Ellen Gallagher: Cutting


Ellen Gallagher discusses the paper cutouts that she’s embedded into paintings throughout her career. Shown at the New Museum, seated in her solo exhibition “Don’t Axe Me” (2013), she explains how she scrapped away areas of her thickly painted canvases and inlaid black paper birds, leaving their sharply cut edges distinctly visible. Gallagher traces her interest in cutting to when she first began working with penmanship paper and needed to release air bubbles trapped under its surface. Her fondness for cut paper is most evident in her “Watery Ecstatic” series (2001–2009), which depicts sea creatures on intricately incised paper.

Repetition and revision are central to Ellen Gallagher’s paintings, collages, and films. From afar, Gallagher’s work often appears abstract and minimal, but upon closer inspection details reveal complex narratives that borrow from maritime history, science fiction, popular culture, and the experiences of African Americans. Although the work has often been interpreted as an examination of race, Gallagher also suggests a more formal reading with respect to materials, processes, and formal structures.

Learn more about the artist at: https://art21.org/artist/ellen-gallagher/

CREDITS: Producer: Ian Forster. Consulting Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Ian Forster. Camera: Rafael Salazar & Ava Wiland. Sound: Ava Wiland. Editor: Morgan Riles. Artwork Courtesy: Ellen Gallagher. Special Thanks: New Museum. Theme Music: Peter Foley.

“Extended Play” is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; 21c Museum Hotel, and by individual contributors.

Cite this page as: Art21, "Ellen Gallagher: Cutting," in Smarthistory, December 21, 2021, accessed May 23, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/ellen-gallagher-cutting/.