Ellen Gallagher was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1965. The daughter of an Irish-American mother and an African-American father, Gallagher's work dissembles and recreates cultural memory. She attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio until 1984. During the next four years she worked as a deckhand on an Alaskan fishing boat. Between 1988 and 1992, Gallagher studied art and art history at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Simultaneously, Gallagher cultivated creative and intellectual resources outside of school and joined a Cambridge-based group of African American artists, writers, and poets known as the Dark Room Collective. In 1993, Gallagher attended the Skowhegan School of Art in Skowhegan, Maine where she worked with Kiki Smith, Peter Halley, and Ann Hamilton. Gallagher has credited the writing of Gertrude Stein and Samuel Delany as additional influences on her creative development.
Gallagher is most well known for her innovative approach to printmaking, but her body of work includes sculpture, watercolor, film, collage, and drawing. Her paintings and prints have been discussed in relationship to the minimalist paintings of Agnes Martin. While her compositions often evoke the starkness and clarity of scientific grids they frequently express a personal attention to intricacy and detail in the spirit of quilting traditions.
Gallagher’s work engages in semiotic discourse and confronts the intersections of pop-culture, racism, and feminism by merging contemporary and historical frameworks. She is energized by the erasure and strategic recreation of narrative through visual signs and indices. Her methodology insists upon an anti-chronological approach to objects as well as their interpretation. Gallagher encourages the viewer to imagine alternatives for objects and their indexical references to identity, images, and text. In works such as DeLuxe
, (2004-2005) Gallagher physically builds the possibilities of individual narrative on top of archival mid-century wig advertisements from Ebony
, Our World
, and Sepia
magazines. This approach enables a reconstruction and re-imagination of the black body on top of the racial stereotypes the original images conjure. Gallagher’s work injects dynamism into static images and words by translating them into her own narrative and focusing not solely on race but on processes of transformation, memory, and repetition.
Ellen Gallagher has received an American Academy Award in Art as well as the Joan Mitchell Fellowship. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. She currently lives and works in New York.
Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, ME, USA (1993)
School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA (1992)
Studio 70, Ft. Thomas, KY, USA (1989)
Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, USA (1982-1984)
student of Kiki Smith
student of Ann Hamilton
student of Peter Halley
student of Athena Tacha
classmate of Laylah Ali
classmate of Piotr Uklanski
Award, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York, NY, USA (2000)
Fellowship, Joan Mitchell Foundation, New York, NY, USA (1997)
Residency, MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire, USA (1996)