Interview with Louisa Gagliardi

From Being There, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, 2017


Dark fishnet dreams are illuminated by an iPad screen, while weak-wristed arms gesture for sex. Louisa Gagliardi’s paintings are instantly recognizable. In what feels like an aesthetic time-travel, she depicts futuristic alien-like figures, with traces of 1990s fashions. Mix in elements of Dr. Caligari and German New Objectivity, and you will find her manneristic bodies and unnatural elegance. Gagliardi’s paintings are celebrated for being like nothing you’ve seen on canvas, which makes sense as she’s a true anti-paint painter. Never actually touching brushes or paint, Gagliardi constructs her work on the screen and prints on PVC, a process somehow fitting for her digitally-tormented figures. Here I talk to the Swiss graphic designer turned international artist about voyeurism and Renaissance hands.

I love how honestly you’ve talked about your self-doubt as an artist. “Am I really a painter, or am I not?,” you ask in one interview. I share this sentiment, maybe being an untrained painter myself, or maybe it’s a woman’s worry. What do you think is at the root of these feelings?

Ha yes, maybe a little too honest! I think the most obvious root of this is maybe that I studied graphic design, and not fine arts. I didn’t have the time around other students to talk about and critique my work. But it is a feeling that you need to kill. It is very counter-productive and false, no matter how trained or untrained you are.

From Being There, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, 2017

From Madrugada, Tomorrow Gallery, New York, 2015

How does your commercial background inform your work now?

I used to have clients telling me exactly what they wanted, which made the work a lot more easy to produce, but also a lot more annoying. Now when I make a work, I have no client to blame if it sucks.

Hands figure prominently in your work—long fingers smoking, or covering the face. I’m reminded of a statistic I read about how the average human being touches their face 2000 times a day. Can you talk about the hands in your paintings?

I’ve always been fascinated by the way hands were painted throughout the history of painting. It used to give you information about the status of the person that was painted. I was, and still am very into hands from the Renaissance period: petite and so elegant. And the pre-Raphaelite ones, so elongated. Still today, it gives you information about someone. If someone has well-manicured hands, if they bite their nails, strong hands, chubby hands. And hands can be used for so many things. Obviously they are our best tools—they can protect us, they can be decorative, etc.

Your work is erotic, and homoerotic at times. But the characters are seemingly androgynous and racially ambiguous. Are your figures gender fluid? Are they intentionally ambiguous?

You could say they are gender fluid, but I would call them more genderless, or avatars. If I assign them a clear gender, the image can very quickly become about that. Especially nowadays, things can be taken out of context a little too quickly. I also like the idea that people can project themselves more in the figures.

From Being There, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, 2017

From Whispers in the Shade, Pilar Corrias, London, 2017

From Cul-de-Sac, Antenna Space, Shanghai, 2017

From Group show at monCheri, Brussels, 2016

On that note, do you believe your work to be political in any sense?

I think the previous question answers this. No, it doesn’t intend to be political.

There’s always a presence of technology and internet in the work, that ominous glow from a screen cast over your figures’ faces. What is your relationship to technology and social media? Do you ever long to go “off-the-grid?” Is that even possible anymore?

The first paintings were strongly referencing social media and screens, the most recent ones tend to be less directly about it, even though the glow and source of light still have this very screen-like presence. The subject of voyeurism though is still very often there, as we are clearly all voyeurs and feeding voyeurism. Yes, I dream to do this “off-the-grid” holiday, but I’m still incapable of doing it…

When are you loneliest?

When I’m hungover.

I see your work as sci-fi. Maybe it’s the blacks and blues which elicit some kind of “future” feeling. How do you envision the distant future, and what is the color palette?

I think a movie that quite nailed it on the color palette of the future was the movie Her. All those calming, therapeutic, almost retro colors, more earthy surfaces in opposition to a more dark, metallic, Blade Runner/anime type of light and color. Trust me, I’m a big fan of the dystopian universe aesthetic, but I don’t think it’d be the most pleasant to live in.