Artist, Ellen Gallagher: In between 2000 and 2001, I was working on a series of Ebony drawings. And then, I started making the plasticine paintings, which were large, gridded paintings about 8’ x 16’. And the imagery actually was from magazines. Sometimes they were full pages. Sometimes they were details.
The collection starts from about 1936 and runs through to 1972. And I’m especially interested in Sepia, Our World and early Ebony magazines because the editorial voice is so disparate. There’s a lot of freedom. So you would get a Richard Wright story next to a slasher text next to drag queen balls in Harlem in the forties. And things reported on with a kind of ease and a kind of worldliness that I think you wouldn’t really find in mainstream publications today.
I start collecting the magazines around 1996 and it’s this speeded up way of looking at history, or these stories. And some stories captivate you and some stories, you move quickly through there’s not a fixed way of reading it.
Sarah Suzuki: One of the concepts that Ellen explored in DeLuxe is that of an aerial view.
Ellen Gallagher: It’s about having both this really up close reading and also this distance
Sarah Suzuki: One example is The Man Who Kept Harlem Cool, which is in the top row of DeLuxe, third from the left
Ellen Gallagher: The caption underneath the image is left alone but the image has been cut away and replaced with kind of a portrait. And the image that originally existed was an image of a burnt out street, from the Harlem riots of 1964.
The story was a profile on Captain Lloyd Sealy, who was the first black police chief in New York. And he really brought back to police work this idea of, working with a community as opposed to guarding it and policing it.
Sarah Suzuki: When you’re going through one of the issues of the magazine, what would stop you at this story? Is it the text? Is it the story itself? Is it the headline?
Ellen Gallagher: I think it’s the image. This burnt out image of a street scene. So it will be an image that captivates me that I’ll know, “Okay, I’m not going to use that. But I’m gonna live with that.”
Sarah Suzuki: What do you like about or what does it do for you the idea of excising out one image.
Ellen Gallagher: I think that it highlights that loss, I’m highlighting that that’s been cut out, because the text describing the burnt out street remains. And that’s floating under an image of Lloyd Sealy. I saw him as both a real person and as a kind of a landscape. And the way I approached it. It’s not a portrait of any Captain Sealy we would know. I imagined him in some kind of garden and his Afro is an aerial view of the burnt out street scene, which was this gray scale so that it’s the gray plasticine Afro made up of swirling loops and rivulets of what looked like kind of volcanoes but are this series of fire hydrants and hoses, a kind of pun on the title.