John Gallagher (@john.gallagher.artist) moved to Boston from Drogheda, Ireland, at the age of 20. Skip ahead 24 years to 2019, and he’s settled down in Wakefield, making what he loves — art. Gallagher’s paintings are case studies in color, texture, and experimentation. Most of his subjects are wild animals set on abstract backgrounds, full of color and layers. The Cambridge Arts Council and Revolutionary Clinics, a Cambridge-based medical marijuana dispensary, invited him to feature his art at their new clinic, opening in November, in Central Square.
Q. Your art toes the line between realism and abstraction. How did you land on that style?
A. Quite simply, I love abstraction. I love abstract art. But, it just leaves me wanting a little bit more. Sometimes I’ll just start painting with absolutely no plan whatsoever. Once I have that done, or it feels done, I move into the actual subject of the piece. I always add only one figure to my paintings, and it’s usually an animal. That, I find, takes away from the abstraction a bit. It gives the painting a sense of scale and position, whereas abstraction can be so open-ended.
Q. Your subjects are all animals. Why?
A. Last year, somebody approached me at a show to speak to me about my art and they pointed out that I only paint animals. Incredibly, it hadn’t actually occurred to me. If you’re drawing a human, artists get bogged down easily by details of the face, the person’s mood, their relationship to them. With animals, you are stripped of interpreting a personality, but there is still a consciousness, a living being, that you’re painting there. They’re all self-portraits really. If I were to give you a pencil and ask you to draw me a fox. No matter your skill level, the final product will tell me more about you than about the fox.
Q. So is your art less of a job and more of a cathartic creative method? What does your art mean to you?
A. For me, it is primarily a form of expression. I think that art is a social necessity — we need it. We either need to create it, or view it, and most importantly, see ourselves in it. One of the first things a child will do when they are given a crayon is start drawing, even if they don’t know the purpose of the object in their hands. It’s in us. I paint abstractly because I have abstract feelings. That’s not my quote. [Laughs] The realism locks it into place. When I see a finished work, there’s this tremendous sense of release. It serves as a capsule of time. It’s catharsis, like you said. Exactly that.This interview has been condensed and released. Chris Triunfo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.