Ellen Gallagher

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. 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
Ellen R. Gallagher

(1965-12-16) December 16, 1965 (age 57)
Known for
  • Painting
  • Mixed media
MovementContemporary art

Background and educationEdit

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's mother was a working-class Irish-American and her father was a professional boxer.[5]

In Rhode Island, Gallagher attended Moses Brown, an elite, Quaker college preparatory school. At sixteen, Gallagher entered her first year at Oberlin College in Ohio (1982–1984) and studied writing.[5] Gallagher did not finish her education at Oberlin College and ended up joining a carpenters' union in Seattle.[5] Before her art career, Gallagher worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska and Maine.[5] In 1989 she attended Studio 70 in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, before earning a degree in fine arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1992.[4][6] Her art education further continued in 1993 at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.[6]


Gallagher gained recognition as an artist in 1995. Prior to her Gagosian showing, Gallagher had solo shows at Mary Boone in Soho, New York, and Anthony D'Offay in London.[7] As her first solo show in New York, Gallagher chose Mary Boone's space because of its neutrality, in which she stated, "because there the abstract qualities of my work stand out first".[5]


Ellen Gallagher, Wiglette from DeLuxe 2004–2005

Gallagher is an abstract painter and multimedia artist creating minimalist work with subject narratives.[5] Gallagher's influences include the paintings of Agnes Martin and the repetitive writings of Gertrude Stein.[8] Some of Gallagher's work involves repetitively modifying advertising found in African American focused publications such as Ebony, Sepia, and Our World, including images from Valmor Products ads, as in her DeLuxe series.[8][9] Her most famous pieces are her grid-like collages of magazines grouped together into larger pieces.[10] Examples of these are eXelento (2004), Afrylic (2004), and DeLuxe (2005). The series DeLuxe showed multiple creative methods, from photogravure to digital printing. Gallagher used oils to combine different sheets together and add texture. Gallagher pushed the limit between two and three dimensions in her series. She used new technologies to create plates in many layers.[11] 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. Gallagher also glues notebook paper drawings onto her canvas to create textured surfaces.[5]

In her artwork, she combines different traits of three art movements. Two of them mentioned by her are Abstract expressionism and Minimalism.[12], but by observing her use of specific materials like magazines, newspapers, etc. The use of patterns and repetition series as well as the many printing techniques she uses can relate to her work with Pop-art.[13][14] With stylized allusions to cartoons and childhood toys or via transformed and manipulated advertisements Gallagher's work “seduces the viewer into visceral engagement with images about which we have learned to feel numb.[13]

Even though Gallagher does not describe her artwork as any of these art styles individually, not only her but other art-related individuals and regular audiences describe Gallagher's work as singular and interesting. Very contrasting styles combined to give life to meticulously unique Pop-abstract-minimalist artworks[15][16]

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[17] and would go on to become the art coordinator of the collective. The Darkroom collective allowed Gallagher to explore her talent and apply her culture as an African-American woman to her work.[5] One of her first exhibits took place at the Dark Room in 1989.[18] Some other influences at the Museum School were Susan Denker, Ann Hamilton, Kiki Smith and Laylah Ali.[17]

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. Additionally, Gallagher would use these symbols in her collage pieces, inspired by lined yellow paper schoolchildren use.[5] Certain characters are also used repeatedly, such as the image of the nurse or the "Pegleg" character that sometimes populate her page's iconography. Gallagher made Wiglette from Deluxe 2004 to 2005, which contains a collection of vintage beauty ads from the 1930s to 70s intended for black American women. Through this art piece Ellen Gallagher is once again exploring the intersection of identity, race and culture.[19] When asked about Wiglette in an interview Gallagher said, “The wig ladies are fugitives. Conscripts from another time and place, liberated from the 'race' magazines of the past. But I transformed them-here on the pages that once held them captive.” [20] Some of her pieces may explicitly reference the issue of race while also having a more subtle undercurrent related to race.[21] She was inspired by the New Negro movement as well as modernist abstraction.[7] Gallagher also uses found historical images in her work.[22] She combines formality (grid lines, ruled paper) with the racial stereotypes to depict the "ordering principles" society imposes.[23]

"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."[24]

