the literal surface representations of you, me, us, I started thinking about the figures I was painting as possible symbols for the different aspects within ourselves that we house and attempt to balance. These parts can often be in seeming conflict with each other, and they also help each other survive—it sort of seems like a smaller scale internal version of how we relate within our external communities. I was thinking about the various classical psychological archetypes of the shadow self, the persona, etc., and the concept that our psyche is made up of separate systems that interact : the ego, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious.
I’m really curious about the title, it brings to mind the phrase “dark night of the soul”— that idea of being in a state of crisis or change, which is ultimately nourishing. What does it represent to you
Yes, I think that's exactly it. For me the title is referencing these periods in life that feel quite groundless—where all of the mental constructs die off and you're left without the normal framework with which to conceptualize yourself and your life. You're existing in that place between who you were before this time and who you will become after it, which can feel quite scary and isolating, or maybe liberating in ways, too... Everything has changed or is in a transformative process, there are huge shifts in perspective; there's really a spiritual journey. So ultimately I do think it's from these periods that we experience the biggest growth, both as individuals and societally. The crazy and extra profound thing about this particular experience is that we're all going through it together globally, in one way or another.
You intentionally keep the narrative open to interpretation - do you have a specific story for each piece, or is it more fluid for you as well?
Yes, I like the idea of things being fluid and almost dreamlike. There isn't one answer, but maybe there are feelings that are evoked that we can link up with memories we have, or threads that can be made into different stories that are personal to each of us. Sometimes I might also be working less toward a story per se and more toward a kind of emotional quality. I'm really interested in trying to convey an energy or overall mood. An idea usually comes to me as a little picture in my head, but kind of fuzzy or just out of reach, if that makes sense. Then I write it down and think about it and try to understand it, to create meaning for myself, which sometimes still feels loose... maybe sort of in that way that a dream does. If I eventually go ahead and make a painting from that idea / image, the meaning almost always seems to evolve and expand to include more for me as I'm working on it.
Your figures have a distinct aesthetic, with long, flowing limbs, dark straight hair and almond shaped eyes. Your earlier figures were more minimal, they sort of remind me of angular puzzle pieces. In their latest iteration, they have more detail in the face as well as contouring of the body, and fluidly drape across each other. It almost feels like they are literally evolving through each body of work. Can you talk a bit about how your style has developed over time?
I think before I was using the shape of the figures almost more as abstract elements; I was mostly focused on exploring composition and color interactions and the idea of connectivity. Early this year the ideas that were coming into my head for images started becoming more narrative and had elements in them that I wasn't sure I could execute well with the paint I was using (mostly acrylic and sometimes gouache) so I decided to try using oil paints, almost as an experiment at first just to see if I liked working with them.
I felt a bit intimidated but right away I loved the super organic feel of the oil paint itself and it has really pushed my entire process into a more open, creative space that feels both challenging and simultaneously freeing. The figures' bodies and faces have been developing naturally I think just as a response to the ideas I've been having—I want them to be more expressive and emotional forms.
Hashimoto Contemporary NYC will be open by appointment from Saturday, November 21st to Saturday, December 12th. To schedule a viewing click here