In the world of pop culture art, few artists are as precise and detailed as Ashton Gallagher. His works are so gorgeous, so evocative, so effortlessly excellent, his paintings are regularly mistaken for photos. But they’re certainly not photos. Gallagher puts painstaking time into creating his paintings, and not only is he bringing a new group of them to Los Angeles this week, he’s let io9 in on the process behind one of the pieces.
“Mini Portraits V” opens May 12 at the Gallery 1988’s Pop-Up location—355 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA—from 7-10 p.m. PST. Gallagher himself will be on-hand to debut his latest paintings, which will go online the next day. Once again, he’s bringing characters from all across pop culture to life in his signature style, with full-on paintings, drawing studies (which, for the first time, will be framed and more complete), and prints with runs from 30-40.
A few pieces from the show have already made it online (including this Last of Us piece, this Back to the Future piece, and one from The Bear) but Gallagher has let us debut a piece from The NeverEnding Story called “Morla – The Ancient One.” It measures 4 x 10 inches and—yes, the headline is correct—took him almost 100 hours to complete. Why Morla of all things? “Childhood nightmare fuel,” Gallagher told io9. “But in the best possible meaning”
What happens over that 100 hours? Take a trip through this slideshow to see. And visit www.gallery1988.com to see the full show starting May 13.
Gallagher starts with a reference. However, though the image looks familiar, this exact composition—with both Moira and Atreyu positioned in just this way—is different from the actual movie. “I had to create new [digitally] painted background elements, such as Morla’s shell on the right side, to fill out the composition that did not exist with the original reference,” Gallagher said. “By combining all three layers together and I now have a brand-new reference that feels as if it has been pulled right from the film, yet is an original composition that I can now utilize for my painting.”
With the newly composed reference now created, Gallagher goes to work. As mentioned above, he’s recently taken his studies to a new level of detail, and will be offering them up for sale in frames.
Painting begins, and Gallagher has some ambitious ideas.
“One thing I wanted to establish with this piece was a sense of depth while keeping Morla’s head as the primary focus point,” he said. “To accomplish this, I had to make sure the shell and neck areas were pushed into the background by minimizing contrast and never making anything darker or brighter than what is on Morla’s face. That said, in making Morla’s head in really high contrast and full of texture it really pops away from the background.”
He concentrates on the background first…
“Meanwhile Atreyu, being in the foreground, is the closest thing to the viewer but not the focal point,” Gallagher said. “So, in order to have the viewer look past him, I elected to soften all the edges on him (and the tree where he is perched). This gives him a blurred, less detailed look while still recognizable but ultimately easier to look past him and back to Morla’s head. All in all, it’s about bringing together these creative choices and pulling it off in the final painting.”
But, Ashton Gallagher doesn’t just do a painting. He does a frame too.
“Each frame I make by hand through a process I have been steadily improving upon over the last few years,” Gallagher told us about the final step in his process. “The more I have taken on producing my own materials, the more responsibility I feel toward the artwork as a whole.”
He added, “Honestly, I have framing in mind early in the process. I have methods of testing out different frames, painted, or stained, throughout a painting’s progress, as well. A piece always looks more complete when it’s framed and I only want my frames to be a compliment to the piece, not a distraction. My frames represent an additional element that continues to make the art that I produce unique. The block the painting is on is handmade by me. The frame is handmade by me. The painting is created by me. Each portion of completed piece allows me to bring creativity and uniqueness to the final product.”