The ‘Black paintings’ from 1998–2002 were made by gluing penmanship paper onto the canvas to make a grid, then adding pieces cut by hand from sheets of rubber. Many of the abstract forms suggest wigs, lips or tongues which accumulate in clusters to create larger forms: heads, dancing figures, landscapes. Gallagher then covered the surface of the painting with black enamel paint, so that the pieces of rubber are thrown into relief, seeming to emerge from an opaque, impenetrable surface.
Gallagher has described the black paintings as ‘a kind of refusal. Even when reading them – if you stand in front of them they go blank and then if you stand at the side you see only a little.’
Another point of reference is Kasimir Malevich’s 1915 painting Black Square. It was intended to stand as the definitive break between art and representation, and a denial of painting’s role as a mirror to the world. Yet over the years, as the paint has aged, cracks and discolorations have spread across its pristine surface, undermining the artist’s utopian vision.