The umbrella of ‘feminist art’ is one that’s often been misunderstood, misrepresented – reduced to clichés or dismissed as redundant. But contemporary artists, like award-winning British surrealist artist Alexandra Gallagher, are actively challenging this perception of feminist art by exploring imagery and subjects far beyond the typically feminine.
Gallagher’s work is distinctive in more ways than one: from her tendency to start creating even her painted works on Adobe Photoshop, to the imaginative and sublime worlds she builds layer by layer through her collages.
We recently had a chance to pick this multidisciplinary artists’ brain on the creative process behind her surrealist collages, what she wants people to take away from her work, and more.
Hi Alexandra, how’s 2022 coming along for you so far?
It’s been good, thank you – different to the past couple of years with the pandemic. Now that everything has gone pretty much back to normal here in the UK and galleries and shows have reopened, it means things have got crazy busy again. I love the buzz of upcoming shows but do miss the slower pace of the pandemic.
Who or what triggered your love for art?
Art is something I’ve always loved. For as long as I can remember, art has been a huge part of my life. I guess right at the beginning it would have been my dad, who also painted and taught me how to paint growing up.
Which art movement do you resonate with the most and why?
I guess the one I resonate with the most would be surrealism, although I love pretty much all art movements and genres for their own genius and creativity.
Which artists are you most inspired by then and now?
Jenny Saville was a huge influence in my portraiture. I love Caravaggio, Artemisa Gentieschi, Klimt, but I’m currently loving the work by Craww and Robert Sample among so many others. Asking who my favourite artist is or who I’m most inspired by is like asking me who my favourite child is – it’s pretty much impossible to answer as I take inspiration from so many different artists. I’m constantly looking at art.
What is your creative process like before approaching a project?
My go-to is Photoshop. It’s not traditional, I know, but I have found that it works way better for me than a sketchbook.
Most of the work I do is organic, there’s no plan really or I may just have a seed of an idea. Mostly the narrative to the piece comes out as I work on it. I often describe them as little subconscious thought bubbles that just go out into the universe.
I use found imagery and photographs to work with in a collage way – I start like this even for painting. I found this method accidentally, but found that it keeps up with the way my brain works (which is a bit like having lots of tabs open, a random tune and endless talking) and stops it from looking overworked. If I use a sketchbook, I lose the flow and energy I need to make a piece work.
Come Sit on My Blind Side
You’ve said that you find inspiration in the experience of women in Western society. Do you consider your art feminist art? How do you feel feminist art has evolved since you started?
Yes, I do feel my a lot of my work is feminist and from a female point of view. The narratives in many of my pieces are about the female experience.
That's a hard question as I feel we’re still very underrepresented. There's still a long way to go and of course, not all art created by someone who identifies as female is feminist art.
I feel in the past that feminist art has been diminished and mocked as something that is just represented by genitalia. Like oh look, it’s a vulva/vagina – it must be feminist art. I think now, people are beginning to realise there’s more to feminist art than genitalia and that what feminist artists are trying to communicate is important.
How would you say your style has changed since you started?
I feel I’ve found more of a voice and a little more confidence in what I do. I say that, when most days I have a confidence crisis, ha! I feel my work is always evolving, always changing, and I’m constantly learning new ways to express myself. I use a lot more symbology in my work than I used to.
Drowning in Winter
What’s been your proudest work so far and why? How about the most challenging or frustrating?
You know, I think I’m a bit of a cliché and would say that I’m always moving onto the next piece and trying to push myself more. I don’t naturally feel proud of my work, I’m always looking at it thinking I learnt something and can improve on the next piece or body of work.
Your work is often really surreal and sublime. What do you hope for people to take away from your body of work?
That it evokes something in them, a feeling, a connection, a smile. That is the most beautiful thing about creating art. It’s the connection.
What are your thoughts on the rise of the metaverse and NFTs? Is it a medium you’re exploring for your own work?
The geek in me finds it very interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing what directions it goes in. But this is then conflicted with the impact it has on the environment, which I’m aware is also evolving and changing as people look at ways for it not to impact so much.
If you were to compare your work to a music album, what would it be and why?
Oh, I’m not sure I could pick just one. I listen to everything from classical to hip-hop from different decades, and I’m always discovering more. Maybe some weird prog-rock album with a bit of punk?
If you weren’t an artist, what would you see yourself doing?
I think maybe organising events? I love seeing people have a good time.
What has been the best advice you’ve ever received and do you have any for new artists out there?
My dad always taught me that to be able to think critically about your work, you must be able to destroy it. I’ve always found that valuable as it meant I could push things without that panic of ruining something. Obviously, it doesn’t always work, but you learn.
I think my advice as an artist would be to work your butt off, create your own opportunities, don’t put limits on yourself and don’t let others. Don’t compare yourself, as art is subjective, just do what brings you joy as that will show in your work…and keep learning, as you’re never going to be at the point where you can stop – none of us know everything. Stay humble, and don’t be a dick.
What are your hopes and plans for the rest of the year?
I’m hoping to create a new body of work. I've started on the sketches and plans, made lots of notes and I’m really looking forward to starting it properly. Although frustrated as I think I need ten of me to do everything I want to do. I want to push my work to what I feel is the next level.
What kind of artist do you hope to be 10 years down the line?
Still working, ha!
Enjoy this mixed bag of tunes that Alexandra Gallagher curated for us.