Artwork of the Day – Ellen Gallagher


Liverpool artwork of the day – Friday April 20 2007. ‘Bird in Hand’ by Ellen Gallagher at Tate Liverpool April 21 – August 27 2007

Ellen Gallagher’s solo exhibition opens on the ground floor of Tate Liverpool tomorrow April 21.

Born in 1965, Ellen Gallagher is best known as a leading contemporary painter, although she has also created drawings, prints, sculptures and, in collaboration with Edgar Cleijne, a number of 16mm films. Touching particularly on issues of race and identity politics, Gallagher’s work explores the language of Modernist painting (particularly the monochrome and the grid) and brings a symbolic or narrative content to these forms.

In her recent work, including paintings, a series of drawings collectively titled Watery Ecstatic, and a number of 16mm films, she has explored the myth of a ‘Black Atlantis’ – known as Drexciya – populated by those who jumped from slave ships during the gruelling route from Africa to America.

She has also explored the history of the islands of Cape Verde and their volcanic landscape that was for centuries the scene of trade in salt and slaves. Gallagher’s works refer to the gathering of salt, the ‘white gold’ upon which the Cape Verde communities were built.
These works include the major new painting Bird in Hand 2006, a composition dominated by the figure of a black sailor or pirate. Cape Verde slaves, who gathered salt, also gained knowledge of sea-faring to the extent that some became sailors and captains.

Such specific references merge with Gallagher’s own biography as a black Irish American woman – her father was from Cape Verde and her Irish mother from Rhode Island. Her work has also embraced themes drawn from natural history, fantasy and science fiction. All of Gallagher’s work is characterised by a density of imagery and complex, built-up surface detail.