‘I think the pandemic has really provoked me into asking serious questions about my art practice and more generally what the world needs artists to be.’
Artist, and mom to a high school senior, Sheila Gallagher is an associate professor of fine art at Boston College where she teaches courses on drawing, painting and contemporary art practice. While sheltering at home, she continues to sketch and work in her studio, is relishing a more leisurely schedule, and also tackling a few domestic projects like making curtains. Her artwork, Ghost Orchid Plastic Nebulae, is part of the permanent collection at the Mint.
Studio location: Boston, Massachusetts
Describe the artwork you create and medium you use.
I am an interdisciplinary/hybrid artist and I use any material necessary. I make paintings out of smoke, plastic trash, live flowers … anything. I also make videos and do live drawing performances.
Who are artists that inspire you and your work?
Oh so many! My new art crush is Formafantasma that uses lidar technology to make visually riveting animations that explore life from the perspective of a forest. I am always inspired by the work of artists like Doris Salcedo, Sister Corita, Sarah Sze, and Sanford Biggers who have great minds and deep hearts and really understand form and materiality. And anyone really who knows how to draw: Leonardo, Rembrandt, and Gros. Even though he is unpopular, I think Hans Bellmar makes incredibly beautiful lines.
I also love the work of a little known self-taught Bahamian painter named Amos Ferguson. But if I could only have one piece of art to behold for the rest of my life it would be Stargazer, a small transclucent white marble statue of a female figure from approximately 4,000 BC that I saw at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and think about all the time. Cultures come and go.
What is your favorite piece or artwork that you created and why?
I think it may very well be Ghost Orchid Plastic Nebulae, a large plastic painting that was commissioned by The Mint Museum and included in the Under Construction exhibition (now part of the permanent collection). I really had to wrestle it to the ground to get the composition to work, and I ended up really liking the psychedelic palette and all of the hidden images and words. I also think it might be one of my favorites because it probably has more hours of me in it than almost any other piece, and I have very fun memories of working with two saintly assistants, Claire and Rachel, who have great voices, and were always singing and willing to pull all nighters with me.
How does your environment influence your art?
Everything in my sight line influences my art. I am like a bower bird drawn to every shiny piece of trash. My house and studio are chock full of images and objects and books and small pieces of ephemera. Anything can be a material or mnemonic device. My teenage son has accused us of “drowning in meaningfulness” and likes to remind me that not everything can be special . But I wonder, why not? I don’t think I am quite a hoarder, but under the right wrong circumstances could definitely lean that way.
Tell us about your new morning routine, including when you start your day and how you spend the early hours.
I have to say, I am growing quite fond of my “shelter-in-place” mornings. Now that my son is finishing high school online, the mornings are much more leisurely. I usually wake up around 7:30 AM and listen to a book on tape for about 30 minutes. Then I go downstairs and get tea and toast and take them back to bed and read under the covers. I try not to look at the news before I meditate. At around 9 AM I start checking texts and emails and jumping all over the internet. When I feel myself going down an unproductive rabbit hole, I jump up and make the bed and a to-do list and try to get cracking.
Are you finding new inspiration for your art during this shift of perspective in the world?
I think the pandemic has really provoked me into asking serious questions about my art practice and more generally what the world needs artists to be. I am definitely going inward and trying to cultivate intuition and discernment, which I have to trust will ultimately manifest in artwork, Inshallah. For now it doesn’t feel right to plan a big exhibition, and I have put aside some large projects. Like a lot of artists I know, in this moment I feel drawn to a collective creativity while at the same time find myself more comfortable doing small and quiet solo things like sketching and making little collages in my sketchbook.
Tell us about your afternoon. Are you working from home, going to your studio?
With everyone working remotely, my house has never felt more crowded, and I feel very grateful to have a studio for escape and solitude. Most afternoons are a combo platter of studio and house. Everyday I do e-mails and draw and I try to stay connected with my art practice, teaching job and friends. Taking walks is the new going out for drinks.
I find I have a new found interest in domestic projects like making curtains, cooking soup, and organizing the laundry closet. My house has never been so clean. Now that Purell is an endangered product, we have started making artisanal hand sanitizer (called Mom’s Napalm) out of grain alcohol, witch hazel, eucalyptus oil, cloves and my secret ingredient: holy water from Saint Brigid’s Well in Ireland.
What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see come from the pandemic?
I believe something really positive will emerge out of this global experience of our shared vulnerability. There is a possibility for deep transformation where the world’s resources, scientific intelligence and good will are forever put at the service of the common good and protecting the most fragile amongst us. I was very moved by a An Imagined Letter from COVID-19 to Humans by Kristin Flyntz , which eloquently imagines a more earth-centeredb mindset.
Have any recommendations for stress relievers to settle after another day done?
After dinner we usually read and/or watch a show. I am really into the series the New Pope Stylin. Lately we have also been getting into making “God’s Eyes” out of yarn. Very easy and very therapeutic and a welcome break from the screen. I am also a big fan of online yoga classes.
What are you cooking? What’s your comfort food of choice?
Seafood soup and warm buttered toast, and hot tea with coconut cake, and red wine.
What are you currently reading?
Lots of poetry, too much news, Hyperallergic, Jerry Saltz, Richard Rohr, John Prendergast, and Akin by Emma O’Donoghue.
What is your favorite music choice?
These days I find myself drawn to chanting, and silly 80’s dance music.
What is your favorite podcast(s)?
I am more of a books -on-tape kind of gal. Right now I am listening to Kevin Barry read his new novel, Might Boat to Tangiers.