Tails, Louisa Gagliardi: her joy, her radiant beauty and the sun in her voice. Side Face, his works: dark and cold, wet with fear, populated by lost-eyed ghosts.
In June, the public at Art Basel discovered the Swiss artist’s side panel: a monumental figurative work hung in the frameUnlimited (Exhibition of works of extraordinary dimensions, also the most prestigious place of the Basel Fair). Louisa Gagliardi presented one of her melancholic images: the remains of a sad party. White tablecloth turned over, bottles closed, dirty plates stacked, and around the large round table two guests as survivors, frozen in a kind of absence, alone and yet unable to look at each other. The format of the support – 11 meters long and almost 4 meters high, divided into five fields – allowed the artist to invest multiple scales in his drawing, scattering the scene with sometimes amusing, sometimes desperately ironic details: on half a piece of bread -eaten, three sprigs of parsley outline the body of a naked woman, who is offered with her legs apart; in the mirror of a decanter a man visits an exhibition (by Louisa Gagliardi); a spilled drink falls off the edge of the table and tiny human figures are swept away by this fall, like insignificant drops in a sea of distress.
Our editorial inspired by Louisa Gagliardi: Ellipse on the heat wave
A month later, on a very hot afternoon, the artist welcomes us in her studio in Zurich with a big smile, the desire to laugh and that open look that the figures she has drawn do not have. We congratulate her on her pretty outfit – she cheerfully replies that she loves fashion and everything that glitters. We joke about the front door of her studio, which resembles that of a Valais Carnotzet – a comparison she gladly accepts as a Sédunoise and worthy descendant of an Orseraine family. And even though “it’s always aperitif time in Valais”, we drink fresh water while she tells us about her life as an artist, in a mixture of English and French that – unpretentiously, as she puts it – characterizes her now globalized attitude to life.
The conversation won’t take long before we understand how heads and tails answer and complement each other. For Louisa Gagliardi, happiness and fear are two sides of the same coin.
Very early, very quickly, her success came: “One day I posted two JPEGs of my personal work on Instagram and – I must have been followed by interesting people – in the same week I received two exhibition proposals, one in a gallery in New York and the other in Dublin.” That was in 2015, she was 26 years old. Since then she has multiplied the number of openings, collaborates with three European galleries, lives on grants, prizes and sales. “I often asked myself: why me? The Impostor Syndrome. I said to myself: It’ll slip through my fingers, they’ll figure it out in the end… Basically I’m very positive and so happy about what’s happening to me. But there are also all these things that worry me… When you meet the curator you dream of working with, when you’re afraid of saying something stupid or badmouthing your work…”
Louisa Gagliardi did not study fine arts but graphic design. And as an artist, she says, she really learned to paint. “During my studies at ECAL I was always interested in drawing. When I left school, I found jobs as a freelance illustrator, thanks to a very typical genre of images. But I quickly felt trapped in this style. Clients kept calling me with the same expectations, I could do these jobs with my eyes closed, I was bored. So I decided to try something more flexible, more personal.”
Under the game of appearance
First attempts, first success. “I started from the photos of my friends with their faces hidden behind their hands, like those evenings when everyone is holding a cigarette, a glass or a cell phone to seek refuge or put a face to themselves .” Ever since, she’s been obsessing over the issue of looks, the image you have of yourself in society, nights when you don’t know where to sit, and the fear of losing control. The monumental scene she presented to herself Unlimited say no more. “The theme of the dinner was perfect for Art Basel: it’s an art fair, but it’s also a big one who is who, where a lot happens in the evening. We dart from one dinner to the next, wondering who we’ll be sitting next to, there are exclusives. We’re here to sell ourselves, you have to be nice but not too much, funny but not too much… It’s like a dance, a game of pretense.
Unlike many artists for whom the medium precedes the work (and even more so success), Louisa Gagliardi first questioned the medium when it came to accepting the invitations of the New York and Dublin galleries that were discovered her on Instagram. What material form should he give his digital images? She chooses to have them printed on PVC canvas, the material for large outdoor banners. Then she paints certain elements of the drawing with a brush using a transparent and shiny varnish, a thickener for paint and sometimes, for small details, nail polish with glitter that she buys in the signs fast fashion.
Her gallery owners therefore sell her as a painter. But isn’t she basically a “Photoshop artist” first and foremost? She winces, “That’s a bit of a swear word… I like the idea of my work starting with a hand sketch and ending by hand. Even if most of it is done on my computer. I draw with the mouse because I like the distance between my hand and the result – like Matisse who used a very long brush.”
Except that, unlike painters, Louisa Gagliardi retained the freedom of her compositions up to the last moment. With the mouse, she begins to edit patterns and objects without knowing where they will be placed in the picture. Or even in which picture. “When I’m preparing an exhibition, I can work on all the images at the same time, which means they can dialogue and react to each other. They are all born from the same state of mind.
From virtual to material
Exhibitions exactly, she will have two in September, in her galleries in Brussels (Rodolphe Janssen) and in Warsaw (Dawid Radziszewski). And at the beginning of 2023 she will move into the large rooms of Galerie Eva Presenhuber in Zurich, which she has represented since the beginning of the year. “Unlimited means a big step in my career and in my self-confidence. Now I know that I’m capable of it – also physically! For a long time the project seemed unreal to me, I was sure that something would get stuck. The special thing about my work is that almost everything is virtual on the computer right up to the end. Once it materializes, it is fear. So much can go wrong with a job this size! In the evening, when I left the studio, I tracked down the smallest insect – I was so afraid that it would stick to the drying canvases. When I put up the first panel – I was here alone – I finally realized that it was real, that it was possible, and I cried, the emotions were so strong. After that, I had to do everything myself for the hanging in Basel, stretch the canvas, go into detail – also in such a way that I could only blame myself. Unlimitedit was a 10 out of 10 difficulty. Now everything will seem easier to me!”
As a child, Louisa attended Unlimited with his mother. “For me it was the exhibition of the greatest artists. When I heard they chose my project I couldn’t believe it. I thought they must have made fewer suggestions because of the pandemic that they must have been wrong. Face to face (as the work is called) was sold at the upper end of the estimated price range to a private collector in England.
Like in her childhood dreams
Immersed in the world of glitter and celebrity that is the contemporary art market, always traveling, always on stage, Louisa Gagliardi realizes her childhood dreams. “I’ve been browsing Fashion, women’s magazines… I’ve always loved this world, that of stars and fashion. Now that I have a little access to it I’m super happy, but I realize there are some ugly aspects too. Carefully avoiding going into detail, she is content to evoke this world of appearances, where smiles hide misery, where tears flow from the corners of her eyes, as in her paintings.
Nevertheless, Louisa Gagliardi’s imaginary universe resembles waking nightmares. There is the heavy atmosphere of an interrupted conversation when you walk into a room and everyone is silent. The avatars that populate it are neither male nor female, they belong to no ethnic group and they never look at each other. The faces appear behind glass, a mirror, smoke or in the reflection of an object. Always through something that shines and shields. Looking and being looked at, that is their condition. Like social evenings. Like on social media. “If there is a lot of fear in my work, it reflects what my generation is going through. We are permanently connected, we have our image in our hands, we are in self-curation and still ultra-voyeurs. We want to be in the world, but we’re afraid of it. All the ghosts I draw are the people we desire and run from. Social media has made us what we are. They offer us incredible opportunities. At the same time, they are our curse.”
Louisa Gagliardi, Heads and Tails.
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