Postcolonial Thoughts: Notes on Ellen Gallagher, Part 2… Fragility to Purpose

by Christopher Hutchinson

“Postcolonial Thoughts: Notes on Ellen Gallagher, Part 1” is here.


A certain fragility, shading into deliberate feebleness in the case of Elizabeth Peyton and Karen Kilminik, has been quite a trait of US painting in recent years. Ellen Gallagher has it too, if put to a quite different and much more serious end. But her intricate and ever-evolving aesthetic draws too much attention to itself. She has said that her work makes people “uncomfortable”. If only it had that power. –Laura Cumming


Fragility, Feebleness & Woman

Cumming’s astute inclusion of Elizabeth Peyton and Karen Kilminik is a valid assessment of their work in relation to the current trend by painters to have this feeble aesthetic. It does appear that many women artists subscribe to this to notion of feebleness as representation of ephemerality and womanhood. There are a plethora of artists using this faux “folk-like” attempt at painting and claiming it to be an interest in the act of painting. Whatever the reason, it is ugly.

This ugliness may be the point. These anti-paint painters may be challenging the history of the Western canon by accessing one of the Feminist agendas denying the “object” comparison to women. That is possible. However that would still be an overarching narrative that has nothing to do with paint. That narrative would alleviate the fact that these are ugly paintings.




  1. a recurrent theory or belief, as in philosophy or art, that the qualities of primitive or chronologically early cultures are superior to those of contemporary civilization.
  2. the state of being primitive : the primitivism of the Stone Age peoples.3.

the qualities or style characterizing primitive art.

This ugliness is akin to the Primitivism of the past in the west. Those initial primitivisms were interested in how to loosen up the rigid practice of painting. It was just as guilty of this faux primitive ugly aesthetic that went largely unchecked under the banner of investigating and appropriating other cultural practices without being accountable for the cultural authenticity of the work.

This apathetic trend towards painting over the last 30 years is contagious. It aligns itself with disingenuous legacy of primitivism. It also spurs legions of followers who are now identifying this lackluster trend with what it takes to be an artist. These artists then produce generations of students believing this is the type of commitment required to be an artist.

These faux paintings should never have been created in the first place. Why choose to cheat your pursuit as an artist by creating faux objects that requires icons, and narratives to squeak by as a possible art object.


Many are called

Why subject yourself to anything other than love? Everything has to feel, smell, taste–and measurements, whatever your rubric–must feel right in art-making process. Regardless of professors, classmates, wives, children, activism and whatever else that may be reasons to compromise that love. It takes time to recognize it, nurture it, and master it. One must hold that love closest to the breast.

Choosing to become an artist means this love is primary. No one has forced anyone to be an artist, painter, sculptor or whatever and one may naturally grow out of one discipline into the next. But to make work simple out of spite for a particular medium or topic is a waste of time. The only possible outcome is betrayal to your being. This trend of continuous cynicism and disdain of mastery in art is an attack at one’s core. These artists like Ellen Gallagher engage in this betrayal.


Christopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.



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Categories: Art, Postcolonial Thoughts, Writing


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