Room 11

Ellen Gallagher, ‘DeLuxe’ 2004–5
Ellen Gallagher
DeLuxe 2004–5
© Ellen Gallagher

DeLuxe 20045 is a series of prints based on photographs and advertisements arranged in five rows of twelve. While the title echoes the grandiose claims routinely made for wigs and beauty products, it can also be applied to the dazzling array of materials and techniques with which Gallagher builds up the surface of each image. Each frame is constructed by the artist through an extensive process of collage, photomontage and photogravure to produce a smooth printed image, which then becomes the starting point for a further series of extravagant alterations, adding ink, watercolour and decorative materials like glitter, gold leaf and coconut oil, or three-dimensional elements such as toy eyeballs and plasticine. Half-forgotten historical figures and fragments of narratives can be traced through the grid, recalling Gallagher’s statement that she wanted her paintings ‘to function as a kind of chart or a map’ of the ‘lost world’ she discovered in the black magazines of the 1950s and 1960s.

Light ‘n’ Write 2006, Corns 2006 and Esirn Coaler 2007 belong to a series of works for which Gallagher made precise plasticine copies of the lettering from magazines and attached them to a plasticine surface. The texts all relate to the treatment of various aches and discomforts, creating what the artist has described as an ‘endless litany of ailments that suddenly comes into ridiculous/sharp focus as the pains – sore toes, bunions, corns, backache – of people working. Toiling at work that required them to use their bodies as machines.’

By contrast, IGBT 2008 refers to a more technological age, presenting the circuit board from an audio amplifier in gold relief so that it resembles a Byzantine artefact. Plugged into this surface are two figures whose dandyish appearance recalls early nineteenth-century urban portraiture. The two seem both contemporary and archaic, agents of transformation supremely at home in a work whose visual language combines the ancient past and the digital future.