Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Bird in Hand (2006) - Ellen Gallagher

I have decided to review Ellen Gallagher’s mixed media painting ‘Bird in Hand’, as I felt it was the piece that I could most relate to in the gallery. Ellen Gallagher was born in 1965 and often works around themes that are relevant to her own cultural identity as a black Irish-American. She often works in mixed-media, focussing on mythical themes, transformation and metamorphosis.

The painting has been made by using layers of paper which have been built up and cut away in places to create depth and texture in the image, while the figure is painted using oil and ink. The subject is an imaginative representation of a black pirate or sailor walking under the ocean through the “Middle Passage”, which is described as the worst slave trade path between Africa and North America.

I chose this painting because I have always enjoyed Illustration, and felt that this particular image had a very illustrative feeling to it. The painting has a sense of narrative, it tells a story rather than being a representation of reality. Ellen Gallagher stated ‘I think of this painting as an origin myth of sorts, with a kind of evil doctor, perhaps related to Doctor Moreau or Frankenstein, at its centre’. She is fascinated with the slave trade and transformation, and this is reflected in this piece by the subject and her artistic style. The patterns are organic and appear to flow naturally across the composition, while her use of layered paper adds texture to the image drawing our attention to the detail in the image.

The composition is simple - the figure in the image is placed centrally to instantly draw our attention to him and his actions, while the surrounding layered patterns set the scene of being under the ocean. The scale of the image makes the figure almost life-sized, so we are submersed with him. Her use of colours is also interesting as they are limited, and therefore are not overpowering. The pirate is the darkest part of the image, mostly in dull and monotonous colours again drawing our attention to him.

Ellen Gallagher’s use of intricate and complicated detail is often a popular style that many modern illustrators have adopted recently, for example the illustrator Silja Goetz (http://www.siljagoetz.com/). In many of her illustrations she uses intricate patterns, paper textures and organic shapes like in Gallagher’s painting, while her subject matter mostly focuses on people. Tara Hardy (http://www.tarahardyillustration.com/) also uses a similar style in her illustration work, however she mostly uses collaged images combined with detailed and flowing patterns. This style is often used to create mythical, sensual images which intrigue the viewer into looking closely and using their imagination to create narrative based upon the image.

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