The woman with the blank expression has an octopus-shaped tumor planted on the back of her head. Pale-faced waifs with rainbow unicorn horns stare with cotton candy hair and empty white eyes. Jellyfish monsters and stitched kittens. Cherubs eating blueberry pie.
These are some of the paintings and illustrations of Jacqueline Gallagher, a Hawai’i native and “painter of zombies and the disturbed.” Her work juxtaposes the grotesque with bright colors and cartoon elements, creating hybrid creatures and people with the air of a Victorian-style portrait. In a recent series, the faces of celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Adrien Brody, and Marilyn Monroe drip as globs, half covering the faces of classic film monsters like Nosferatu or the Swamp Thing. Despite the surrealism, Gallagher’s renditions of both the celebrities and the monsters are spot-on.
We sat down with Gallagher over beers to find out more about her work and what inspires her creatures! Here’s a (fairly accurate) recap of the conversation.
JC: How did you get started with making art?
JG: I was never athletic! [Laughs] I grew up with a lot of Disney movies and graphic novels, and drawing was always a passion for me. A lot of anime in middle school. Near the end of high school and during college, I got into classical art.
JC: Has your work always gravitated towards featuring unusual creatures?
JG: It comes in stages. Years ago, I created a lot of zombies, especially portraits. I guess I kind of felt like that going to school and where I was in my life at the time. Then, the focus became more about aliens and brain slugs—outside controlling forces, which was also where I was during that time.
JC: It’s neat that it actively reflects how things are going with you. Not to say that feeling like a zombie or being controlled is neat, but just that your work is personal in that way. Did you grow up with friends and family as artists too?
JG: No, not really. None of my parents or siblings are artists, but they always encouraged me. In school, I was mostly solitary. I had a few close friends, but they didn’t really draw either. It was mostly something I did by myself. Now, it’s the same way. I usually work at home and really have to focus on it, be into it. I try to put it in hours every day, but some days, it doesn’t come. Some days, I paint for eight hours straight.
JC: Wow. How long does it take you to finish a piece?
JG: The larger oil paintings I do (two to four square feet or so) take about a month or so, but the sketches and smaller pieces, maybe a few days. Sometimes I have group gallery shows on the mainland and smaller pieces are easier to mail. Shipping gets crazy expensive with the bigger paintings!
JC: I bet; where have you exhibited some of your work?
JG: Oh, recently I was part of a group show in Sacramento. Usually spots in California and New York, and a lot of tattoo parlors. And then there’s a taxidermy shop in San Francisco—Loved to Death—that features some of my work. I’m considering moving to Portland for a while, because there are a lot of opportunities on the mainland; galleries, clients, et cetera. Hawai‘i has a good developing art scene, but only a few places to showcase work. And the mainland is cheaper! [Laughs]
JC: Ha, that’s true. How do people often interpret your work when they see it?
JG: All kinds of ways. Sometimes they come up with all kinds of crazy backstories for the characters or what’s happening in the painting or image. Other times, they’ll just ask me to explain it.
JC: Do you?
JG: Nah. I tell them it’s just what they see in the painting, that’s all.
JC: Your work has a lot going on though; I could definitely see where their curiosity comes from.
JG: Well, there’s a duality where the scenes have contradictions—these figures are beautiful and grotesque at the same time. They float through their worlds driven by needs like craving and vanity and addition, on display for the world while they slowly decay. When I paint, sometimes I think about who these characters are, but oftentimes they end up looking like me a little bit, self-portraits.
JC: Eating blueberry pie?
JG: Yes! Exactly.
Check out Gallagher’s work through her Instagram account (@jackiepaintsdead) or on her website (www.paintdead.com).