Ellen Gallagher

Paper Cup (1996)

About this artwork

'Paper Cup' is part of Gallagher’s first mature body of work which explored layered and contradictory themes. Gallagher has created a loosely structured grid by lining up small pieces of writing paper in multiple rows, recalling the history of handwriting exercises. Closer inspection reveals each line to be carefully constructed from rows of bulbous shapes resembling the vowels a child must repeat when learning to write, though they are in fact a reference to the stereotypical lips of American blackface minstrels. From a distance this large work’s subtle geometry resembles an American minimalist painting, but closer inspection reveals not only a darker side of American history but references Gallagher’s own mixed-race origins.

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  • title: Paper Cup
  • accession number: AR00066
  • artist: Ellen GallagherAmerican (born 1965)
  • gallery: In Storage
  • object type: Painting
  • subject: Dreams, illusions and memory
  • medium: Embossed paper in frame
  • date created: 1996
  • measurements: 213.50 x 183.00 x 4.10 cm
  • credit line: ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
  • copyright: © Ellen Gallagher
  • photographer: Antonia Reeve
This artwork is part of Artist Rooms

Ellen Gallagher

Ellen Gallagher

Gallagher’s work is infused with issues of race, gender and history. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, she has both Irish and African-American origins. This has influenced her work a great deal. She appropriates imagery from old magazines directed at African-American women and places it alongside the writings of Gertrude Stein and ideas from science fiction. With repetition and revision central characteristics, much of her earlier work initially appears abstract. Yet on closer inspection, the lines and grids are composed of motifs relating to racial stereotypes. She works in a variety of materials including paint, plasticine, enamel and rubber to create complex surfaces that push the traditions and boundaries of painting. She studied in Ohio, Boston and Maine, and moved to New York in 1997.