Meeting with artist and printmaker Shags (aka Sharon Gallagher), I circle and re-circle the words ‘emotion’, ‘colour’ and ‘music’ in my notebook to the point my pen tears through the page and bleeds out onto the next – her emotional intensity and curiosity is infectious, and compels a physical response.
Maybe it seems egocentric to begin discussing an artist’s work by how it made me feel, rather than a more traditional recipe of visual analysis. This very much relates however, to Shags’ interest in personal responses to different hues, shades, and tones. A preoccupation with colour music theory has transformed into a larger study of the links between colour, emotion and music. As Shags eloquently says, ‘individual colours and emotions vibrate in the same places throughout my body; combinations autonomously come into tune and find their way into the tangible.’ This automatic response often occurs under the influence of the sounds of Iron Maiden, Year Of No Light and Old Man Gloom, and the imagery of the Bauhaus master Paul Klee. Each individual circular cut-out, each bright felt-tipped shape, and each vigorously etched line is a physical manifestation of an experience.
Shags works to preserve the sensations of such experiences in her art. The series ‘Pinpointing’ attempts to ‘remember and acknowledge a feeling’. Three of the prints include circular cut-outs taken from the printing of a previously finished palette. The colours seep harmoniously into each other in a way that puts my pen’s bleeding ink to shame. What Shags does is to gather together a collection of different experiences, including typically discarded elements of the mark making process itself, to both use and reference in her work. The prints are a culmination of multiple moments of feeling, acceptance and of making.
‘Emotion ensemble (prototype), 2015, colour projection with audio, 59 seconds’
The link to colour music theory is evident in ‘Emotion Ensemble’. Choosing 100 colour swatches, the artist recorded her immediate oral response to each. During the projection, a random code generates three colours and their three corresponding noises. There is a one in a million chance of a repetition. For a work that can be described using many exact numbers, I find it difficult to find an exact combination of words for ‘Emotion Ensemble’. Singularly, each colour provokes a different reaction, and each noise is curiously intimate. Together, the interplay between swatches and audio clips creates a complex experience in which the viewer is also the listener, the interpreter, and the inquirer.
The question of ‘understanding’ a work of art has been at the forefront of my mind lately. People often trap themselves into thinking they do not ‘get’ art. What is this work trying to say? What should I be thinking? What is the correct answer? Quickly! What can I say without looking foolish in front of someone ‘in the know’? It is an uncomfortable stream of consciousness. Shags makes a point to question understanding – is it only communicated by particular academic terms, or can it be experienced through feeling and immediate personal response? She proposes a different path of understanding communicated using an emotional vocabulary. Living with dyslexia she has created her own viewfinder to see the world; a unique lens she generously shares with the viewer.
As I speak to Shags, I am undeniably swept up into her emotional intensity and curiosity. I begin to experience a delicious feeling similar to that of reading a new book, of resting it on my bedside table and noticing different details around me under its influence. Talking to Shags, my eyes begin to see only colour – the pink of her cardigan, the electric blue mascara that coats her top eyelashes. I see the pinks and greens and blues that spill across her works on paper and her artists’ books and her video clips. Each of her works is a diary entry, a puzzle piece of a mind map without a final destination, based on an enduring language far beyond the limitations of words. They are an insight into the creative process of seeing, of making, and of feeling.