Laura Gaiger

Laura Gaiger

England, though I’ve lived in Scotland and Norway for long periods too


BA(Hons) in Painting and Printmaking at The Glasgow School of Art 2016
MFA at KMD, Universitet i Bergen, 2020

What is your expression ? 
I paint, and usually on a large scale. I experiment with what I can make paint out of and what I can do with it. I frame my works as landscape painting, even though they don’t look like that at first sight. I’m interested in people, and the social history to be found in the landscape. I also engage with the performative and contextual aspects of painting, often making the circumstances around the painting a part of the work, whether that be the difficulty of installing a painting as a tent in the woods, or moving on a sailing boat, or paintings that are activated by being walked on.

What inspires you?
Books which challenge my received understanding of history. I have been reading recently about the roots of environmentalism, particularly national parks and their entanglement with colonialism. I’m interested when I land on a story or a motif which encapsulates something very contradictory about human narratives and histories. Things which reveal how the categories we impose on the world around us dysfunction, how they can limit our understanding. I have just been reading about the Peasant’s Revolt in England, in the 1380s; I am working on a show near Blackheath in London, an area which has historic links to many English revolts and rebellions. I also quite often have a purely formal idea which I want to try out. My paintings are led by compositional problems, composition is what gets me excited. I return constantly to paintings of the 15th century for instruction. Right now I am looking through a book of van Eyck paintings and I’m fixated by a detail of the Ghent altarpiece from the central panel, the crowd of female martyrs. I was lucky to see so much fantastic painting as a teenager in the public galleries in the UK. Thomas Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews might have started off my interest in landscape painting and its politics. Now when I go back I look at The Nativity by Piero della Francesca: I am fascinated by the minuscule plants, the strange perspective of it and the empty space in the bottom left corner.

How would you describe your art? 
I’m working between different interests, material and thematic. Each project is a bit different in terms of what I’m thinking about, but I do have an enduring interest in the sociopolitical history of the landscape. As I work more with it I understand more of the nuance in why the landscape is so often depicted as estranged from humans, and it becomes not only an art historical question but a cultural question generally, related to power and class and politics. It sends me in different directions trying to pull the human and the landscape back together in paintings, but right now I am beginning to develop a series of works dealing with the ‘blue commons’, the seas. I started to think about making these works when I stopped renting an apartment and moved into my sailboat. I’m very concerned with not romanticizing ‘natural’ spaces such as the sea, in a way that others them even further, because that damages our relationship to the environment we live in and I want my work to go the opposite way of romanticism, while still having to do with dreams and the imaginary. My paintings take form as complex collage-like compositions with figures and motifs implying different facets of a certain phenomenon or story, and they rely on the viewer to be able to interpret an interplay of formal and referential elements and tease out both the concrete story and the feeling. They are always full of people because the history of the land is full of people, and I think of these figures as narrators.

Why did you end up living where you are? 
I grew up on the south coast of England. I moved to Glasgow for art school when I was 18 and I have just kept moving further north I suppose, hugging the Atlantic coast. I slipped under the shutter of Brexit and took what was really my only chance to do a Masters’, given the huge costs of education in the UK. I see that in the UK I might not be able to live as a professional artist, like I do here. It’s a huge shame that the creative industries are increasingly the preserve of the upper middle class and above, and it’s very sad that someone like me would no longer be able to afford to study in Norway either.

Suddenly I’ve been in Bergen 6 years and I am still not tired of it; I have a big group of friends and colleagues and am entangled in all kinds of associations and groups and jobs. I am curious about other places, but I don’t imagine I will be leaving Bergen too soon. Living on a boat gives the constant promise of departure, and that’s enough for now.

What do you like about the artscene and the town?
I like Bergen just as a place, outside of the art scene. It feels possible to have a good life here as an artist. I come from a family of self-employed and freelancers, and it seems like it’s in the family not to get on well with full-time salaried work – to need a high degree of independence. It’s therefore important to me that I can survive here through my studio work and related teaching and technical work. I don’t feel there’s an elitism as I did in the UK, I feel comfortable to be myself within the art community here. I also spend a lot of time out on the fjord, and to me the fjord is as much a part of this city as the built environment and the mountains. I like the ever-changing weather and the short but explosive summer.

What could be better in the local art scene?
I think that like anywhere else, insiders can get a bit complacent and think their world is bigger than it really is. That’s not a criticism of Bergen or Norway, it’s just how it is all over. But it’s natural then to find yourself yearning a bit from time to time for a different kind of scene, because any city can start to feel insular. I miss the UK sometimes, for the sheer amount of art and music and culture there and how chaotic it is.

What are you currently working on?
Probably the most things I’ve ever worked on at once! I’m finishing some paintings which have been on a kind of slow burn for two and a half years, which I began after watching a lot of recorded theatre online during the pandemic and started using stills from these films to work from. They will be shown in Glasgow early next year. I’m also working on a collaborative collage project with Charlotte Besuijen, another Bergen-based artist. I’m starting a new series of paintings around the notion of the ‘Blue Commons’, the history of the seas as a commonly owned treasury of mankind. This is hopefully going to be exhibited in Iceland. Then I am working on an idea for a project I want to make after the summer, in Bergen, taking people around Byfjorden on my sailboat and giving a guided tour of the history of the fjord as a public space. This project is still just a twinkle in my eye, so we’ll see. I also just got a bit of funding to build a fresco wall in my studio and convert half the space into a small fresco workshop. I’m also planning for a larger show I’ll have in Trondheim at the end of next year, which is still a bit open at the moment in terms of what the works will be, but I have a short residency on Svalbard in October which I think will give me the seeds of something new. I just found out a few days ago I’ll have a show in London in the next few months. I also spend a lot of time working on my boat, Bonnie Tyler, and I’m a skipper in the university sailing club. And I work part time at the art academy on top of freelance jobs. It’s a bit intense right now, and I’m not making much money to support all of these projects, but I’m enjoying myself.

What are your ambitions and plans for the future? 
To sail around the world. If I can do that, I imagine that I will come back with a better perspective on art and worry less about small things. I want to push myself and find out what I am capable of. I am realizing that although I want to make art, I also want to find out for myself how I define success in that field, and I want to continue to do other things which connect me with the elements and with people around me in a more direct way, since my artistic practice is quite solitary.

Who of your colleagues deserves more attention? 
There are very many artists who don’t receive recognition as artists. I see a lot of young people making amazing things and I think they are better artists than me. I am surrounded by people with all different kinds of creativity and imagination.

But if I’m thinking about an immediate colleague, I really want to highlight Oda Bremnes. She works with electronic media, installation, and an intangible sense of consciousness. She is also a kind and generous person. Her work fascinates me because we are opposites in many ways: I’ve carved out my realm in the analogue, and she uses newer technologies, drawing out their uncanny possibilities.

Image credits:
Andreas Dyrdal (3)
Guttorm Glomsås (2)
Dale Rothenberg (8)
Laura Gaiger (all other images)