Tiny Menagerie Series No. 1: The Pangolin is the first in a series of self-promotional post cards sent out by my reps at Those Three Reps in Dallas.
Goin’ In Hot was created for the album “Goin’ In Hot” by recording artist Moot Davis of CrowTown Records.
The Ant and the Butterfly, from Aesop Illustrated.
Wrapt triptych created for Los Angeles iam8bit gallery’s all-female artist show “Grace and Ritual.” It is a commentary on the joy and pain of motherhood.
Personal piece, They Were There All Along.
La Fete de Louisiane was created for Art in Hand, as part of a playing card set with art created by one artist from each state.
2014: The Year of the Horse, personal promotion piece used in social media.
A Natural Artist
New Orleans, Louisiana born Denise Gallagher put out her shingle as an illustrator January 17, 2013. She just won three Gold ADDY awards for illustration from the Acadiana Chapter of the American Advertising Federation. All in all, she’s had a good year. Formerly a senior art director at an ad agency, she took the plunge last year to start her own business.
Drawing always came naturally to her. “I sometimes draw as an escape. Sometimes to exorcise demons. And, sometimes, to express pure joy,” Gallagher explains. Some of her favorite pieces are very personal and infused with meaning. “And yes,” she says, “I drew constantly as a child. My first grade teacher once marked all of my answers wrong on a math test because I decided the numerals could be fancier and made them curly and swirly and decorative.”
Denise is charming, funny, genuine, and has enough joie de vivre to light up a room. There’s joy, but also pathos, in her depictions of nature, most vividly in her treatment of a handful of Aesop’s Fables—the holiday self-promo piece was sent to clients and friends as a small book, neatly packaged and lettered. Her animals are a bit fantastic, like ones you’d see in a dream, stretched out or curled into poses reminiscent of early century still life paintings.
Living in Cajun country, Denise captures the idiosyncratic spirit of Louisiana through sensitive depictions of its creatures—alligators, fish, snakes, possum, bears, with a somewhat primitive feeling pen and ink and watercolor treatment. It’s a fertile world where even the smallest denizen has personality.
She describes her style as “a unique blend of whimsy and sophistication”. True. Her work also has a purity of line and emphasis on detail and symbolism that transcends its subject matter.
I met Denise at ICON 7 in Providence, Rhode Island. When I saw her big, toothy smile across the hotel bar crowd, I knew I’d like her. You can tell from her illustrations that she is a sensitive soul, and a happy person. (She loves Prince. That says a lot.) She lives in Lafayette with her husband Donny and their seven-year-old son Oliver (her mini-me without a doubt, down to the smile). She is a great mom, who makes the most artful pancakes you’ve ever seen, turning batter into illustrations of snowflakes, Groundhog’s Day, and a plethora of animals.
If her first year is any indication, it’s only a matter of time until we see much more from this emerging artist: children’s books, products, the sky’s the limit.
To see more of her work, visit denisegallagher.com and those3reps.com.
Q: When and where were you born? Are you from an artistic family? When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
A: I was born in New Orleans in 1969. My mother was a kindergarten teacher and my father an entrepreneur. Both were creative in their own way. My mother was quiet and reserved and wrote plays and poems for class performances. On Saturday mornings, she made animal-shaped pancakes, which delighted my sister and I. My father’s creativity was all over the place. In his free time, he dabbled in sculpture, painting and poetry.
As a child, I drew constantly. I studied books on animals, wrote stories and designed and sewed my own menagerie. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that I’d grow up to be an artist of some sort.
I attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and majored in art. I was a little intimidated by fine art but found a home in the graphic design department. There I could draw, write and create without having to be “deep and meaningful.” My dream, though, was to one day become an illustrator. I carried a sketchbook with me wherever I went, drawing all the while.
After receiving my BFA in graphic design, I stayed in Lafayette and began working in the advertising industry.
As an art director, I was able to create illustrations occasionally, but I never developed an illustration style of my own. Fifteen years into my career, I came to the realization that I was not being as creative as I could be. I took my husband’s suggestion to pick up a sketchbook and start drawing again. I challenged myself to create one drawing each week.
I was rusty at first. But as the weeks went by, I began to loosen up. I started playing with color and texture. I experimented with imagery and themes. I was creating these pieces solely for myself, which gave me the freedom to explore.
