American, b. 1965

Lips & Paper

1993, ink, oil, and collaged paper on canvas
72 x 64 in.

  • Provenance: Purchased directly from the artist by a Cambridge, Massachusetts woman in the early 1990s. After learning about Gallagher at an event at the Institute of Contemporary Art featuring emerging Boston artists, the Cambridge woman visited Gallagher's studio and purchased this painting. It has hung in her home ever since.

    Grogan & Company thanks Ellen Gallagher for confirming the title, date, and additional details about her work.

    Exhibitions: Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Milena Dopitova in Context, January 19 - March 27, 1994 (exhibited alongside works by Lillian Hsu-Flanders, Annette Lemieux, Denise Marika, and Ellen Rothenberg).
  • Notes: Ellen Gallagher works in paint, collage, drawing, and film to communicate social commentary. Her canvases layer everyday materials, soft tones, and symbolism drawn from African–American targeted advertisements and caricatures that recall blackface and minstrelsy. In discussing her use of abstracted bodily forms, the artist notes, "What is crucial to my making of a language and a cosmology of signs is the type of repetition that is central to jazz. You start off with a limited class of signs and, like jazz, you revisit and repeat with slight changes and build structure...as these things are repeated and revised they expand–depending on the configuration of characters." As such, from a distance, paintings in the manner of Lips & Paper read as minimalist and abstract, yet up close the repeating patterns of ink lips, printed on penmanship paper and meticulously laid on the canvas, challenge viewers to engage with issues of race and identity. Lips & Paper was created in 1993, following Gallagher's formative summer at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. It was at this time that she began to increase the scale of her paintings and utilize the technique of transfer printing on penmanship paper applied to stretched canvas, as seen in the present work. The artist considers Lips & Paper to be a direct precursor to her 1994 work Afro Mountain, which was included in the 1995 Whitney Biennial and is now in the Whitney's permanent collection.

    In describing her creative process for Lips & Paper, Gallagher writes, "Lips and Paper is the direct precursor to Afro Mountain (1994) which is in the collection of the Whitney and included in the 1995 Biennial. It was made directly following my summer at Skowhegan where I began to increase the scale of the paintings and apply transfer printing technique- that you see further worked out in Afro Mountain.
    It was made on canvas stretched over a hard surface. Then the penmanship paper was applied (from the same batch as Afro Mountain, pages which were already printed machine yellow - though on top of that darken with age) to the stretched surface - as I still do now.
    Finally, I worked directly over the surface transfer printing the black ink lip forms. applying pressure, burnishing by hand the transfer into the paper canvas ground. I would have been sitting on the canvas rubbing the printed marks into it and then standing up to see the overall view. Lastly, painting and drawing into this printed field. So a kind of haptic weaving of "fixed" signs - (processed these other sounds like memories, the thick process is about histories, embodied lived memories - Bert Williams mastery of the minstrel mask through timing and technology). The historical "fixedness" in combination with more spontaneous directly physical actions. This weaving into the plain of the painting directly develops out of Oh! Susanna, 1993 (Lips and Paper comes a few months afterwards).
    During this period (and in partnership with the ICA exhibition In Context), I was allowed access to the printing press at Harvard's Carpenter Center for Visual Arts. Some of these pages have been transfer printed by running through this press. But most are transfer printed by hand rubbing over the paper surface both before the pages were affixed to the canvas support and afterwards."
  • Condition: As noted by the artist, the yellow paper has darkened with age. There is faint wear at the edges of the work (this work is not framed), and some surface abrasions visible in raking light, but the work is in overall good condition.

    Please note: All property is sold "AS IS" and any statement, whether oral or written, is given as a courtesy and shall not be deemed as a guarantee, warranty, or representation of the authenticity of authorship, physical condition, size, quality, rarity, importance, provenance, exhibitions, literature or historical relevance of the property or otherwise. The absence of a condition report does not imply the item is in perfect condition.

Accepted Forms of Payment:

Money Order / Cashiers Check, Personal Check, Wire Transfer


A list of recommended shippers can be found on our website. Please contact the shipper directly to get quotes and to make arrangements for them to pick up your items at our gallery. The shipper should contact us to make an appointment to pick up the items and purchasers should also call the gallery to authorize release of the items to the shipper.

November 7, 2021 11:00 AM EST
Boston, MA, US

Grogan & Company

You agree to pay a buyer's premium of up to 25% and any applicable taxes and shipping.

View full terms and conditions

Bid Increments
From: To: Increments:
$0 $999 $100
$1,000 $1,999 $100
$2,000 $4,999 $250
$5,000 $9,999 $500
$10,000 $19,999 $1,000
$20,000 $49,999 $2,500
$50,000 $99,999 $5,000
$100,000 + $10,000