Ellen Gallagher's debut in New York in the mid-1990s marked a new beginning for young African American artists in the larger art world. Starting with blue-lined sheets of paper typical of elementary school writing lessons, Gallagher drew and painted caricature-like eyes and mouths detached from faces, "...cryptic symbols derived from the derogatory wide-eyed, thick-lipped imagery of 19th-century American minstrel shows."* Individual sheets are lined up imperfectly, deceptively giving her large works the appearance of minimalist paintings. Untitled (1997) stacks three such compositions in a symmetrical composition on a much larger sheet. The densely packed repetitive grids given space to breathe creates a surface tension that holds our eyes and curiosity.
*Celia McGee, "An Artist Who Doesn't Fit In Gets the Perfect Offer: a Solo," The New York Times, January 27, 1996.