After a year of creating these illustrations, without missing a week, I realized that my style had emerged: A whimsical, yet dark style, a little magical, a little melancholy, with a muted color palette of dusty blues and browns and an occasional splash of bright orange or yellow. Animals in unexpected situations and unusual scale populated the illustrations, surrounded by foliage and tied with bits of string.
My work had also begun to catch the eye of art directors and art buyers. I began working as an illustrator in my free time and exhibiting my work in museums and galleries. I garnered recognition from the Society of Illustrators New York, the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles and Communication Arts Magazine.
In January of 2013—five years after picking up that sketchbook again—I took the leap. I left my job as the senior art director at an advertising agency and became a full-time illustrator. I wouldn’t change a thing about my career journey. As an art director at an ad agency, I learned a lot about working with clients and about running a business. Having been an art director, I am at ease speaking with art directors about illustration, bringing ideas to the table and anticipating their needs.
And now I feel as though I’m living my dream. I’m working harder than ever, but the work I’m doing is the most creative and fulfilling I’ve ever done.
Q: Who or what were your influences?
A: My inspiration comes from the world around me. Nature, music, art and literature all influence me. I am fascinated by old fairy tales, botanical etchings and vintage illustrations of unusual animals. I never know when something may catch my eye or spark my imagination, then eventually find its way into an illustration.
I view my work as glimpses of a grand, unfinished story. Each illustration invites the viewer to wonder at the circumstances surrounding the scene. Small details serve as clues to the story and provide a bit of magic or melancholy.
Q: What is your preferred medium?
A: Drawing is still my passion and I draw with a pencil. I love pencils and once even wrote a poem, “Ode to the Pencil.” My work always starts with an idea. I find a quiet place and compose the entire piece in my head. When I sit down with my sketchbook, the drawings come tumbling out. I’ll draw the main image as well as smaller pieces and patterns. I then add color and textures digitally. The digital process takes a little longer as I enjoy the freedom of playing with the layout, colors and textures that working digitally provides. I add and subtract until I feel the piece is complete.
Q: What is your sketchbook process?
A: I have about seven small sketchbooks that I carry around with me wherever I go. I use these for rough sketches and notes, story ideas, and for recording flashes of inspiration. They also keep me happy while waiting for a flight or in an office waiting room. I have larger sketchbooks for final drawings. These I guard very carefully.
Q: What is your favorite type of assignment?
A: As an illustrator, I approach every assignment with a sense of excitement at a new challenge—a new puzzle to be solved. I enjoy them all for different reasons.
Music and literature are both very inspiring and collaborating with musicians and writers has been especially fulfilling. I enjoy seeing the world through another artist’s eyes and bringing their vision to life visually.
I also enjoy illustrating for children. My work has been described as dark and whimsical, which I take as a huge compliment. The work of two of my favorite children’s illustrators, Maurice Sendak and Edward Gorey, is also dark and whimsical. I have written and illustrated a children’s book that is reminiscent of a vintage fairy tale with a modern edge. I love the special kind of magic that emerges when creating work for children.
The commissioned work that I do for galleries is also dear to my heart. I pour a lot of emotion into these pieces and am free to be a little more experimental and personal.
Q: Can you describe your studio environment?
A: I love my studio. It’s located in downtown Lafayette, Louisiana, steps away from an art museum, a tiny gelato shop and some of the most delicious Cajun food around. On Fridays, the air is filled with live, local music. It’s easy to be inspired by the creativity and culture that surrounds me. My studio is bright and colorful. Illustration and art covers the walls, my favorite books fill the shelves, and a large silver owl peers over my shoulder, silently approving everything that I do.
Gary Taxali, Superman/Clark Kent, mixed media on paper, 30" x 36"
Mark Ulriksen, Fort Funston 2013, egg tempera on board, 24 x 18 inches.
Keith Haring, Untitled, 1982, Acrylic and ink on wood, Museum of the City of New York, gift of Martin Wong, 94.114.102, © Keith Haring Foundation.
Exhibitions of note nationwide.
