Ellen Gallagher is an American artist. Her work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions and is held in the permanent collections of many major museums.
Ellen Gallagher (born December 16, 1965) is an American artist. Her work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions and is held in the permanent collections of many major museums. Her media include painting, works on paper, film and video. Some of her pieces refer to issues of race, and may combine formality with racial stereotypes and depict “ordering principles” society imposes.
Ellen Gallagher was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1965, lives and works in New York. Has Irish and African American roots. Gallagher attended Oberlin College and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She received an award from the American Academy of Arts and the Foundation Scholarship Joan Mitchell.
Gallagher’s work often explores issues of race, identity and transformation. The form and content of her work from the very beginning was influenced by the work of Gertrude Stein, the tradition of performing Negro songs, science fiction and advertising aimed at African-Americans. Gallagher. Gallagher’s works are attracted by subtle aesthetics, social and political underpinnings, a mixture of historical realities with science fiction.
Gallagher’s influences include the paintings of Agnes Martin and the repetitive writings of Gertrude Stein. Some of Gallagher’s work involves repetitively modifying advertising found in African American focused publications such as Ebony, Sepia, and Our World. Her most famous pieces are her grid-like collages of magazines grouped together into larger pieces. Examples of these are eXelento (2004), Afrylic, (2004), and DeLuxe, (2005). Each of these works contains as many as or more than 60 prints employing techniques of photogravure, spit-bite, collage, cutting, scratching, silkscreen, offset lithography and hand-building.
Some of Gallagher’s early influences while attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston were the Darkroom Collective, a group of poets living and working out of Inman Square in Cambridge, MA and would go on to become the art coordinator of the collective. Some other influences at the Museum School were Susan Denker, Ann Hamilton, Kiki Smith and Laylah Ali.
Themes related to race are often evident in Gallagher’s work, sometimes using pictographs, symbols, codes and repetitions. “Sambo lips” and “bug eyes,” references to the Black minstrel shows, are often scattered throughout Gallagher’s works. Certain characters are also used repeatedly, such as the image of the nurse or the “Pegleg” character that sometimes populate her page‘s iconography. Some of her pieces may explicitly reference the issue of race while also having a more subtle undercurrent related to race. She combines formality (grid lines, ruled paper) with the racial stereotypes to depict the “ordering principles” society imposes.
“Blackface minstrel is a ghost story, ” Gallagher has noted. “It’s about loss; there’s a black mask and sublimation…[B]lackface minstrel was the first great American abstraction, even before jazz. It’s the literal recording of the African body into American public culture. Disembodied eyes and lips float, hostage, in the electric black of the minstrel stage, distorting the African body into American blackface.”
Her media include painting, works on paper, film and video. She has made innovative use of materials, such as creating a unique variation on scrimshaw by carving images into the surface of thick sheets of watercolor paper and drawing with ink, watercolor, and pencil. These works depict sea creatures, of the mythical undersea world of Drexciya, which were the progeny of slaves who had drowned. This mythology had been conceived by a musical duo of that name, from Detroit. Gallagher commented upon the process of creating these pieces: “The way that these drawings are made is my version of scrimshaw, the carving into bone that sailors did when they were out whaling. I imagine them in this overwhelming, scary expanse of sea where this kind of cutting would give a focus, a sense of being in control of something.” In some of her early pieces, she painted and drew on sheets of penmanship paper (ruled paper used for handwriting practice) she had pasted onto canvas.
In 1995, Gallagher’s work was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale in 2003. Artist Chuck Close created a 2009 tapestry portrait of Gallagher. Gallagher is represented by Gagosian Gallery (New York) and Hauser & Wirth (London). She is based in the United States (New York City) and the Netherlands (Rotterdam).