Interview with Paul Gallagher – Camberwell College of Arts BA Painting alumnus
What originally drew you to collage and found imagery over other mediums?
Monetary concerns are the primary reason, but I also enjoy the limitations imposed using just one medium. As more and more art relies on digital techniques, I get a perverted kick from reverting to older methods of working.
At Camberwell College of Arts I was experimenting mixing mass media images and painting. I was interested in portraying the white noise felt by this oversaturated image culture. I began to realise that the images themselves were so preloaded with meaning that I should try and manipulate them as I found them. This led to simply folding the images onto themselves to create a narrative that was divorced from the original.
Could you tell us a little bit about your creative process?
Serendipity. On occasion, I have found that a piece that is not working can be left, and at some point it will make perfect sense when found resting upon a different image. All of the works I have made so far feel like small pieces in a bigger picture. Images I have collected over the past few years seem like they are waiting for something new to trigger or unite them.
Are there particular qualities you look for in an advertisement or a piece of mass media when searching for source material to re-envision?
The images I’m currently using are primarily found in high-end glossy fashion/lifestyle magazines. Typically banal portrayals of fantasy, beauty, and aspiration which are essentially unachievable.
Why do you believe “minimal intervention is key” when it comes to making your collages?
I am drawn to simplicity. Feeling the way I do about saturation, it seems appropriate to comment on images that already exist rather than creating new ones. As I mentioned, most of the images I use come hardcoded with meanings. A simple fold or overlap can completely change the meaning and hand control back to the viewer, who is free to interpret the image as they see fit.
You reference William Burroughs’ The Third Mind, also the title of your latest exhibition. Do you often look to literary sources for inspiration?
I try to draw inspiration from everywhere – books, films, music. The Third Mind was a nod to William Burroughs / Bryon Gisin and the cut-up technique, but at the same time describes the process of intervention between the mind of the creator of the image and the mind of the recipient. In this scenario, I become the third mind, distorting or corrupting the signal on its journey.
You just exhibited your first solo show at Public House Projects – since then, are there particular types of work you found were more suited to exhibition format?
Yes, the ‘Haunted’ series of works involves illuminating a single page from a magazine to highlight juxtaposition, so it is important that the viewer witness the transformation of the image. When exhibiting, I try to push this sculptural element further by enlarging the work to wall-size and attempt to let the work spill over into the space.
Why did you choose to focus your recent work around the way women are portrayed in the media? Do you hope your work will promote media literacy and self-acceptance?
Absolutely. When I was beginning to experiment with the folded collage technique, I stumbled upon a documentary series entitled ‘Killing Us Softly’ by Jean Kilbourne, which examined the irresponsible attitudes towards women in advertising. This became instrumental in the way I approached the work. It seems that most people are aware that advertising abuses its power and can be misrepresentative, and yet it is widely accepted.
What can we expect to see at Sum of Substance and what’s coming up for you next?
A mixture of old and new works. I am happy to be exhibiting the lightbox plinth, as it has that interactive element. With the new work, I have focused on the fractured nature of the viewer and viewer by collaging different pieces of the face together to create Frankenstein’s monster-type visages. Visually engaging yet horrifying, I feel these images portray the way advertising promises empowerment and freedom and yet in reality creates a fractured sense of self.
Beyond Sum of Substance, I have been asked to give a lecture about my work to a sixth form college and curate a community project with the students. I am also working collaboratively with musicians and sci-fi writers on an as-yet untitled project.
Originally published on Jotta. Interview by Rebecca Santiago.
Sum of Substance exhibition at the Affordable Art Fair, 15 – 18 March 2012.
Sum of Substance also features work by Camberwell MA Fine Art student Joachim Sefzick and BA Painting graduate Bayly Shelton.
Images: Paul Gallagher