Following up with Matthew Gallagher – “Research & Development” is Now on View at HEDGE Gallery
Back in late March, I had the great pleasure of speaking with artist Matthew Gallagher, whose planned show at HEDGE Gallery was put on hold (“Show Postponed, Artist Matthew Gallagher Grapples with the Impact of COVID-19“). At that time the future was very uncertain, as every arts institution in North-East Ohio began shutting their doors, cancelling programs, and quarantine began. I spoke with Gallagher about how the COVID-19 crisis had affected their practice in particular, and what the Cleveland arts scene might look like in the post-pandemic future.
Fast forward to the present, and Gallagher’s show is now on view at HEDGE Gallery as originally planned, in the recently opened 78th Street Studios. They were able to have a Third Friday “opening” per se, with limited numbers, masks required, and staggered entrance times. Now open by appointment during gallery hours, HEDGE has also planned two events – a combination in-person/virtual artist talk on Thursday, July 9, and a Closing Reception on Friday, July 17. The show will be on view through August 7.
78th Street Studio and HEDGE have been extremely proactive in exploring and implementing COVID safety protocols – widely distributing a re-opening survey to their constituents to gather info about best practices. Gallagher is very much an advocate for safety during this pandemic, telling me “I think going to an art gallery is low-risk, and if I didn’t trust Hilary (Gent, HEDGE owner) and the safety of it I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Most of the work in the show was finished before quarantine, as the exhibition was effectively already planned out for an opening in April. I asked Gallagher what quarantine was like: “I found that in quarantine the hardest thing for me was my focus, my ability to do the super-detailed oriented things – so that was pretty rough. I was doing all the presentation stuff, the framing, and then I made those last two encaustic pieces during Quarantine as well (Vechora & Serral) – I spent a whole weekend doing those. I was really burned out.”
The two pieces in question are my favorite in the show. They hang side-by-side, as if an invisible force between them is spurring the outward growth of these magical organisms. The frosty white surface of Vechora is quietly stunning, and the electric green growths on Serral happily bounce off the retina. Gallagher created several encaustic works like these for the show, some large, others smaller, all to me a bit like topographical alien landscapes. There is an exceptionally beautiful encaustic piece “grown” on a piece of Lake Erie driftwood. Shown behind glass in its lovely custom vitrine, it looks like an ancient artifact on view in a natural history museum.
One of the things I love about Gallagher’s work is the variety of scientific processes they utilize to create these pieces. Using unseen forces in nature, such as gravity, sound waves, or magnetic force, Gallagher is able to make visible the invisible. The delicate iron sculptures Gallagher created for the show look particularly spectacular in the gallery – all in custom-made vitrines, they were made using high-powered magnets (used in wind turbines) to “sculpt” iron filings into these lovely fossil-like forms, then baked at high temperature – frozen in time. Dimitri, with its lovely blue-tips, is certainly a stand-out.
Other new works in the show, such as Interbeing, are made through the chance workings of a chemical process. Gallagher uses markers to create a simple grid, then dips the paper into a solvent, letting the chemicals literally “create” the composition. Gallagher explains: “I’m using a ruler and a ball-point pen and sharpies – I like the cheapest inks because they are made up multiple different pigments instead of one color. And so when they’re exposed to solvent the color breaks up into different colors. It looks very boring, it looks like a piece of graph paper, before it gets the solvent treatment. I drop them in the solvent, go to sleep, then I wake up in the morning and I go check it out.” The amount of colors that are released from these inks is remarkable, and the composition, with its delicate waves and swirls, is surprising – and something of an unknown for the artist: “Almost all my work is about having a formula. You can literally break it down into variable – x and y divided by this equals this – but the only ones where I’m not one of the variables is these – and I think that’s very exciting. They compose themselves.”
Another example of this process at work is Scrying Glass, hanging above a pink couch, it is surprisingly delicate and lovely – like a whispy watercolor, but again, it’s chemicals, not Gallagher, that are doing most of the artistic work.
“It’s my favorite piece in the show. Same concept as these (the grid works) but no grid. Same process, but you can see how different the visual result is. Before the solvent hit it, it was two solid blue circles with a black outline.” Gallagher explained.
I was stunned at how many colors came out of just blue and black – Gallagher said that is the case “particularly with the black. We learn in color theory that black is every color and white is an absence of color, so all those purples and pinks and yellows you are seeing are coming from the black ink. And then you’re getting lots of different values of blue from the blue marker, I used a couple different kinds of markers actually.” What results is hauntingly beautiful.
Also in this large exhibition, Gallagher has many paintings made from sound waves and elastic, and even works in bronze. Like the title, “Research and Development” hints, throughout the exhibition Gallagher grapples with different scientific and mathematical processes, but the results are hardly dry or stodgy, they are in fact the opposite – it is all incredibly exciting and surprising.
When we spoke back in March, Gallagher prophetically saw the pandemic as a critical moment for the art world, and perhaps an opportunity for change: “I worry many different communities and small businesses and nonprofits may not survive this crisis. . . . In my heart I am optimistic, though. I truly hope that the Northeast Ohio art community will make some changes when this is over. I want the nonprofit arts institutions here to reexamine their priorities and feature more local artists, appoint more black and brown and queer people to leadership positions, and use their resources more effectively. We need to slow down, prioritize people over profits, and take excellent care of each other on a community and institutional scale.”
Gallagher could not have known that the Black Lives Matter Movement would swell and become an international call for change – but it did, and they couldn’t be happier. Gallagher is donating a portion of their earnings to the cause: “10% of my cut will be donated and I think I’ll probably just do that for the rest of my life. I’ve always really liked the idea of reparations. Now I’m finally in a position where I can do that – I used to think it was the government’s responsibility but I just don’t think they’re ever going to do it because we have a racist government, so it’s our responsibility. Honestly there’s so many people in this country if everyone threw $10 at reparations every month that would be a lot of resources and a lot of good could come of it. So I think for the rest of my life I will paying reparations and I feel great about that.”
I asked Gallagher if they think their sales would be impacted by the limitations imposed by COVID: “I think a lot of people that buy my work are older, and they’re the most at risk – but I’m not ready to call it yet, I think we’re going to do really well.” Ever the optimist, Gallagher’s enthusiasm is refreshing. Standing in the gallery with their work, I’m feeling optimistic too – when the Summer CAN Journal went to print, I wasn’t sure I would ever get to see this important body of work “in the flesh”, but here we are. Onward.
Matthew Gallagher’s Artist Talk on Thursday, July 9 will be held in person at HEDGE Gallery to a limited crowd, as well as online via Facebook Live – more info can be found here.
To make an appointment to see the show for yourself, contact Hilary Gent at HEDGE Gallery via email: email@example.com
***All photos by Aireonna McCall, courtesy of HEDGE Gallery***