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Characters, Myths, and Stories

Artist Ellen Gallagher discusses the characters she employs in her work, such as Pegleg and Eunice Rivers. She also talks about how she moved from painting and collage to film.

ART21: The character of Pegleg is repeated in the paintings and prints. Why is he there?

GALLAGHER: He’s there for a kind of insistence. It’s hard to put it into language because it’s a form, but for me, Pegleg implies travel and worldliness. That ad appeals to me because of the way Pegleg Bates, the actual actor and comedian, used his whole body. It’s this man with this wooden leg offering himself as your host. The ad itself exists as a map to this hotel in upstate New York. I liked the idea of having a map within a map.

In Melville’s Moby Dick, you’re aware of Pegleg’s body and the sound he made as he moved across the deck. I like the way you’re so aware of people’s physical presences—Queequeg’s tattoos, Pip dancing, the way that Ahab moves. I want to make a texture felt in the paintings...

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