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Louisa Gagliardi


Louisa Gagliardi’s images, which emerge from simple drawings, digital remixes, Photoshop, and applied glosses, make themselves heard through their topicality. Through the exploration of the material, the artist expresses a being-in-the-world that merges with today’s integration of virtuality and physicality. This strange digital filtering system, in which people become aggregates of technological interfaces, forms the environment in which Gagliardi composes her images. These works masterfully encode the time and place of the artist’s production.

Gagliardi’s representational style transforms the immediacy of a paintbrush on the screen to the inherent distance between users and networks off the screen. A mouse becomes the driving element of the molds – under its direction, the old technology is replaced by a new one. She layers digital processes between traditional ones, prefacing each image with a grouping of sketches and painting over the digitally rendered “flesh” with gels, acrylics, and nail polish. Her finishing techniques give the images a glow that radiates back to the viewer. This glossy coating also accentuates the perception that one is moving through a painting, as the gel surfaces only catch light from certain angles. This process also emphasizes the -materiality, which makes these works appear even more clearly as works of art. Gagliardi explores textural features that have been passed down, with her varnishes replacing traditional oils and tempera.

This “end-time online culture” and its ever-expanding conditions provide a foundation for Gagliardi to address. Their visual world is therefore always inextricably linked to digital technologies. In her imposing work, Gagliardi references a number of historical precedents, borrowing elements of Italian Futurism and retaining a surrealist appetite for the dream world. Strands of Ivo Pannaggi’s industrial formal language are woven between Kay Sage’s sparse borders and Remedios Varo’s opaque narratives. Gagliardi sums up today’s age of surveillance and spectacle while nodding to Renaissance idealism. She refers to the impossible postures and proportions of Sandro Botticelli’s motifs; her more populated, “legible” scenes evoke memories of those by Giotto.

A variety of sculptural objects have also been created in -Gagliardi’s mind. Her penchant for illusion manifests itself in strange objects, as the artist imprints her signature on the surfaces of polyester couches and machined aluminum. In Permission (2021), the viewer encounters a Flat Stanley-like figure sitting behind a dog chained to the wall. Chains and candles decorate the scene with nebulous effect. Just like her painted figures, these objects strive for autonomy. The situation at issue here thus becomes one in which the rupture between dimensions raises a fundamental question of presence.

In her monumental presentation for Art Basel Unlimited 2022, Gagliardi stages a relatively depopulated scene. There are two completely clear figures, while the rest are only hints, either made of silver chroma or materializing as fragments in scattered glassware. In the artist’s work, exorbitant impulses manifest themselves in the form of opulent place settings and high-heeled shoes. However, this is the emptying after the party. Salt has been spilled and cherries are scattered. Tête-à-tête shows the cold aesthetic of digital rendering, but ultimately supports Gagliardi’s penchant for theatricality. Their narratives are cultivated by floating signifiers thrown into the terrain of perception. Isabelle Graw supports this sentiment, writing that “the signs of painting can be read as traces of the producing human being” and submit to the viewer’s evaluation.

Under the Breath (2021) strongly resembles Tête-à-tête, but in a disturbing green color palette. A misty round table with green figures is here shrouded in ominous fog, and the seated people seem to drown in the milky haze. Doves embellish the scene and witness the strange gathering that takes place around the central table. A disastrous change of hands, with the cuticles and knuckles particularly prominent. Gagliardi regularly interferes with the act of gesture, her -interest being in the semiotics of the hands. The sheen and idiosyncrasy of the nail beds of Palm Reader (2019) and the defined hand folds of Blood Moon (2020) represent Gagliardi’s fascination with the expressive possibilities of the subject.

These figures rarely correspond to recognizable individuals; instead, they function as avatars susceptible to mediation by the viewer. Pierre Klossowski dutifully traces this situation, writing that “the artist’s obsessions never coincide with the viewer’s pleasure or anxiety.” They are projection surfaces on which the slippage between real and imaginary encounters create a chaos of perception. In Refill (2020), the eyes of a shadowy protagonist release lambent tears into two martini-
Glasses. Aphrodisiac (2020) also shows an abandoned woman illuminated by an artificial light, similar to that emitted by a computer screen. Her tearless face is covered by a stemmed glass with translucent liquid and a sunken cherry. Similarly alienated figures appear again and again in her pictorial worlds as she explores the contours of melancholy. With her head in her hands, the figure in Reflecting (2021) struggles in this somber dimension, her inscrutable expression captured in a table-pond composite.

In recent years, she has viewed her bodies as landscapes and zoomed away from her formerly cropped subjects. Her subjects become more and more entangled in an anomalous environment, their subjectivity increasingly fading. At first glance, Luncheon on the Grass (2022) is a distorted vision of cows in the pasture. The animals are surrounded by a swirling lawn, similar to Alex Katz’s recent landscapes. The suggestion of texture in the original print is echoed by Gagliardi’s application of the gel medium, creating a special sense of depth and underscoring the dynamism of her subjects. A closer look reveals that human shapes define the cow spots. Daily Jam (2019) alternatively proposes a scenario in which a lump of jelly with legs, arms, and a rudimentary face rests on a perfect slice of white bread.

According to Gagliardi, these scenes are to be understood as “midpoints,” as interfaces between climaxes. Whether moments of transition or tranquility, the intermediate
plays of the artist trigger their own provocations. Negotiating ambivalence eludes melodrama and produces a sense of permanence. Meanwhile, the interplay of light and dark in these paintings harkens back to Baroque formalism, creating Chiaroscuro waves through their surface. This is exactly what drives the artist’s work. Gagliardi challenges the viewer to the brink of disquiet while offering snippets of eroticism and glamour. She skillfully cultivates a tension between repulsion and desire. The dynamics of this effect and the specific formal modalities force the audience to really engage with the work, to follow its schemes and grasp its surreality. Even the perky butt in Breakfast in Bed (2019) projects strangeness through its pale almost lavender skin tone. On each jaw is a bowl and a spoon, each interrupted by an eye: Orange on the left, green on the right. The language here corresponds to Dalí’s anatomical deviations, the body alienated from realism.

In the essay “The Knowledge of Painting: Notes on Thinking and Subjecting Like Pictures,” Graw dutifully addresses the problem of the countless definitions of painting over time. At one point, she suggests that “painting has never been pure,” but rather should be understood as “something specific that has nevertheless been subjected to drastic de-specification.” The latter perspective is presented after Graw suggests that “we do not consider painting as a medium, but as a mode of sign production that is experienced as highly personalized.” Within this framework, one can try to understand the material issues portrayed in Gagliardi’s pluralized universe.

Gagliardi uses her illustration and Photoshop skills to push the limits of her medium. Through the translation from digital to printed image, the object enters a state of “aliveness” as its tactility creates a tangible presence. PVC surfaces become vessels for technological rearrangement, followed by the use of limited brushstrokes on the flat surfaces. She produces these disordered imaginary places by engaging with the technological post-medium condition, exploring deeply human concerns. Reflexivity and fantasy seep into the artist’s synthetic universe. Following Graw, Gagliardi argues that “painting is a form of sign production that can be experienced as a highly personalized semiotic activity.” Gagliardi’s self-awareness and understanding of her contribution within this framework enable a hybridized mode of production that connects historical points of reference with contemporary conditions. As the future seems to trip over itself in an exponential race, Gagliardi sets out to make this particular moment concrete.