New York nightlife abounded at Ellis Gallagher’s New York City-reflective art exhibit on Bowery and Delancey at the Collective Hardware Gallery Thursday night. A couple of skips and a shimmy past the Williamsburg Bridge, it was easily accessible enough to attract people that continued to flood in throughout the entirety of two hours of the exhibit.
Mr. Gallagher’s artwork was simple and profound; it was mostly comprised of photographs of thick chalk outlines drawn around shadows cast by various street-borne objects throughout the city. As viewers chin-stroked their way through the bustling exhibit, it was a wonder what they were deriving from this experience. The images conveyed a certain urban realism some New Yorkers struggle to ignore or forget; litter was strewn about the streets in which these pictures were taken, graffiti was on almost every building in the backgrounds, and the settings were made even more poignant by the sepia of orange light cast by streetlights establishing in the lighting in all of the photographs.
A possibility could have been a Platonian perspective on Manhattan Urbana (the settings of the pictures were invariably the Lower East Side). As common objects that are generally overlooked cast their yawning and stretching shadows across the brick and stone of the City, new intimations could be derived that set the foundation for a deeper conceptualization of American urban living. These forms, as Plato coined them, are all humans really see of reality according to his philosophic theory, as illustrated in his famous Allegory of the Cave. Perhaps all we see of the stop signs, bike racks, and mailboxes is just more of the city environment rather than these minor component parts; perhaps it all is a perception of the city rather than the city itself.
Another possibility is the artful presentation of empty, or negative, space. Referred to by the Japanese term ma, and concentrated on by artists such as M.C. Escher, Bridget Riley, and Victor Vassarely, negative space is asserted to be a necessary consideration of all artists in order to truly master visual portrayal. By drawing a chalk outline around the shadows, though, the negative space becomes filled and drawn-in, belying its initial role in the picture. In fact, ironically, not only does the focus of the picture become the negative space, but their conversion to positive space makes each shadow the most prominent aspect of the pictures due to their outline’s pastel colorings, most often yellow.
Fortunately, the artist was more than willing to shed some light on his pictures of shadows:
SCV: From where do you draw your inspiration?
EG: A lot of the inspiration for my work is New York City and its aesthetic makeup; the architecture of the City. I work predominantly at night, using the streetlights for light, and that color—it’s that color that I’m really attracted to.
SCV: What color? Why?
EG: It’s a nice color, it’s New York City. I mean, I work at night; I’ve done a lot of nine-to-fives, and the streetlights turn on around 9 o’ clock, and they actually turn off around 5:30. I’m always out there utilizing this kind of light. It’s just playing with light, playing with color, playing with shadows, and objects, and forms, and contours, and barriers of different objects around an urban environment.
SCV: How would you describe this color? What do you like about it?
EG: It’s the color of the streetlight; orange.
SCV: What would you say that you’re philosophically inspired by, for example, Plato’s forms? Is there any philosophic theory behind your work?
EG: My work is basically bringing attention to something that is very ordinary and mundane, and making it something beautiful and magical. You walk by these everyday, outdoor objects that a million times a day, and you know that they’re there, but you pay no mind because you’re so conditioned to it. So, what I do is enhance those objects and bring attention to them and help you to take a second out of your day—I mean, here in New York, everything is so fast-paced, and everything is so quick, ‘I gotta do this, I gotta do that,’ but I help you stop and appreciate the beauty of your surroundings.