As well as using racially charged imagery, Gallagher is known to portray bodies and include elements of poetry and pop culture in her work.[18] She uses golden tones to portray the racial binary in society.[18] Her media includes paintings, 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. Her extensive ongoing series begun in 2001 and titled, Watery Ecstatic, consists of paintings, sculptural objects, and animations to depict sea life through Afrofuturist aesthetics.[25] Gallagher creates different sea creatures to symbolize slave ancestors who died during the transatlantic slave trade across the Atlantic Ocean.[26] These works depict sea creatures, of the mythical undersea world of Drexciya, which were the progeny of slaves who had drowned.[8][27][28] This mythology had been conceived by a musical duo of that name, from Detroit.[29] 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."[30] Some of Gallagher's work would also consist of codes made from cut out letters.[18] 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.[8] Her choice of penmanship paper is significant, in an interview with Jessica Morgan, she says "the sense of a neutral surface that can accommodate any mark seems an ideal way of communicating freedom,"[31] which is described by her as "idiosyncratic" and "inscrutable".[32] As her previous work has been critiqued for being too racially charged, her newer work contains less explicit racial images to challenge viewers.[18]

In 1995, Gallagher's work was exhibited at the Whitney Biennial and the Venice Biennale in 2003.[33] Artist Chuck Close created a 2009 tapestry portrait of Gallagher.[34] 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).[6]

Awards and fellowshipsEdit

Among the honors that Gallagher has earned are:[35]

Selected exhibitionsEdit

Ellen Gallagher's work has been featured in solo exhibitions at numerous galleries and institutions including:[6]

Group exhibitions have included:[6]


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 held in many permanent collections including the Addison Gallery of American Art, Goetz Collection, Hamburger Bahnhof, Studio Museum in Harlem, Walker Art Center, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Moderna Museet, Sammlung Goetz and the Centre Georges Pompidou.[4][33][40][41][42]

Specific works include:

Further readingEdit

  • Butler, Cornelia, Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010. OCLC 501397424
  • Barson, Tanya, Gorschlüter, Peter (eds), Afro Modern: Journeys Through the Black Atlantic, London: Tate Publishing, 2010.
  • Ellen Gallagher. Coral Cities, London: Tate Publishing, 2007.
  • Gallagher, Ellen, Cleijne, Edgar, Murmur. Water Ecstatic, Kabuki, Blizzard of White, Super Boo, Monster, in: Heart of Darkness, New York, NY: Walker Art Centre, 2006. pp. 81–104, ill.
  • Riemschneider, Burkhard & Uta Grosenick. Art Now. Cologne: Taschen, 2002.
  • De Zegher, Catherine, Jeff Fleming & Robin D.G. Kelley. Preserve. New York: D.A.P., 2002.
  • Grosenick, Uta. Women Artists. Cologne: Taschen, 2001. pp. 144–149.
  • Coleman, Beth. Ellen Gallagher: Blubber. New York: Gagosian Gallery, 2001.
  • Kertess, Klaus, John Ashbery, Gerald M. Edelman et al. 1995 Biennial Exhibition. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art / Harry N. Abrams, 1995.
  • Suzanne P. Hudson. "1000 Words: Ellen Gallagher". ArtForum, vol.42, no.8, April 2004, pp. 128–31.
  • Chan, Suzanna. "Astonishing Marine Living: Ellen Gallagher's Ichthyosaurus at the Freud Museum," in G. Pollock (ed.), Visual Politics of Psychoanalysis, London: I.B.Tauris, 2013. ISBN 978-1-78076-316-3
  • Tate, Greg; Robert Storr; Jill Medvedow. Ellen Gallagher, Institute of Contemporary Art in association with D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, Inc. 2001. ISBN 1-891024-31-0


