Surprising Expats: Laura Medcalf, Visual Artist

  • 26 Feb 2024 1:44 PM
Surprising Expats: Laura Medcalf, Visual Artist
This is part of a series of in-depth interviews with some surprising members of the community, written by Marion Merrick.

The tranquil mid-afternoon lull in a peaceful sushi restaurant in Óbuda, where artist Laura Medcalf suggests we meet, fittingly reflects her personal ideals and the way of life she has established for herself in Budapest. 

British-Hungarian Laura attended The British International School before continuing with her Fine Arts degree at Arts University Bournemouth in England. 

“Originally I wanted to become a fashion designer – my big dream was to be a women’s wear designer as I was always inspired by the late Alexander McQueen,” she explains. However, during her first year on the Foundation Degree in Art and Design, Laura had second thoughts. “I decided I did not want to become a seamstress!” she laughs, “so I decided to apply for the BA Degree in Fine Arts.

“At the university we were painting with acrylic paints, doing life drawings, and I was also a lot in the print room doing screen prints and etchings – but all of this was in a studio, and I had started to feel I wanted to work outdoors within my natural surroundings.

“Then, one day I was in the print room and was introduced to the process of using UV-sensitive crystals – which I further researched to develop my own recipe.”  

At this stage, however, Laura was using the UV machine in the university’s studios. It was, in fact, a fortuitous accident there that led her to the idea of drying her paintings in natural sunlight. 

“I was stuck in the uni print room, so I used the UV machine for all my prints. But I overheated it, and it caused a fire – luckily, no great damage was done – but they banned me from using it! So, that’s when I thought: I live by the sea. How about working outside with the sea, sand and sunshine?”

Laura mixes crystals in water creating a solution that is light sensitive, meaning that she works in a photographic dark room. “Using a Japanese paintbrush I fully coat a special paper with this solution of light-sensitive crystals. The recipe I use affects the shade of colour. I then take it out into its natural surroundings and draw over it with sand or soil or leaves, and then I let the natural forces of light, wind and sun react with it. 

Photo: Courtesy of Artist

“The final process is to put the picture into open water. It’s always exciting because you never know what the final result will be! So, if I put the same picture into the sea or into the Danube, it will come out different. The eventual colour comes in the drying process – I have complete control over the shapes, but it’s how the paper dries, and how the soil and the water react to drying in the sun, that is the magic.

“A lot depends on the intensity of the sunlight, the water quality and how much water I use. Do I dip it in fully, or do I just partially dip it in? And for how long? All of these things make it different – it’s infinite. Once I fully put it in water, I can no longer change it. These pictures are the final result. So, once I dip it in – let's say in the sea – I can't manipulate the work any more, unless I draw on top of it with a different medium.

“My first London exhibition in 2020 was a victim of lockdown. I had to have a live-streamed online exhibition called ‘Dipped in the Sea,’ where I could showcase my works which I had created on the Jurassic Coast of Great Britain.”
The exhibition can be viewed here.

Photo: Courtesy of Artist

In evolving her methods, Laura continues to develop layering techniques. She works in a great variety of different geographical locations – from Spain to the Caribbean, from Italy to Miami, and from the rivers of Hungary to the sea off Greece – in order to make use of the diverse qualities and properties of the water, as well as the areas’ light intensity and natural plant life. 

“In my Monaco series, I used water-infused rocks to draw on the prepared paper, and that created different textures in the reaction period. In Miami I worked with natural handmade paper, and it became really dark blue in a beautiful way – the type of paper is always important. It’s really a mixture of art, chemistry – and myself,” Laura explains.

Photo: Courtesy of Artist

When Laura is not working on a picture, she undertakes continual study: she researched plants in the archives of Kew Gardens; she worked with the Botanical Gardens in Bournemouth; she reads about the ideas of artists she admires such as Herman de Vries or Richard Long, deriving inspiration from their work.

Laura’s first solo exhibition series in Hungary, ‘Along the Water’ and ‘Garden Heritage and the Element of Water', came at the invitation of the Hungarian Garden Heritage Foundation, and was hosted in the Eszterháza Palace in Fertőd.

Photo: Courtesy of Artist /Exhibition in Marionette Theatre and l'Orangerie, Eszterháza Palace, Fertöd

Of her forthcoming exhibition in Budapest, Seek Your Light, Laura says, “Every single work has reacted with the sunlight, and the viewer should be involved, delving into the work to see the layers in the picture, and to also see what's inside them – what feelings arise when you see my work.

“It's just like a reflection of an ephemeral moment in time. My concept is to make the ephemeral permanent. A piece of nature for the viewers to see in this
given moment.

“Many people get triggered by the location where the paintings were created,”
Laura says. “For example, I sold pictures to a couple who said they had great memories of their time spent on Paros Island, Greece, and wanted a series of my pictures created there.” 

Photo: Courtesy of Artist/ Sea Creatures, Paros, Greece

Being so well travelled, and being a confessed fan of London with its plethora of galleries and events, it might come as a surprise that Laura decided to return to Hungary. “I have my base and studio here,” says Laura.

“I love living in Budapest as it’s so inspirational. I kind of find myself more centred here. In London I’m very frazzled, there is never a moment, there is so much going on that one would love to experience it all, and sometimes it makes me feel guilty to miss anything. Here in Budapest, life is much slower, very peaceful and I have more headspace. Budapest is also very rich in cultural and arts events and I love to attend them. I also practise yoga and pilates and do a lot of research. I always feel completely at ease in Budapest.”



Laura Medcalf’s solo exhibition Seek Your Light will open to the public from 7pm - 1am on Saturday, March 9th, at The Workshop, Paulay Ede u. 16, 1061, Budapest, and will run until March 27th. An invitation to the vernissage, at which the artist will be present, is extended to all those interested in attending.

Laura has donated a painting from her Danube series to the Heartfelt English charity auction where it can be purchased online or at the auction venue on April 20th.

Social Media Accounts: Instagram / Facebook / Website 
For art inquiries:

Marion Merrick is author of Now You See It, Now You Don’t and House of Cards and the website Budapest Retro.

If you would like to be interviewed as a Surprising Expat, please write with a few details of what you do, to: Marion by clicking here.

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