“I paint girls in terrible situations as strong heroines”

ELLE learns from the people who make it. They roll up their sleeves and make pearls out of things that fall somewhere between art and craft. This time: the pilot of inclined illustrator Laura Limburg, whose sky is — literally — the limit.

Born in Edegem, raised in Mladá Boleslav in the Czech Republic (where Skoda cars also come from), she currently lives in the heart of Harlem, New York. In a house she shares with a group of artist friends. It should be clear: Laura Limburg, 26, is not stable. London beckons. And once again, Antwerp has become a real contender. “I feel like I missed part of my childhood in Antwerp, so it would be nice to stay there for a while and maybe take some lessons at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.”

Laura has just come from another Academy of Fine Arts. The one in Prague, where I studied for six years under Martin Meyner and Josef Bolf, two heavyweights on the Czech art scene. During her second year at the academy, she realized she wanted to do nothing more. Her passion grew into a kind of urgency, imperative. Ten-plus hour studio days of non-stop drawing became the norm. A rhythm she keeps strong to this day. Draw, draw, repeat. “It looks worse than it really is,” Laura explains. “I give myself a day off now and then, but when I have an idea in my head I have to get it out first. Luckily I work quickly. I usually spend a few days on two-by-two-meter canvases. I’m a quiet person by nature, but in the studio I like things Which goes ahead. Then I’m impatient, even a little hurried. I paint everything at once, and that’s why you can see almost every brushstroke.” Laura’s upbeat cadence immediately explains why she stopped starting with a sketch on paper. It slowed down her work process and took away a lot of spontaneity. “Eight out of ten paintings that I paint now are bad and I don’t show them to anyone. But I would definitely settle for a couple of good ones!” (Laughs)

‘Snake Torture Paradise’, 2021

Palm and prostitution

During her third year at the academy, Laura traveled to Southeast Asia, still carrying a sketchbook. She saw prostitution on every street corner. Young women, and sometimes children, who would sell their bodies to provide for the rest of the family. “It was shocking to see with your own eyes how easy it is to get girls, especially in the big cities. When I came back to Prague, I felt completely empty and defeated, but at the same time I had so much energy. I wanted to capture the stories of all these girls and film them on They are strong heroines in a horrific situation, not just as victims.”

Eight out of ten paintings I make are bad and I don’t show them to anyone

Although Laura’s paintings are full of naked breasts and other intimate body parts, they are never vulgar. The colors you use are soft and the lines blurred. “Prostitution is a form of modern slavery. It’s a heavy subject, which is why I try to paint it as lightly as possible. I don’t use gesso, but I apply acrylic paint directly to the canvas. I first mix the paint with lots of water so the result looks like a watercolor.” I love this washed-out look where one image flows into the other.” The girls in Laura Limburg’s artwork are often accompanied by traditional symbols typical of Asian culture. Tigers are protectors of girls, dolphins as a reference to the childhood that was taken from them, sunrises as a sign of better times to come, palm trees as a symbol of earthly paradise…and ceramic vases. Lots of ceramic vases. “In Yingge, the capital of Taiwanese ceramics, I have seen the most beautiful painted vases. Their delicate character and voluptuous feminine forms enchant me. How can it be in a country of such a beautiful culture, where you are hardly allowed to enter sacred buildings with bare ankles or tattoos, and where there is so much respect for craft And tradition, girls are sold on the street just like that?! I want to decry this contradiction in my work.”

Laura Limburg, painter, girls, vases
Left: ‘Jungle Joy’, 2021. Right: ‘Purple Vase’, 2020.

Last year, Laura decided that painting on her wasn’t quite as satisfying as she had hoped. So I contacted Afesip, a Cambodian NGO working against sexual abuse and exploitation. Laura returned to Cambodia and for a while provided art therapy to children from 3 to 15 years old, one by one who were rescued from life on the streets. “We made two huge paintings together. They loved creating and making a mess all day. Just do what kids usually do. The paintings were then part of my graduation project, and if I sell them, the proceeds go to Afesip and the girls. I’m allowed to tell their story, it’s the least I can give back.” “.

Every bite or note, no matter how annoying, is important to your development

A booby trap

By the way, it wouldn’t have mattered if Laura Limburg had never studied painting. At least, as she claims, “for fun.” At the age of sixteen, she began paragliding at the Aeroklub of Mladá Boleslav, where her Czech grandfather had also learned to fly in the army as a teenager. “A year after I got my license, I switched to drones. My backup plan in case my artistic dream didn’t come true. (laughs) Did you know that the titles of my paintings often referred to aviation? During World War II, pilots would always draw something on the nose.” Their plane. It’s usually a pin-up girl or words with a vague meaning. “booby trap” or “the hump in the honey” for example. Since my paintings also have a sexual connotation, I copy an old name every now and then, provided it’s not too sloppy.. .”

At the moment, Laura is doing well as an artist. She has already shown twice solo in Prague and has also been allowed to participate in a number of group exhibitions including Yiri Arts Gallery in Taiwan, Suppan in Vienna, IRL in New York and also at the famous HOFA Gallery in London, where she is one of the leading artists. . Art connoisseurs and collectors praise her ambiguous and somewhat naïve style, and in 2020 she was awarded the 13th Prize of Art Criticism for Youthful Painting while still a student. However, the young artist feels the necessary resistance, especially from fellow students who describe her art as “too commercial”. “It seems like selling isn’t the artist’s goal anymore. (laughs) But if I earn nothing at all, I can’t send money or paint materials to the organizations I work with. And that’s exactly the point of what I want to achieve.” Does it touch negative criticism? “Of course it affects me, but I don’t let that distract me. I’m even grateful for that. Because every bite or comment, no matter how annoying, is important to your development. After all, without frustration you can’t improve or rise above average.”

From big to small

Take one look at her Instagram and you’ll immediately understand that Laura Limbourg’s repertoire is anything but average. The dimensions of her paintings alone… Who can hang a three-by-two-meter canvas on a wall at home? “Almost no one, I realize. Right now, my clients are mainly art collectors from the Czech Republic, Taiwan, France and the United States. But the general public is gradually finding its way into the art world, I notice, even among people my age. Times change and money does not It’s hardly worth anything in your bank account.” Will you one day bend over and operate on a smaller scale to please the crowd? “I really fold! (Laughs) I don’t do it specifically to please, but for practical reasons. Here in New York, I simply don’t have the space I once had. I struggle with it daily, because a smaller frame limits me. Just because I usually draw The girls are full size, they seem to come alive.”

Laura “Day Misson” has worked at London’s HOFA, a gallery with a keen interest in young and rare talent.

Speaking of life-size works: Scroll a little on her Instagram and you’ll spot Laura on a ladder next to a giant concrete vase. I made three in total and then hand painted them. It is her dream—in addition to a solo exhibition at the White Cube Gallery—to create more sculptures that, like her paintings, are space-searching. “I’m just going to think twice about the size from now on. Those vases have grown way over my head.” (Laugh)

In May 2023, you can admire the work of Laura Limbourg at the Ballon Rouge Collective in Brussels.

More drawing talent? Also read the interview with Gert Kokowicz.

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