The Fruitmarket Gallery announces a major solo exhibition of new and existing work by American artist Ellen Gallagher. The exhibition, entitled Orbus, includes three distinct bodies of new and recent work: large paintings, five 16mm film projections, and a stunning series of drawings carved with a scalpel into watercolour paper. These will be shown together with an 11-metre-long drawing made directly on to the Gallery walls.
A highlight of the 2003 50Th Venice Biennale, Gallagher’s work has gained wide recognition since the mid-1990s through its confrontation of issues of racialized identity and otherness. Her work explores themes of alienation, repression and transformation within a constantly developing and highly individual pictorial vocabulary.
Incorporating sculpture, film animation and collage, the artist describes her works nonetheless as ‘drawings,’ all of which are infused with her unique language of recurring motifs, racial caricatures of eyes, lips and hair. Gallagher wrests these elements from sources of black stereotyping including advertisements from vintage magazines, such as Ebony and Black Stars, and minstrel culture then gives them new meaning through a process of alteration, repetition and serial arrangement.
From found materials, Gallagher creates a cast of characters - drawn, cut into watercolour paper, scratched into existing film or made anew in stop-frame animation, copied, scanned and printed, mutated through the use of a mixture of collage and applied everyday materials such as plasticine and Tipex.
Included in the exhibition is one of the hugely impressive ‘Yellow Paintings’ featured at the 2003 Venice Biennale. Double Natural, 2002, is a vast grid nearly five metres wide and two and a half metres high in which nearly 400 ads for black beauty products such as wigs and hair straighteners have been re-modelled to create engaging characters such as ‘Peg-Leg’, ‘Wiglette’ ‘Glamour Bob’ and the ‘Nurses’.
Says Gallagher, ‘some of the characters repeat but they’re never in the same neighbourhood, lined up the same way. It’s all about repetition and revision … These images are about a specific time and a specific anxiety about assimilation and integration, but they are also about hope and whimsy and self determination. It is a working grid ’ (ArtForum, April 2004)
Projected by now-obsolete film projectors, Murmur, 2003 is a dramatic simultaneous installation of five 16mm short films that further extends the artist’s visual universe. Partly inspired by Gallagher’s drawings, the films use techniques of claymation, stop action and scratch animation.
Superboo teases with images of black muscle men from Ebony magazine jostling back and forth to a gamelon loop sampled from UK rap artist Dizzee Rascal who in turn took it from a recording of Javanese islanders. Watery Ecstatic re-imagines disembodied bewigged heads as sea creatures bobbing up from the seabed. And in Monster, hand-drawn wigs are superimposed on the heads of invading aliens from the 1953 Cold War science fiction film It Came From Outer Space which has been scratched into, drawn on, slowed down and speeded up to create a new film dealing with issues of alienation, integration and confusion.
Drawing as Gallagher’s primary source of inspiration is evident in Watery Ecstatic, 2002-2004, a series of ethereal, large and small-scale drawings that re-visits, re-imagines and re-sites some of the artist’s familiar characters and considers notions of territory. These include fantastical charts that map imaginary islands and depictions of imagined sea creatures that may be from a mythical underwater world called Drexciya which legend states is the home of the women and children who perished during the so-called ‘Middle Passage’ journey from Africa to America aboard slave ships.
An MA graduate in Fine Arts of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, Ellen Gallagher (born 1965) lives and works in New York and Rotterdam. Major solo exhibitions include Anthony d’Offay, New York, 1996, Gagosian Gallery, New York, 1998 and 2004, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 2001, Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, 2002, and Galerie im Taxispalais, Austria, 2004. Group exhibitions include the 1995 Whitney Biennial, Postcards from Black America, De Beyerd Centre for Contemporary Art, Breda, The Netherlands, 1998, the 2003 Venice Biennale and the 2004 Santa Fe Biennial.
Gallagher’s work is to be the subject of a major solo presentation at The Whitney Museum of Modern Art in January 2005.