Through March 22
Jonathan LeVine Gallery
529 W 20th Street, 9th Floor
New York City, NY
Jonathan LeVine Gallery presents their second solo exhibition of new paintings by Indian born, Canadian raised Gary Taxali, including his largest painting to date. In 2012 The Royal Canadian Mint released a special edition of six 25-cent coins that feature Taxali’s s quirky and instantly recognizable work. He continues to enjoy success as an award-winning illustrator and as a fine artist whose works have been exhibition in museums as well as prestigious galleries. Taxali teaches and lectures, is the co-founder of Picture Mechanics, a creative consortium comprised of top illustrators, and he is a founding member of IPA (Illustrators’ Partnership of America).
Taxali describes the exhibition as exploring: “Themes of love, separation, isolation, unease, excitement, revelations and absolute joy through the overarching theme of paradoxes. In these works, my characters try to make sense of their situations and the dualities therein. Many of the works contain opposite reactions, both in concept and execution. I’ve also employed the use of non-existent words. An effective way for me to convey all of this is through humor, both light and dark, mocking the flaws of the human condition yet serving as a sweet reminder that nothing should ever be taken absolutely seriously—I try to unforget that every day.”
Through April 26
685 Market Street
San Francisco, CA
Mark Ulriksen’s solo exhibition, Irrational Exuberance is aptly named. The San Francisco-based illustrator/artist paints joyous odes to baseball, the love of dogs, and other all-American pursuits for a range of clients, none perhaps more recognized than his wonderful New Yorker covers. Here, he presents a group of paintings, some in the exacting medium of egg tempera, celebrating life in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as paintings of other cultural topics, and of course, dogs—each with plenty of personality. Ulriksen’s quirky and colorful paintings have garnered him many awards over the years and his work is included in the permanent collection of The Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. He balances his time between illustration assignments, children’s books, gallery work and private commissions—primarily family portraits and dog portraits.
City as Canvas: Graffiti
Art from the Martin Wong Collection
Through August 24
Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY
City as Canvas: Graffiti Art from the Martin Wong Collection, is the first exhibition of 1970s and ‘80s graffiti art amassed by artist and pioneering collector Martin Wong, who donated the entire collection to the City Museum in 1994. Wong died of AIDS in 1999.
The exhibition features seminal paintings and "black book" sketches by Cey (Cey Adams), Daze (Chris Ellis), Dondi (Donald White), Futura 2000 (Leonard McGurr), Keith Haring, Lady Pink (Sandra Fabara), Lee (Lee Quiñones), Rammellzee, Sharp (Aaron Goodstone), Tracy 168, Zephyr (Andrew Witten), and many more New York graffiti artists, as well as historical photographs by Charlie Ahearn, Henry Chalfant, Martha Cooper, and others.
March 7 – May 25
Whitney Museum of American Art
New York City, NY
The 2014 Whitney Biennial will take a bold new form as three curators from outside the Museum—Stuart Comer (Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art at MoMA), Anthony Elms (Associate Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia), and Michelle Grabner (artist and Professor in the Painting and Drawing Department at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago)—each oversee one floor, representing a range of geographic vantages and curatorial methodologies.
Donna De Salvo, Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs at the Whitney, noted: “The 2014 Biennial brings together the findings of three curators with very distinct points of view. There is little overlap in the artists they have selected and yet there is common ground. This can be seen in their choice of artists working in interdisciplinary ways, artists working collectively, and artists from a variety of generations. Together, the 103 participants offer one of the broadest and most diverse takes on art in the United States that the Whitney has offered in many years.”
This Biennial will be the last to take place in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s building at 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street before the Museum moves downtown to its new building in the spring of 2015. This is the 77th in the Museum’s ongoing series of Annuals and Biennials begun in 1932 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.
Whitney curators Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders, who organized the widely acclaimed 2012 Biennial, will advise on the exhibition.
A brief review of notable titles and inspiring monographs.
Bad For You, Exposing the War on Fun by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham
189 pages, softbound, published by Henry Holt & Company, $12.99
Any book this packed with information, facts and compelling drawings can’t be bad for you! Ostensibly a book for kids, to explain the history of stuff that’s supposed to be bad for you, to find out why these things are not really bad for you, you must keep reading. Kevin C. Pyle, author and illustrator of graphic novels teams up with writer Scott Cunningham who pens comics for DC, Archie and Nickelodeon magazine and parodies for Mad to debunk myths and give kids (and adults) good arguments for the power of having fun. I learned about such arcane things as “moral panic”, a term coined by sociologist Stanley Cohen, to describe how the media by overreacting to new behaviors, ends up defining and necessarily distorting how people understand social behaviors. The graphic novel concept applied to a wealth of information, can make it both memorable and palatable. Bad for You is chock full of interesting, scary and useful facts. And like many things that are labeled “bad for you”, it’s a lot of fun.
