Ellen Gallagher
Salt Eaters

June 7 - July 22, 2006

London, Piccadilly

Ellen Gallagher’s art explores issues of race, identity and transformation. Renowned for her reworking of popular black imagery, Gallagher draws on postwar magazines and advertising, as well as film and music culture. She makes repeated reference to the traditions of minstrelsy, as well as to specific performers such as vaudeville star Bert Williams and jazz musician Sun Ra. Pages from mid-century black photomagazines such as Ebony, Our World and Sepia - all dominated by advertisements for Afro hairstyles, wigs and skin products aimed at African-American women - are often cited in her investigation of the anxieties and tensions surrounding black identity in the age of consumerism. Historically specific cultural references are merged with Gallagher’s own personal biography as a black Irish American woman. Her imagery combines densely patterned surfaces in grid format with intricate biomorphic forms. On closer inspection, these are revealed to be accumulations of stylised eyes and mouths, signs drawn from the historical caricatures of the black body. Appropriating these stereotypical signifiers of identity, she subverts them by a meticulous process of repetition and revision, offering a new and poetic mode of representation.

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About the artist

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Ellen Gallagher lives and works between Rotterdam, Netherlands and New York. Gallagher builds multi-layered paintings that pivot between the natural world, mythology and history. Her painting process involves undoing and reforming trains of thought often over long periods of time and across linked bodies of works. Over a highly multifaceted career, Gallagher’s work has been united by what she calls a ‘jitter,’ an intellectual approach in which aesthetic possibilities are shook loose from seismic cracks beneath the surface of cultural entities normally thought to be unshakable and impermeable. Encompassing painting, drawing, collage and celluloid based projections that fuse technique and material into syncretic form, her arresting compositions are a process of recovery and reconstitution through the accumulation and erasure of media, which results in palimpsestic and topographic surfaces.

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