Laura Berger

The party's in here

Tiny naked bodies. Everywhere. Headstands, body-painting, yoga poses, hiding in bushes and chilling under rainbows. These are a few rituals of our new favourite actress turned artist, Laura Berger.

Based in Chicago, USA, Laura blurs the lines between the arts and crafts by drawing small, playful characters, running an online shop with more than 23K followers and exhibiting her work worldwide. Working mainly with acrylic paint and gouache for her paintings, Laura’s works explore human connections inspired by her love for travel and child-like curiosity.

Laura started out by using art as therapy after a series of traumatic events and has now managed to make her method of healing, a full time career. We got so inspired over here in the Pocko HQs, that on a springy afternoon and before we indulged our sugar cravings, we used her quirky and imaginative paintings as a guide for a mini yoga session. Let’s just say that this cheerful army of flexible people make it look much easier. Her adorable and positive illustrations are a clear representation of her happy personality and can-do attitude, which we were super excited to explore with her on this interview.

We read that you have a theatre degree and you were a scenographer before. When and how did you decide to take on painting and illustration as your full-time job?

Yes, I actually majored in performance in college, and my minor was in design. The only painting I had been doing in school was costume renderings, and then I was asked to paint an enormous replica of a French Renaissance painting for the backdrop of a production. It was insanely challenging for me and I think I cried a lot, but I got through it and it turned out somehow! Obviously that’s much different from the work I’m doing now! Doing art for my career was a very accidental thing that happened — it was very unexpected and natural. I did some more theatrical work with scenery and props in school and for a bit afterwards in my early 20s. Then I moved to Chicago thinking I’d get back into performance eventually, but I felt like I had lost my interest in it — I really disliked the whole audition process, which is a huge part of acting, unfortunately — and so I was questioning my path a lot.  I was waiting tables and feeling quite lost for a few years. Then in the span of one year my long-term relationship that I was in ended pretty traumatically and my father then got cancer and passed away in just 6 months. It was a horrible time, and I was very depressed when I came back to Chicago. I started to paint happy images as a way to help get through that time. I was really just trying to occupy myself and make myself feel better. It ended up becoming my job. I think this is the way life works! It can be very magical if we just take our hands off the wheel and let it do its thing 🙂

Etsy must have played a significant role in that decision. It must be challenging relying on art, nowadays.

I started an Etsy shop during that hard time after a friend mentioned it to me. It had only been around for a couple of years at that time, and I had never heard of it. I made a shop just for the hell of it one night at like midnight. It never occurred to me that I would sell something — I just thought it seemed fun to have a place to post things I was working on and it seemed like a nice little creative community at that time. I was very lucky and sold something while I was still setting up the shop! I was very confused! There weren’t many people selling on Etsy at that time so it was more focused, and I got a lot of great opportunities from people who found me on there. So things did kind of grow from there. I honestly think it’s a great time to be a creative person. With the internet, social media, and the interest people are taking in buying things from individual designers / farmers / artisans, etc, we have so many resources and opportunities to build our own audiences and create a unique path for ourselves.

You have been living in Chicago for quite some time now. Where did you grow up and how do you think it affected you creatively?

Yes I’ve been in Chicago for 12 years or so now. I grew up in Wisconsin, so I’ve been living in the midwest US my whole life, although I love to travel. I think living here is grounding — people are genuine. It’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer, so you have to get tough, ha! I also think that staying in one area for so long, coupled with my father dying at a young age, has given me a lot of inner fire to travel and see the world. Traveling has had a huge impact on my work. And of course Chicago is very diverse — it’s my favorite thing about the city. I like learning about different cultures through different times in history, and how all of it overlaps in so many ways. I like to explore this with my work.

Your style in painting is very distinctive and it hasn’t changed throughout the years, but the subjects you are painting have. It seems that you are focusing more on figures and less on animals or objects. Is it something you did consciously or did it just happen? Where do you seek inspiration?

Shifts usually just happen naturally, at least for me. Sometimes I wonder if I was painting more animals or objects as a way to explore ideas without getting too personal or serious. As I’ve gotten older, and especially working alone all the time, I feel more open and connected to myself and I feel a little more safe working from a very honest space. Our inner lives inform our work, so that does inspire a lot of what I’m making. I also get tons of inspiration from traveling, dreaming, conversations with people, music, books, patterns, colors, nature — everywhere. I think if we’re observant and curious, then inspiration just seeps in quite naturally, and then we get to mash it all together and filter it through our own set of experiences.

‘The party’s in here’ reminds me of ‘Le bonheur de vivre’ by Henri Matisse. Maybe in a less sexual, more contemporary or social media friendly way of partying. What would your dream collaboration be and with who?

Haha, awesome, thanks! Man, that’s a tough question. I can think of so many things I’d like to do and people I’d like to work with. I would love to do a large mural project somewhere beautiful, or some big sculptural installation work.  Most of my work has been very solitary, so I would be happy to work with other artists. I think it would be fun to do some collaborative mural work with kids, and / or with a community in another country. I feel like that would be an awesome way to work from a totally different mindset and learn a lot.

This painting is called ‘Solitary Activities’. Is this how you spend alone-time? Headstands and body painting?

God, I wish. A lot of what I make is based on idealized or fantastical situations that also have wide symbolic meaning to me. For example, those little actions you mentioned could mean connecting with each other, comfort in our bodies, overcoming obstacles, braveness, honoring and exploring our roots and identity — any of those things, and more. They could also just mean having a lot of fun in life and not worrying so much.

What are you working on at the moment? Any upcoming exhibitions or fun projects?

Yes! I’m doing a couple of illustration things, making some animations, and also painting a lot. I have a group show coming up in June at Athen B Gallery in Oakland, CA for their anniversary show. And a solo show in October with Artists Republic Gallery in Laguna Beach, CA. I’ll also hopefully be making some new ceramics for that one.

What would you like to do in the future?

I guess exactly what I’m doing now, but with less fear, more traveling, and more connection with a community of like-minded people. I don’t really feel like I have that here. I guess that’s why I paint about connection so much. I would also love to be looking at an ocean while I’m doing exactly what I’m doing now.

Berlin, Bears and Refugees