In The City, Drawings by Nigel Peake
144 pages, hardbound, published by Princeton Architectural Press, $22.95
What could be a richer source of material than some of the world’s most beautiful metropolises like Shanghai, New York, London, Paris, or Oslo? In his illustrated ode to rural life, In the Wilds, Peake’s almost obsessively detailed pencil and ink drawings, explored Irish landscapes (he lives in northern Ireland). Here he documents the sights, sounds and shapes of these monumental cities through color, surface, and reflection, revealing rich, intricate forms. The mystery of art is simply explained: “There are some things that I know and some that I do not. What I do not understand, I draw.” The deeply observant Peake, an illustrator with a background in architecture, wanders a city, no detail, juxtaposition of object, color, shape or sound escaping his notice. These are translated into geometric or abstract paintings and drawings that evoke the memory of a place. (Clients include Hermes, the Royal Horticultural Society, Habitat and Dwell magazine.) The hand-lettered text details his materials and his wanderings: lists of objects sighted, create a tone poem of place and time.
A few hot breaks to check out while surfing the net.
www.momentage.com — Momentage is a new multimedia app that combines photos, videos, and Soundimages™ to create posts that express all the elements of an experience.
www.revelite.com — Revelite makes art lights custom tailored to provide even and accurate illumination of the entire painting surface.
www.dallasartfair.com — Located at the Fashion Industry Gallery – adjacent to the Dallas Museum of Art in the revitalized downtown Arts District – the 2014 Dallas Art Fair will feature over 90 prominent national and international art dealers and galleries exhibiting painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography, video, and installation by modern and contemporary artists.
www.thepadcaster.com — Is a tough aluminum frame with lots of threaded holes and a flexible insert that snugly holds your iPad. A cold-shoe adapter allows one to pop in a mic or light so you can start making videos on the go.
www.travelportland.com — Is an excellent site to check on all things “Portlandia”, in anticipation of ICON 8 in July.
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A few years ago I challenged myself to do something each year that scared the s--- out of me. This challenge has variously taken the form of delivering the closing speech at a national conference, going back to college at an age where I am older than every one of my professors, taking a freehand drawing class (I write about art but have always felt that I can’t draw), and pursuing a new career. It keeps me on my toes and pushes me out of my comfort zone. My challenges are more intellectual than physical: having once skied down Mt. Hood (the tallest mountain in Oregon), I can move on to less dangerous, but still scary episodes that involve social contact and stepping into unfamiliar worlds.
A friend of mine took this challenge thing farther, and decided to do something new and scary every day for a month, calling last October, the 31 Days of Fear Facing. She tackled things that frighten her like department store make-up counters, holding a tarantula, and swimming alone at night in the Pacific. (Two words: apex predators.) She claimed that she could feel her brain chemistry change as each new fear was confronted. After the month of facing her fears, she was ten pounds lighter, had jumped off a cliff paragliding and had gleaned such insights as, “When you are scared, you are not listening.“ As I followed Celia’s adventures and the lessons she learned from this brave enterprise, I realized that it can be a month, or a day, or one big thing a year, but as long as you keep pushing against complacency, the status quo, or old mental baggage, you will grow. When we are kids, each new thing is scary: a new school, a test, a physical challenge, but conquering it gives us experience, wisdom, growth. It makes us feel alive, and connected. My father-in-law, a retired surgeon, says that fear and excitement have the same physical manifestations—higher pulse rate, sweaty palms, etc. Now when I think about the emotion of fear, I try to remember that, and to embrace it as a good thing.
Just because we are adults, doesn’t mean we can’t learn new things or take on new challenges. If you find yourself stuck working on an assignment, or muttering about being bored, think about what scares you and find a way to tackle that fear. That doesn’t mean you have to go jump off a cliff, but do something different. You never know where it might take you.
Joel Nakamura was commissioned by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to create illustrations reproduced as large-scale murals for three separate walls in a new educational wing of the museum. Plesiosaurus, Sea Turtle (pictured left), and Skin Man, will be permanent installations.
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