Ellen Gallagher, Odalisque, 2005, gelatin silver print with watercolor and gold leaf, 15 1/4 × 14 1/4 inches framed (38.7 × 36.2 cm), edition of 15 © Ellen Gallagher.
From the outset of her career, Ellen Gallagher has brought together non-representational formal concerns and charged figuration in paintings, drawings, collages, and films that reveal themselves slowly, first as intricate abstractions, then later as unnerving stories. The tension sustained between minimalist abstraction and image-based narratives deriving from her use of found materials gives rise to a dynamic that posits the historical constructions of the “New Negro”—a central development of the Harlem Renaissance—with concurrent developments in modernist abstraction. In doing so, she points to the artificiality of the perceived schism between figuration and abstraction in art. Selecting from a wealth of popular ephemera—lined penmanship paper, magazine pages, journals, and advertising—as support for her paintings and drawings, Gallagher subjects the original elements and motifs to intense and laborious processes of transformation: accumulation, erasure, interruption, and interference. Like forensic evidence, only traces of their original state remain, veiled by inky saturation, smudges, staining, perforations, punctures, spills, abrasions, printed lettering and marking—all potent evocations and emanations of time and its materiality. This attained state of “un–knowing” fascinates Gallagher and is one of the primary themes in her work.
Ellen Gallagher was born in 1965 in Providence, Rhode Island. She attended Oberlin College, Ohio (1982–84); Studio 70, Fort Thomas, Kentucky (1989); School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts (1992); and Skowhegan School of Art, Maine (1993). Recent solo exhibitions include “Watery Ecstatic,” Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2001, traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, through 2002); “Preserve,” Des Moines Art Center, Iowa (2001, traveled to Yerba Buena Arts Center, San Francisco; and The Drawing Center, New York, through 2002); “POMP–BANG,” Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri (2003); “Murmur and DeLuxe,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami (2005); “Ichthyosaurus (inc. films with Edgar Cleijne),” Freud Museum (in collaboration with Hauser & Wirth, London), London (2005); “DeLuxe,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2005); “Coral Cities,” Tate Liverpool, England (2007, traveled to Dublin City Gallery, Dublin; and The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin); “An Experiment of Unusual Opportunity,” South London Gallery, London (2009); “AxME,” Tate Modern, London (2013, traveled to Sara Hildén Art Museum, Finland; and Haus der Kunst, Munich, through 2014); “Don’t Axe Me,” New Museum, New York (2013); “Ice or Salt,” SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah (2013); and “AxME,” Haus der Kunst, Munich (2014). Gallagher participated in the Biennale di Venezia in 2003 and 2015, and was awarded the American Academy Award in Art in 2000.
Gallagher currently lives and works in New York and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.