I believe in the secret behavior of human beings. Capturing a fleeting moment or revealing a hidden world is what I strive to do. And if I’m successful, I am able to glimpse some of the beauty, ugliness, solitude, and desire that exists in us all.
My collaged pieces focus on personal space, physical relationships, and enigmatic situations. The human forms that I create have obscured identities, allowing for their actions to convey the drama.
I construct my scenes by sifting-through, and piecing-together imagery cut from obscure books and magazines. In a constant state of layering paper, moving shapes, adding and subtract¬ing colors, I am waiting for figures to form, and something exciting to happen. And when it does, when I have spotted that brief moment in time that feels so natural, or unnatural, that’s when I leave it up to the viewer to decide what it all means.
Glasschord editor Noah Post’s interview James Gallagher
Glasschord – Most of the figures that appear in your work, seem to be taken from vintage sex magazines and manuals- This gives the work a sort of “Taboo” feel to it. I think that seeing the realness in the bodies; the tones and textures and hair is so different that the glossy, photo-shop sex pictures we have become accustomed to. What is your interest in the “Oldness” of these pictures that you are are cutting up?
Gallagher – Photographs and publications from the 50s through the 70s have a simple, natural quality about them that has always attracted me. I tend to avoid strong colors or glossy printing. Anything that is too bright or flashy can overpower the subtle stories being told by the figures. Body language is key in my work and all other distractions are toned down or eliminated. This is why you rarely see facial features in my work, a face is the ultimate distraction. As for the sexual imagery, I have been compiling a nice little collection of vintage sex manuals and erotic photography books. The documentation of physical relationships, with all of it’s beauty and ugliness, plays a strong role in my work. It is an important part of the human condition that is what I am documenting.
The main characters in your collages are often “Hybrid” characters- One body can actually be 2 or 3, and in some cases, an obvious photo of a sexual position gets altered just enough that my eyes really have to adjust to understand what is going on in the image- or how many people are involved in it. Explain the process of re-arranging these bodies.
I love ambiguity. Altering and combining limbs of figures and manipulating the sex of characters gives the story multiple meanings. When I’m creating images I am constantly shifting forms and moving bodies around, just waiting to see what will materialize. My images are rarely preconceived and there is a satisfying element of surprise at the end of each collage. Ultimately, It is up to the viewer to decide what is happening on the page.
The “Backgrounds” of your collages seem just as important as the human bodies they encompass. I see different types of yellowed blank papers, old clippings, and areas that are covered up, or hiding something from the viewer. Where do you look for these papers? What are the subtleties that catch your eye? When you find an old book, Do you look to see if the first and last pages are empty?
Weathered paper and old yellowing books are like gold for me. And yes, the first and last page are the most coveted in the book, also the inside front and back cover. Luckily there is no shortage of dollar books at Strand or giveaway boxes of books on the streets of Brooklyn. I love to paste together slightly varying shades of paper, covering up details that will sometimes make a ghosted appearance through a thin layer of paper. All of this makes up a quilt of sorts for my scenes to play out on. A subtle stage for all sorts of human drama.
The term “cutting room floor” is used in the film industry as a reference to unused footage not included in the finished film. Do you find yourself using materials that you had actually cut away from an image, and not planned on using? If so, can you elaborate on this idea? I think it can be a major factor with collage.
I embrace my scraps, and recycle them into limbs and heads, or just about anything you can think of. I have a very immediate style of cutting and pasting where I will grab anything within reach and glue it down. Many of the papers I use have pieces cut out already, or tracings from another cut out, which I think adds character to the work. Glue stains and cut marks are on full display in my pieces.
There was a recent Group Show that I know you were involved in- it was called “Cutters”- What was this show all about? and where was it held?
I have been curating a series of contemporary collage exhibitions entitled Cutters over the last several years. They are a collection of international collage artists who’s work I feel is pushing the medium forward into a new exiting space. The first exhibition was in Brooklyn in 2009, followed by one in Berlin in 2010. The latest installment of the Cutters shows took place at the West Cork Arts Centre in Skibberreen Ireland in early 2011. It was very well received and has just traveled to Berlin where it will be the first exhibition in the German Publisher Gestalten’s new gallery space.
In addition, earlier this year I co-edited, Cutting Edges: Contemporary Collage, which was released by Gestalten and inspired by the Cutters shows. It is a beautiful hard cover book filled with hundreds of works by today’s most exciting collage artists. It really captures the excitement of the newly reinvigorated art form. Also, Gestalten released a short video and interview with me to coincide with the book’s release. You can see it at www.gestalten.tv
Any solo or group exhibitions coming up?
I have several solo exhibitions coming up in the Fall. Two in the States, Philadelphia and Chicago, and one in Rome. In addition, I will be in a group exhibition of collage artists at the Eastern Oregon University’s Nightingale gallery in early 2012.