"Too Close for Comfort," James Gallagher & Ryan Gallagher

Among several projects presented by Jolie Laide Gallery for this year’s Fringe Festival in Philadelphia, James Gallagher’s invitation was distinguished by its inclusion of his son Ryan, a student/artist at Pratt Institute, School of Art and Design, initiating a first-time collaboration between this artist and his son. For James, whose collage-based practice is driven by found images, the opportunity also allowed for his intimate, gallery-sized gestures to undergo a shift in both scale and meaning, metamorphosing into street art of a very particular kind. For this project, an 8” high collage was transformed, piece-by-piece, into a 12’ image covering an exterior door near the gallery’s entrance. Holding on to the pleasures of cutting and pasting, as well as the attendant surface surprises one associates with the intimacy of collage, the enlarged image was put together at the site during one afternoon. To the left and adjacent to the gallery is his son Ryan’s response, another 12’ door covering, another afternoon’s effort, but one that was painted in response to the work of his father. The title for the collaboration also came from Ryan, this time responding to the title of his father’s 8” collage, “To Close”. Those words were part of the original work, leftover information printed on a camera manual’s page that had made it into the collage. In this outsized, outdoor version those words were cropped out of the image, but not before Ryan would pick up on the play they offered, deciding the collaboration should be called “Too Close for Comfort”, and with that, adding another layer to the meaning of both works, and driving home the fact of this father/son collaborative work once more.

In James Gallagher’s composite image, a suited, and something like hooded male figure dominates. Its gesture is uncertain but evocative, slightly bent and looking down, as if the collaged blocks of paper hovering just above its head were bearing some invisible weight. Complicating the image further (in the most visually pleasurable way) is the fact of the door’s paneling whose linear marks propose another invisible layer that the image might be floating on or under. And the metal street address, 228, reading through the paper collage, contributes a further mysterious note, suggesting the otherwise unidentified man might now be known by his number. On its own, the figure’s posture is still anonymous and enigmatic, in keeping with the artist’s general interest in what revelations reside in how one occupies one’s own space; positioned to the right of Ryan’s work, the figure appears to have gained some extended purpose, as it seems to be peering at the accompanying image, implicating it in this collaborative field with just its gaze – what a father can do - and generating some meaning beyond its own, contained self. What the figure “sees” is a painted white field where several outlined tombstones continue to recede until they reach the nearly blank, black field above them. Light, random spots dot the blackness, suggesting that snow might be falling, and supporting the snow-covered reading of the tombstones below. A whisper of some other landscape is barely noticeable just beneath the image, further echoing with its subtle simplicity the informing source for Ryan, a print by Ando Hiroshige, a favorite artist of his. Mixing a contemporary, provisional, Western attitude with this older, Eastern influence suspends the moment, capturing the eye of the father’s figure (or should we say father figure?) and making a compelling case for holding our attention as well. From the start, Ryan had suggested that he would change the meaning of his father’s image with his own, and in fact, at least for this moment on Juniper Street, he has.

by Eileen Neff


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