Opening Sunday, June 5th from 2 - 6 pm.
Something Old, Something New
Photographs 1975-1985, Stencil Paintings 2005
photo left: A Delicate Balance - 1983, ink jet print, 12x12 inches
photo right:Couple Map - 2005, spray paint on fluorescent paper, 22"x28"
There is a palpable fearlessness in almost all of Paula Gillen's work, a readiness to take on the world and decode its most abstruse undercurrents. Her photographs are filled with startling juxtapositions, bold metaphors, the freighted ambiguity which accompanies oblique narrativity. -- C.S. Ledbetter III
Baltimore was my home in the late ‘70s. Its particular brand of urban blight was my inspiration. The crumbling walls of abandoned industrial buildings, the empty storefronts with shattered windows, the half-lit neon signs on funky dive bars and crusty old strip joints provided the perfect backdrop for an aspiring young photographer. With nothing more than a motley crew of models, a drawer full of props and a hand-me-down Hasselblad, I set out to record the city’s wildly racing pulse. I did my best to keep up with the local talent: Michael Tolson, Joyce Scott, Bonnie Bonnell, David Franks, Michael Gentile, John Ellsberry, and their still-reigning queen John Waters, as Baltimore threatened to explode. Meanwhile, conceptual and feminist tendencies in the art world were expanding my Catholic consciousness. New boundaries appeared, and debauchery and virtue began their struggle. My fellow students at the Maryland Institute and UMBC were all veering from well-worn paths, mixing Dada, punk and ghetto gangster attitude to form a kitschy neo-surrealist aesthetic. We made art--film, poetry, music, painting, sculpture, performance--for our mutual entertainment. The work was generous, playful, and humble. I got involved with the underground trend of spray-painting stenciled images in public places. My tag was a pony-tailed girl with her brain prominently displayed. Instead of creating objects for consumption by the affluent, local artists pooled their resources and ideas to help foster a sense of community. There was no art market to compete for in Baltimore. What is private eventually becomes public and vice versa; I incorporated these stenciling techniques into my studio photography, creating spray-painted backdrops for my models, then lighting and directing them within that contained space. 1984 was approaching; nuclear paranoia hovered just overhead. Performance and video art, neo-expressionistic painting, body sculpture, installations, graffiti and hip-hop music were all gaining momentum and colliding. Bold colors, bad haircuts, and over-padded jackets screamed for attention on stage, film, canvas, and in everyday life. I moved, appropriately, to Chicago, "City of Big Shoulders," during this time. Supply-side Reaganomics were about to cut off funding to graduate schools when I enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago. The "Hairy Who" painting group, with its use of graphic sensibility, cartoon-like figures and easy-going humor, was an unconscious influence and support. The collages of David Wojnarowicz and John Heartfield were also inspiring. It was liberating to learn that one could comment on society without resorting to social realism. I was drawn to many other innovative artists and photographers who seemed intent on reinventing the definitions of entire mediums, such as Lucas Samaras, John Baldassari, and Pat Oleszko. I continued to use spray-painted stencils, chiaroscuro lighting, collage materials, and found imagery, along with human models, to create images that commented on the irrational and unpardonable realities of our society: the demise of spontaneity, the conformity of Western culture, the stereotyping of women, and violence on all levels. I am consumed with such matters to this very day.
Paula Gillen, NYC, 2005
From NYC take the Newark-bound PATH train to Journal Square. Taxis are available on Kennedy Boulevard, directly in front of the station. The ride to Abaton Garage takes less than five minutes and costs approximately $5. If you prefer to walk, simply stroll down Kennedy Boulevard about 3/4 of a mile, until you reach Gifford Avenue. Then turn right; 100 is in the middle of the block.
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