In Laura Berger’s inviting paintings and ceramics, everything extraneous has been stripped away. Almost featureless nude figures cavort or repose in geometrically iterated positions, set against flattened beige backgrounds. The world, in these scenes, appears harmonious and placid: Mankind at peace.
“I’m interested in our search for a sense of belonging and meaning as individuals, and how that both contrasts and combines with our existential concerns of feeling small or insignificant in the larger world,” Berger told The Huffington Post in an email. She wants to capture “the ideas of inclusion and interconnectedness” in these works.
To evoke the profound underlying unity of the human race, she portrays the figures with pin-prick eyes and mouths, generic hairstyles and no secondary sex characteristics, á la Ken. (Barbie is different, thanks to the bosom.) “I’m ... trying to distill the environments and figures down to very minimal clean shapes as a way to really focus on emotion or story, color and composition,” she told HuffPost.
The earthy, warm colors of Berger’s paintings play into her peaceful aesthetic and the rosy browns of her scenes look visually reminiscent of ancient Greek pottery paintings ― which she cites as an influence. “I’m really fascinated by ancient art that looks like it could have been made in contemporary time ― things like Japanese prints, Nayarit sculpture, Native American textiles and ledger drawings, Indonesian paintings, the modern illustrative style on Grecian vessels,” she explained. “But I’m equally interested in really abstract, graphic work. I love the large, clean shapes in paintings by Carmen Herrera, for instance, or the loose free-flowing forms and color fields in Helen Frankenthaler’s work.”
The confluence of ancient and contemporary aesthetics infuses her paintings with a timelessness, a visual representation of humanity that seems suspended in amber. “When you take away everything that the world puts upon us, we are all just these beings that are so similar and so connected to each other and to our collective global history,” she said.
The patterns of human figures and clean backgrounds have a geometric balance that juxtaposes with the soft bodily curves and muted palette Berger depicts. “I guess it’s sort of how life is, so that’s interesting to me,” she said. Depending on how you look at it, the human condition is either squishy and random or guided by primordial patterns ― or maybe it’s both.
In her paintings, humanity isn’t divided by gender, color or class; they move as one. There’s a deeper pattern beneath the seemingly fragmented and squishy categories of people. On a cosmic level, the paintings seem to say that we have more in common than we have dividing us. ”Much of my focus has been around exploring alternate notions of ‘family’ and connection ― through our ties to the global community and to our collective ancestry, to nature and to the unknown,” Berger added. Her works soothe, suggesting a likely impossible vision of global cooperation and mutual respect.
In the real world, we do wear clothes that mark our socioeconomic statuses; we have sex organs and we engage in vicious partisan battles instead of collaborating peacefully to build a society together. In looking at Berger’s wistful paintings, we can imagine a better way.