Laura Scheringa, painter

Laura Scheringa is a visual artist originally from Maastricht and currently based in Amsterdam. She studied at the Maastricht Academy of Fine Arts and the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Her visual practice engages with landscapes from both a bird’s and a frog’s-eye view. Movement is a theme in her work, including the digital movement through a place using satellite imagery, the routes and lines on hiking maps, her physical movement through a landscape, and the memory that results from all of these experiences taken together. Laura was an artist in residence at Greywood in December 2018, and I had the pleasure of talking to her one evening in her attic studio. The following is an edited interview based on our conversation. – Ryan Mihaly

What projects are you working on here? It looks like you are recreating maps.

Exactly. Here in Killeagh, I’m not only trying to visualize the map of this area; I also go outside and note what kind of experience I had with the landscape — then I start to draw. I have to choose for myself the subject, whatever I find most important or beautiful or funny. I like seeing the landscape from the sky. That’s my subject matter for everything I do. The landscape from above is abstract in a way, but it’s also recognizable. I make blueprints using Google Earth and copy them onto material, which can be canvas, hard boards, paper, linen; it can be anything. I like when it’s has a little bit of a touch. I like to work with bright colors and neon.

Walking around Killeagh, I just pay attention to the shape of the landscape and the things I encounter, for example, the wishing well in Glenbower Wood. When walking there I didn’t have in my mind that I was going to make work about the well (and I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is really work [laughs]) but it’s just a playful experience for me in my mind to revisit the place again. So I try to capture the memory of walking the trail and recreate my experience.

Would you say that walking always has a big part in your artwork?

No, not really. This is the first time I’m doing a residency where I’m actually visiting the place after seeing a satellite image of it. Usually I only go on Google Earth to see the world. It’s like traveling for me. It’s the cheapest way as well. It brings you everywhere except the gray areas, which are blocked, like Navy or Army bases. Google brings me almost everywhere. It’s funny because of this. Also kind of a dream. All the places that I’m painting and drawing I’d like to actually visit someday.

Is this a map of the area? Where did you get it?

Yeah, a hiking map of the area around Killeagh. I got it back in home in Amsterdam. There is a huge map store there that has all the maps you could possibly imagine. The map shows different things than you see online. The map is more accurate. Google is sometimes not correct. I know this already because I hiked around!

What kind of materials are you using here?

I’m using foil paper with acrylic paint. If I scratch with a nail I’d remove the paint — it’s a bit fragile. I found this in the hobby store in Middleton, which is the next village over. I just went in and saw they had this funny looking paper. So I thought, okay, let’s see what I can do with this. A piece like this is more for play, for shaping an idea.

Do you usually write in English in your work?

No, I only do it here actually. In fact I never really incorporate text. Maybe it’s because you writers inspire me to write more! I like the poetry of it though. Today in the woods there were two coffee cups by a bench, but I went back later and they moved. One coffee cup was laying on the ground and the other one just vanished. So I’m going to make a new drawing, a sequel. I just felt that there was a story to tell right because of the absence of people. Maybe there were some teenagers there and it’s a romantic love story, or maybe they got in a fight… I just like to imagine.

So what about this piece over here? This big one? 

This is literally the map of East Cork. It’s acrylic on canvas. There is quite a lot of farmland I found walking the roads to the south, and also a lot of hedges or fences blocking my view. So I couldn’t see the landscape and I was a bit annoyed by that. So I figured, if this is a big part of Ireland, I guess I should draw a lot of hedges. That’s what I did here. The squares are pieces of land owned by a farmer; the spaces between are hedges.

Is this based on the Google Maps image?

The dividing of the hedges is, but the roads, and the houses, villages and towns are to reality. And the pink parts highlight the places I’ve actually been. I hope the eye flows over it. 

Do you listen to music a lot when you paint? Is that a big part of your process? Because I see you with your headphones on a lot!

Yeah, I listen to music. Sometimes opera, or audiobooks, or philosophical talks. I like to listen to podcasts. They all help me focus on the painting. They bring me in the flow because as you can see, it’s a lot of effort, a lot of small details. It takes a lot of hours. So I need to have something which puts my mind off and helps me just go. It’s a big part of the process. If I wouldn’t have the music I would have the sound of the building around me, which is also nice, but sometimes the traffic is too much. Contemplation might not be the right word, but I do like the sound of nothing as well.

How long does a piece take you?

This one took me about a week and a half, maybe 7 hours a day. I like to work on a single piece for a long period of time. I know it’s going to take me good amount of time. You have to commit and keep keep doing it. Sometimes I think, what the hell am I doing [laughs]. But I don’t usually quit, I like to continue. If I have something in my mind, I want to put it into a piece, and I know sometimes it will take me a lot of effort — but I have a lot of patience. Just not with people [laughs]. But with this I can have a lot of patience. I have a goal to follow.

