Ellen Gallagher

Ellen Gallagher
Born Ellen R. Gallagher
(1965-12-16) December 16, 1965
Providence, Rhode Island
Nationality American
Known for
  • Painting
  • Mixed media
Movement Contemporary art
Ellen Gallagher's voice
from the BBC programme Front Row, May 1, 2013.[1]

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Ellen Gallagher (born December 16, 1965)[2] 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.

Background and education

Gallagher was born on December 16, 1965 in Providence, Rhode Island. Referred to as African American,[3] she is of biracial ethnicity; her father's heritage was from Cape Verde, in Western Africa (but he was born in the United States), and her mother's background was Caucasian Irish Catholic.[4]

Gallagher studied writing at Oberlin College in Ohio[4] (1982–84). Then she attended Studio 70 in Fort Thomas, Kentucky in 1989[5] before earning a degree in fine arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1992.[4] Her art education further continued in 1993 at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.[5]

Ellen Gallagher, Wiglette from "DeLuxe" 2004-2005


Gallagher's influences include the paintings of Agnes Martin and the repetitive writings of Gertrude Stein.[6] Some of Gallagher's work involves repetitively modifying advertising found in African American focused publications such as Ebony, Sepia, and Our World.[6] Her most famous pieces are her grid-like collages of magazines grouped together into larger pieces.[7] 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. 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.[8] She combines formality (grid lines, ruled paper) with the racial stereotypes to depict the "ordering principles" society imposes.[9]

"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."[10]

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.[6][11][12] This mythology had been conceived by a musical duo of that name, from Detroit.[13] 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."[14] 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.[6]

In 1995, Gallagher's work was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale in 2003.[15]

Famed artist Chuck Close created a 2009 tapestry portrait of Gallagher.[16]

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).[5]

Awards and fellowships

Among the honors which Gallagher has earned are:[17]

Selected exhibitions

Ellen Gallagher's work has been featured in solo exhibitions at numerous galleries and institutions including:[5]

Group exhibitions have included:[5]


Murmur. Orbus in collaboration with Edgar Cleijne. Hauser & Wirth London/Fruitmarket Gallery Edinburgh (ed.) 2005. English, 5 books holding together with magnet, 990 pages. With "Blizzard of White" (2003, 55 min loop, 16 mm). ISBN 3039390333


Gallagher's work is sought out by museums[4] and private collectors, and her pieces are held in many permanent collections including:[4][15][20]

Further reading


  1. "Ellen Gallagher". Front Row. May 1, 2013. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  2. U.S. Public Records Index Vol. 1 (Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.), 2010.
  3. Enwezor, Okwui (May 1996). "Ellen Gallagher". Frieze (28). Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Van Siclen, Bill (21 February 2010). "Artist Ellen Gallagher humbled by new honor". The Providence Journal. Providence, Rhode Island. Archived from the original on 30 March 2010. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 "Ellen Gallagher Biography and Links". artnet. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  6. 1 2 3 4 "Ellen Gallagher". Public Broadcasting Service: Art21. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  7. Lewine, Edward (January 23, 2005). "60 Ways of Looking at a Black Woman". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-04-20.
  8. Saltz, Jerry (October 12, 2004). "In Black and White". The Village Voice. Retrieved 13 February 2012.
  9. After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. 2007. pp. 255–56. ISBN 3791337327.
  10. Kaplan, Cheryl (January 2006). "'History and Drag,' Ellen Gallagher in Conversation with Cheryl Kaplan". DB Artmag. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  11. "Ichthyosaurus". Freud Museum. London. November 2005. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  12. Forde, Kate (June–August 2009). "Ellen Gallagher". Frieze (124). Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  13. "The evolution of African-American consciousness". The Irish Times. via HighBeam Research [subscription required]. October 3, 2007. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  14. "Watery Ecstatic Series (2001)". Public Broadcasting Service: Art21. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  15. 1 2 "Ellen Gallagher". Gagosian Gallery. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  16. Stone, Nick. "Magnolia Editions – Chuck Close Ellen". Magnolia Editions. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  17. "Ellen Gallagher". Hauser & Wirth. Retrieved February 20, 2012.
  18. Drawing Center exhibitions Ellen Gallagher. March 02, 2002 - April 20, 2002.
  19. "Ellen Gallagher". Gagosian. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  20. "Ellen Gallagher". ArtCyclopedia. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  21. "Collection: Ellen Gallagher, Deluxe". ICA Boston. Retrieved 6 March 2016.

External links

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