  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). Archived from the original on May 19, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Van Siclen, Bill (February 21, 2010). "Artist Ellen Gallagher humbled by new honor". The Providence Journal. Providence, Rhode Island. Archived from the original on March 30, 2010. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i McGee, Celia (January 7, 1996). "UP AND COMING: Ellen Gallagher;An Artist Who Doesn't Fit In Gets the Perfect Offer: a Solo". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Ellen Gallagher Biography and Links". artnet. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Sirmans, F. (March 1, 1998). "ELLEN GALLAGHER". Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art. 1998 (8): 67. doi:10.1215/10757163-8-1-67. ISSN 1075-7163.
  8. ^ a b c d "Ellen Gallagher". Public Broadcasting Service: Art21. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  9. ^ Great Women Artists. Phaidon Press. 2019. p. 147. ISBN 978-0714878775.
  10. ^ Lewine, Edward (January 23, 2005). "60 Ways of Looking at a Black Woman". The New York Times. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  11. ^ Suzuki, Sarah. Art Journal; New York Vol. 70, Iss. 4, (Winter 2011): 7-25
  12. ^ McGee, Celia (January 7, 1996). "UP AND COMING: Ellen Gallagher;An Artist Who Doesn't Fit In Gets the Perfect Offer: a Solo". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 10, 2022.
  13. ^ a b Caldwell, Ellen C. (March 8, 2016). "Ellen Gallagher: Questioning Race". JSTOR Daily. Retrieved May 10, 2022.
  14. ^ Wilson, Judith (1996). "Sniffing Elephant Bones: The Poetics of Race in the Art of Ellen Gallagher". Callaloo. 19 (2): 337–339. ISSN 0161-2492.
  15. ^ "Ellen Gallagher | "Ruby Dee", 2005 | (for Parkett 73)". PARKETT books and editions on contemporary art. Retrieved May 10, 2022.
  16. ^ Goodeve, Thyrza Nichols Goodeve (2005). "Ellen Gallagher "Ruby Dee", 2005 (for Parkett 73)" (PDF). Parkett Art. pp. https://www.parkettart.com/editions/p/gallagher-ellen.
  17. ^ a b Ellen Gallagher. Boston, MA: Institute of Contemporary Art Boston. 2001. p. 18. ISBN 1-891024-31-0.
  18. ^ a b c d e Wilson, Judith (1996). "Sniffing Elephant Bones: The Poetics of Race in the Art of Ellen Gallagher". Callaloo. 19 (2): 337–339. doi:10.1353/cal.1996.0074. ISSN 1080-6512. S2CID 162244800.
  19. ^ Adewunmi, Bim (May 7, 2013). "Interview Ellen Gallagher: wigs, waterworlds and Wile E Coyoye". The Guardian. Archived from the original on April 9, 2021.
  20. ^ "Ellen Gallagher: AxME: Room 4".
  21. ^ Saltz, Jerry (October 12, 2004). "In Black and White". The Village Voice. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  22. ^ "Ellen Gallagher". Gagosian. April 12, 2018. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  23. ^ Heartney, Eleanor; Posner, Helaine; Princenthal, Nancy; Scott, Sue (2007). After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. pp. 255–56. ISBN 978-3791337326.
  24. ^ Kaplan, Cheryl (January 2006). "'History and Drag,' Ellen Gallagher in Conversation with Cheryl Kaplan". DB Artmag. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  25. ^ Chan, Suzanna (2017). ""Alive … again." Unmoored in the Aquafuture of Ellen Gallagher's Watery Ecstatic". WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly. 45 (1–2): 246–263. doi:10.1353/wsq.2017.0001. ISSN 1934-1520. S2CID 90137016.
  26. ^ "ART-PRESENTATION: Ellen Gallagher". Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  27. ^ "Ichthyosaurus". Freud Museum. London. November 2005. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  28. ^ Forde, Kate (June–August 2009). "Ellen Gallagher". Frieze (124). Archived from the original on January 8, 2012. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  29. ^ "The evolution of African-American consciousness". The Irish Times. via HighBeam Research [subscription required]. October 3, 2007. Archived from the original on November 15, 2018. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  30. ^ "Watery Ecstatic Series (2001)". Public Broadcasting Service: Art21. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  31. ^ Gallagher, Ellen; Morgan, Jessica; Medvedow, Jill; Tate, Greg; Storr, Robert (2001). Ellen Gallagher. Boston, MA: The Institute of Contemporary Art. p. 21. ISBN 1891024310.
  32. ^ The Institute of Contemporary Art (2001). Ellen Gallagher. Boston: D.A.P/Distributed Art Publishers, Inc. p. 21. ISBN 1-891024-31-0.
  33. ^ a b "Ellen Gallagher". Gagosian Gallery. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  34. ^ Stone, Nick. "Magnolia Editions – Chuck Close – Ellen". Magnolia Editions. Archived from the original on January 6, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  35. ^ "Ellen Gallagher". Hauser & Wirth. Retrieved February 20, 2012.
  36. ^ "Ellen Gallagher | Artist | Royal Academy of Arts". Royal Academy of Arts. Archived from the original on February 19, 2023.
  37. ^ Drawing Center exhibitions Ellen Gallagher. March 2, 2002 – April 20, 2002.
  38. ^ "Ellen Gallagher". Gagosian. Retrieved March 6, 2016.
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Ellen Gallagher: Preserve. Des Moines Art Center. 2001. p. 76. ISBN 1-879003-34-1.
  40. ^ "Ellen Gallagher". ArtCyclopedia. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
  41. ^ "Untitled". Collections. Walker Art Center. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  42. ^ "Ellen Gallagher Deluxe". Studio Museum Harlem. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  43. ^ "Blubber, 2000". Princeton University Art Museum. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  44. ^ "Bouffant Pride, 2003". Cleveland Museum of Art. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  45. ^ "Deluxe". Collection. Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Retrieved February 8, 2017.

External linksEdit