Born in Barcelona and now a print-making professor at the Kansas City Art Institute, Laura Berman has been fervently making art for over 25 years. Drawing inspiration from her birthplace in Barcelona, she plays with bold color palettes and organic textures, patterns, and shapes. She describes taking long strolls with her mother at a young age, being captivated by the intricate architecture, tile-work, patterns, and textures of the city streets and how they could translate into a print medium. Another major influence in Laura’s work comes from a much less expected muse: her substantial rock collection. Drawing from the inherent imperfections and color variations in the rocks and pebbles she has foraged on her various adventures, Laura interprets these nuances in her artwork where they take on new life.
“I am equally mesmerized by the miniscule and the monumental; supernovas exploding into far away galaxies and ancient oddly-shaped pebbles that have never been touched before.”
Working out of her home garage-turned-studio, Laura balances her personal life of raising her sons and teaching with her creative production. She derives inspiration from these other moments in life, both profound and utterly mundane, that influence her aesthetic drive and and remind her of the beauty of art and its power to connect people. She describes her Flint Hills region of Kansas City as “akin to being out at sea: a vast landscape of nothingness—no trees, no dwellings, no people.”
We were able to pay a visit to Laura in her one-woman print making and drawing studio in Kansas City and chat with her about what inspires her, challenges her, and what’s it’s like to live a day in her shoes. Read on below!
Photography by E.G. Schempf + Adrienne Maples.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I am an artist, professor and mother in Kansas City. I was born in Barcelona (I am a dual-citizen of Spain and the USA), and I grew up mostly in the United States. Though I grew up mostly in North Carolina, I lived in 10 states during my early life before settling in Kansas City in 2002. I moved to Kansas City to teach at the Kansas City Art Institute, where I am now a Professor, teaching printmaking and book arts classes. I met my husband in Kansas City, and we have 2 sons, ages 3 and 8. After moving around most of my life, I have learned to embrace the idea of settling in, discovering more deeply and belonging more thoroughly to a place. I have been making prints for twenty-five years, and my prints are colorful, abstract and layered. The dynamics of the natural world and relationships between people are my inspirations.
What is your background and how did you arrive at becoming an artist? How did growing up in Barcelona influence your art?
I spent most of my first year walking in Barcelona with my mother. For hours each day, my new eyes took in a vibrant parade of colorful culture, Gaudí architecture, and Spanish tilework at every turn. It is undeniable that my personal aesthetics and affinity for bold colors, organic patterns, and design are connected to my time in Barcelona.
Art has been a constant in my life, though at one time it was rivaled by my passion for abstract mathematics. Both art and math contain the same root system in problem-solving, methodology and research, which appeal to me greatly as an artist who works with iteration and variables. I discovered printmaking in college, and the print medium and its methodology satisfied all of my cravings for systems and discipline, along with experimentation and innovation. Printmaking is part magic and part logic, and for this reason I always enjoy making prints.
What is your creative process for each new print design?
My paintings, prints and collages often work together—converging at times, and diverging at others. My process for everything is intuitive, playful and iterative. I am never out of ideas and there is always something to try next—often the current actions in my work directly inform the next. Some of my images begin with my rock collection—which has been my muse for ten years. I directly reference my rocks through form and line, and translate these small objects that contain loads of personality into unique images. Building new images expands the story of my rocks beyond themselves—from small pebbles collected on personal adventures, to ambiguous and complex worlds of their own.
My creative process purposefully relies on play, as this keeps me engaged with the art I make. Sometimes the work tells me what it needs—especially with my collages. The published pieces I have at West Elm were originally collages made of prints and watercolor paintings. This series is based on the idea of rebuilding worlds anew, from new and old pieces and parts. Similarly, my collages use bits and pieces of materials from my studio that are brand new and also some that are from my earliest days as an artist, 25 years ago. I gathered this disparate collection of prints and paintings and played with piecing them back together into new stories.
Where do you seek inspiration?
The monumental and the minuscule and their dynamics fascinate me, and nature and relationships are where my inspiration dwells. The most seemingly inconsequential pebble and how it fits the earth just so, a sweeping sunset and how it grazes the horizon while the air stands still; laughing without being able to stop with my sons alongside their momentum that is mine, and also quite independent of mine; a furtive and almost imperceptible glance observed accidentally; the profound yet ephemeral moments of shared universal experiences surrounding life and death, and the quiet, forgettable moments in between; these are the things that stick in my head and remind me of beauty, timelessness, what it means to be human, and the power of connection. Also: pattern design, intuition, simplicity, authenticity, interior/exterior dualities, music, and the earth, sky and distance between.
Tell us about your studio space.
My studio is located at home, inside my converted garage adjacent to the house. After years of renting a space near downtown, I was able to build my studio at home, and design it to exactly what I needed—a one-woman printmaking and drawing studio. It is large enough for what I need to do, and too small to host workshops or events. My studio contains only the things that I need to make, and only items I am endlessly inspired by, including my entire rock collection. It is a bright space of essentials and joy.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
My studio days consist of intense bursts of high energy when I am printing, painting and collaging. This is accompanied by lots of pre-completed work of thinking and gathering, daily communications and consistent short and long-term planning. A typical studio day begins days or weeks before it actually happens—as my amazing studio assistant and I design templates and cut plates for printing and gather and prepare printing supplies. On printing day, I mix inks and curate colors in correlation with how I am rotating through older and newer prints as layers are added to each. It takes my print days to dry, so layers can take weeks to build. Alongside my prints I always have paintings and collages in various stages in the studio as well. In one day, I often bounce between each set of work, adding a bit to everything in a short time. There is always good coffee and happy music in the studio. Though my studio is located at home, my studio time is sacred and it is when I play, creatively flow, and innovate.
What, in your experience, have been the biggest rewards and challenges of being an artist today?
This is such a good question. I see technology and our expectations of it as tied into both the rewards and challenges of being a contemporary artist. Technology both broadens and limits the artist’s experience, and time is a huge factor in this. It is very rewarding to be able to share current work and ideas in real time, and having an extended community and broad audience is wonderful. I love that studio events are current events, and artists can define themselves on their own terms. However, there are challenges also related to technology usage—things can be too fast-paced for a sustained studio practice, copying is rampant, doing it all constantly is impossible, and ultimately, technology can steal too much time from studio work and immersion in actual real-life community.
What do you love most about your community in Kansas City?
I can’t say enough about the art community in Kansas City. It is accessible, supportive, inspiring, and hard-working.
Top 5 places you need to visit in Kansas City?
The first place I recommend visiting is a good viewing spot for the sunset. Midwest skies are unique and ever-changing, and remind me immensely of the ocean. Places I love to visit are:
- 1. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (2 hours west of Kansas City)
2. Linda Hall Library
3. Overland Park Arboretum & 4. Botanical Gardens
5. National World War I Museum and Memorial
6. Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
7. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art