What made you want to become an artist?
I don’t think there was anything that made me want to become an artist; it’s just what I’ve always done. I have to create. I’m quite hard to live with when I don’t do something creative, it’s part of who I am. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. As long as I can remember, I looked at what was around me and asked questions. I think that’s the biggest thing about being an artist – or anyone creative. You look at the world in a slightly different way. Like you’re on the outside, looking in. You look for the deeper meaning in everything and you look at everything in an abstract way. I think it is a common mistake that, being an artist is just painting or drawing pretty pictures. It’s not. It’s a way of thinking. It’s a way of doing and it’s the way you live your life. That doesn’t mean to say you talk in a pretentious way and carry a sketch book at all times – just so people know you’re an artist. I hate that side of the art world. Art should be for everyone, not just the people that look good and have money. Art was the beginning of communication. It is the most basic thing to all of us and it should be kept that way.
You recently exhibited at the Brick Lane Gallery, London as part of the popular Art in Mind programme.
How was that for you?
It was an amazing experience. I learnt so much. The main thing was meeting other artists, realising how they work and what they thought. I have kept in touch with some. I love viewing their new work. I think I took more from London, itself. I love visiting different places and observing how other people live.
What medium do you most like to use? You seem at home with traditional oil paint but, I’ve noticed you are concentrating more on digital art and images? Are you starting to prefer one over the other?
I love using digital media to create art and often use it to sketch out ideas before I paint. I’ve found it to be a really useful tool and it’s something I’ve grown into. I’m always amazed when I find a new way of working. I tend to become completely engrossed in it. I’m quite a geek really.
Working with digital media, is a lot quicker than, first sketching by hand and then rendering an image with paint, but I think painting with oils
will always be my passion. I’ve experimented with many other mediums, but I find oil paint more vibrant and easier to manipulate. I know there will be countless other artists in shock that I use digital – how dare I! But, artists have been using camera obscuras, dead bodies and whatever else they could get their hands on for a very long time.
What do you love to paint?
I love to paint people with character. They have a story to tell. You can tell a person who has lived. Their eyes sparkle. I know it’s a strange thing to say, but you can understand a lot about a person by their eyes. Some people possess old eyes, trapped in a young person’s body. Admittedly, I’m more drawn to the eccentric, in life as well as painting.
Which portrait is the defining image of your career so far?
I would have to say the Ally painting. This painting was a turning point for me in the way I work. It was a piece I did for a close friend and it was the first time I created a portrait directly from an original image. As a portrait artist that mostly works from photographs, I’m often given images that people think would make good portraits, like school photographs or a photo taken on a mobile phone. What makes a good photo very rarely makes a good painting. I prefer candid shots of people. A photograph where someone is unaware of the camera can reveal their character much more than one that is staged. They can be harder to paint, but the end results are so much better.
The portrait of Ally, which appeared recently in Artists and Illustrators magazine, looked lovingly crafted, absolutely beautiful; how many hours did you spend on it?
Wow, I couldn’t really say now, it was painted a while ago. Usually, if I have a few good quality photos to work from, then it can take about a week or two. If a photo is in poor condition, then admittedly, I struggle and the process can take a little longer. Sometimes, it doesn’t work at all, so I’ve had to let go of paintings that I’m really not happy with. These plague me. I feel the need to ring the client up and ask to do it again.
Which artists do you draw most inspiration from?
My greatest influences, growing up, were the Pre-Raphaelites and Impressionists. My dad is a painter and he taught me to draw, how to blend paint and to be aware of light and texture. Through my college days I would have to say Alberto Giacometti, simply for the looseness in his sketches. I love paintings that illustrate movement.
Currently, I enjoy the work of Catherine Brooks and Michael Hlousek-Nagle as well as countless unknown artists who post their work on the internet. There is some amazing stuff that blows my mind and at the same time makes me feel very intimidated.
If you had to have dinner with four other artists (writers, musicians, etc.) from past or present who would they be and why?
Hmm, that is a tricky one. So many! I think Tracey Emin would have to be one because I think she would make great conversation, along with maybe Fank Zappa. I would invite William Blake because I love the way he views the world and Leonardo da Vinci because I would love to know what makes him tick.
What does being an artist mean to you?
I’m not really sure. I still struggle with calling myself an artist. I think I’m constantly learning when it comes to creating art, so I never feel
I am at a point where I could call myself an artist, even though it’s what I do. I think being an artist, means freedom.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, I am employing more digital techniques in my art. I want to expand on working with this type of media. I love taking photographs, manipulating them and adding things to create a narrative. I want to expand on using digital means and layering it with paint and other media. I find this adds extra depth to my images. I’m always experimenting, trying to push myself and my work further.
Alexandra Gallagher was born in 1980 in Bury, Lancashire and has been working as an artist for over five years, selling internationally, mainly producing portraits, abstract and design work. She is available for commissioned portraits and can be contacted through her website AG Portraits.