Louisa Gagliardi: mining the ordinary for the extraordinary

Louisa Gagliardi in front of one of her works

Award-winning artist Louisa Gagliardi turns everyday moments into thought-provoking paintings. Her work ‘Ombre Rose’ is part of the Julius Baer Art Collection. We spoke with Louisa about her career, the arts scene in Switzerland and how 2020 is leaving its mark.

A two-time nominee for the Swiss Art Awards, reviewed in Artforum International Magazine and shown at galleries throughout Asia, America and Europe, Louisa Gagliardi tells us about her journey into the arts.

From graphic design to art
That Louisa Gagliardi would lead a creative life was never in doubt. Born and raised in the Swiss canton of Valais, she was a child whose hands were always busy drawing, crafting and creating. As her interests expanded to include fashion magazines, skating and snowboarding, Louisa gravitated towards graphic design, training at Switzerland’s École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL) and the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam.

During this time Louisa created her own approach to illustration: she scans her sketches, retraces them digitally, uses Photoshop to build up a painting, prints them onto PVC and adds layers of gel or varnish. The process satisfies her self-proclaimed impatient nature: “I wanted to have a result, see a preview of what I am doing as I am doing it… Some people are great at envisioning something from the beginning, but I needed to see that my idea worked and here the computer was a great help”.

Strained, 2019, 70 x 55 cm, gel medium, ink on vinyl, courtesy of the artist and Rodolphe Janssen.
Juiced, 2020, 100 x 170 cm, gel medium, ink on PVC, courtesy of the artist and Dawid Radziszewski.
Palm Reader, 2019, 140 x 215 cm, gel medium, ink on vinyl, courtesy of the Artist and Rodolphe Janssen.
Blind Spot, 2018, 225 x 160 cm, ink on PVC, gel medium, courtesy of the Artist and Rodolphe Janssen.

Starting out as a graphic designer in Zurich, Louisa’s career-changing moment was winning the 2014 Swiss Design Awards for her side-project, the self-published newspaper series The News Stand. “I was lucky to get my break early on,” she says. “I knew working in an office was not something I was super thrilled about, so winning this award gave me my independence. It launched my career as I could focus on what I really wanted to do and find a new language and a new platform, which turned out to be art.”

Ombre Rose: the shadows of travel
Louisa’s piece Ombre Rose (or Pink Shadow) is part of the Julius Baer Art Collection. Inspired by her frequent travels, the painting plays with cinematic elements and themes of loneliness, neutrality and appropriation. Realising her own suitcase had become like an amulet, Louisa lets the painting’s suitcase melt into its neutral environment, its contents spilling out, creating impressions of companionship in an otherwise empty hotel room.

Louisa_5 Louisa Gagliardi, Ombre Rose, 2019, gel medium, ink on PVC, 160 x 115 cm, courtesy Julius Baer Art Collection.

The title refers to the protagonist’s shadow, adding a touch of film noir and hinting at summer evenings when the light is low, the air dewy and the mood romantic yet melancholy. “I am a very lively, positive person but I get to put into my painting the anxiety and nervousness that I don’t show in real life,” Louisa explains. “This particular artwork is quite ambivalent: I love the idea of hotels and the neutrality of them, the silence of being alone with your thoughts, how you create the spaces out of nothing using just your suitcase and clothes. It’s like putting on a background radio or podcast to avoid nervousness.”

Virtual and hidden realms
Louisa’s paintings hint at overlooked or forgotten moments, people or objects. Things are there, but not quite. This prompts the viewer to find meaning and symbolism in ordinary objects or suggestions of situations. Playing with light adds depth and contrast, and suggests layers of relationship between present and absent subjects, between online and virtual worlds.

Social media is a recurrent theme. “Most of the subjects are lit by artificial lights, suggesting the presence of screens and so a connection to the outside world, whether voluntary or involuntary,” Louisa explains. “A lot of my work is like a quarantine daydream. It is very me, myself and I. For millennials, in this time of social media and technology, what does privacy mean? We strive for privacy yet at the same time we put everything online, we curate our online presence... We’re so connected but we’re so alone as well.”

Artists, even me whose work is not highly political, cannot not address what’s going on right now. You need to be engaged.

Louisa Gagliardi

A time of turbulence: what’s next?
Online art is a current hot topic in the wider arts scene. Many shows moved online in response to COVID-19, including Frieze New York for which Louisa prepared eight pieces. While online viewing offers an ecological alternative to resource-thirsty art fairs, Louisa believes the emotional experience of viewing art cannot be replicated virtually. She also wonders whether the rise of Instagram art accounts encourages a culture of disposability and favours immediately palatable works.

Having shown in international galleries and museums – such as the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark and Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich – at a very young age, Louisa responds to success by demanding more of herself as an artist. Larger exhibition spaces are an opportunity to play with scale and new mediums, including sculpture. Currently she is working on a small series of aluminium printed sculptures for a solo exhibition at Antenna Space in Shanghai. Enthused by the fresh energy and new spaces young artists are bringing to Zurich and Basel, Louisa also notes the comparatively huge number of museums, collections, residencies and prizes enjoyed by Swiss artists. “2020 is a revolution,” Louisa says. “Artists, even me whose work is not highly political, cannot not address what’s going on right now. You need to be engaged."

Author: Sarah Davies de Paola