But I do need a rest from all the detail work. So I like to do something more playful like the bench piece. I’m always busy with several kinds of work at the same time. Sometimes I need to work fast, make work in an hour. That can be really helpful. But next to that I can be busy with this bigger piece as well.

Do you ever find yourself three or four days into a piece, and then all of a sudden you don’t want to do it anymore? Do you want to scrap it, cut it up, or try to keep going?

Depends on how convinced I am [laughs]. If I want to keep going, sometimes I’m very bothered and just put the piece aside and don’t look at it for another year or two before I continue it. Sometimes I indeed just cut everything and make something else out of it. But I do like the continuation of it. That’s a big deal when I start something. I want to finish it. It’s sometimes a bad thing because you can put a lot of hours into something which wasn’t really worth it. I guess that’s life!

The map piece is very close to reality. In the beginning I was a bit upset by it because I was thinking, what the hell am I doing to myself? I have so many rules. I have to follow the roads and the rivers; everything already had its own shape. I want to get as close to reality as possible and get all the information into one piece… but maybe it’s too much, because sometimes less is more. In the beginning I struggled and I thought, well, maybe this is not going to end up that good. So I had my doubts actually with that one. But you just man yourself up, and you continue. 

It’s almost done. I’m wondering if I should change a little bit of color, but that’s something I have to figure out maybe at home, because I think it’s always good if you take a break and come back later on. My patience is gone now, I think I used it all on that one piece! It’s very liberating to work on the other pieces, which are more free-wheeling.

How does the internet impact your work? Obviously, you need it for the satellite images. But do you find it to be a useful tool, or can it be a distraction?

No, I wouldn’t say distraction. Back at home I don’t have a lot of internet. I can only use several gigabytes. So I always have to limit myself and be very productive when using the internet. I cannot fool myself to go on Instagram or Twitter or whatever. I just have to be productive with it. So I wouldn’t say it’s a it’s a distraction to me. It is at home when I’m eating breakfast or just having my spare time. I actually would like to read a book but I get distracted a lot by the internet at home, but I don’t have it in my studio. It’s really nice.

Is it deliberate that you don’t have it in your studio? 

Yeah. It’s also because of money [laughs]. Because having internet there on my own is really expensive. I use it a lot for traveling, digital traveling. So I need it. I can go to that map store I was talking about, but those maps only have so much. Google Maps has street view. It has earth view. You can even be inside the landscape. You can fly over it. It’s a fun tool to work with.

How do you balance art with your day-to-day life? 

That’s a difficult one. I work for 32 hours a week in a frame store, sometimes on Saturdays, but if I work on Saturday I can do two days in the studio per week; otherwise, it’s one day. I often go to my studio after work to work in the night. But it is a bit tough because I want to do a lot of other things. I also want to do sports and would like to see my friends and boyfriend occasionally, that would be nice! And maintain the house, and do all the things a person needs to do. So I find myself with a lack of time. The weekend is always only one day for me. It’s only Sunday. It’s like the Holy Day. Back to Christianity [laughs]. But it’s the only day that I afford myself for doing nothing. And sometimes that’s not possible because then I still have to go to the studio to finish work.

Do you prefer to work at night?

No, but I have to. I prefer to work during the day time actually. Yeah, I need the daylight.

I imagine the residency has been pretty helpful!

Yeah, it’s nice just to have the time to focus for three weeks on my own. It’s really the best holiday ever. And it’s nice just being here in this room, not even necessarily being very productive, but just being here with this landscape as well with all the hiking and other things you get to do here.

Do you have a goal for your time at Greywood?

Yeah. I had a goal to complete one work, from start to finish. If possible, more. Actually I wanted to do a lot in my head, I was very ambitious… you just have to let that go because on one hand, it’s a residency and you need to work, but on the other hand it is also holiday. I want to have a little bit of fun, too. I think that Greywood set the bar for me. So I’m not sure if I’m going to like a residency like this again. The house, the rooms, the people, the whole place has such character.

Yes, it’s a great place to work. For me, writing and reading can be a solitary activity. I’m glad there other people here because I need social interaction for my work. I think it’s a really important component for me. What about you? Can you work in your studio all day?

Yes, I like the solitude of it. I don’t get lonely easily. I get more lonely on a Friday night when everyone’s out and I don’t know what to do. Then I feel loneliness. But yeah, I like the peace of being by myself in the studio.

Do you think you could go a whole day without talking and just paint?

Yeah. I will talk to myself. I have full conversations with myself! Blah blah blah [laughs]. I guess it gets worse when you get older. My mother does it a lot. I sometimes find her in the kitchen busy cooking… and she has these conversations, they are amazing. She does all this miming with her hands, it’s really nice to see!