JJ Galloway is an internationally collected artist based in Annapolis, Maryland. She originally worked in traditional mediums including oil, mixed media and watercolors and started diving into the digital world with the start of COVID shut down. Her work started out all food themed…and then it took a turn when ramen found its way on top of a pigeon’s head for an installation in NY. From there, her signature theme of “animals wearing food crowns” began!
Hi JJ, I love this “animal wearing food crowns” theme – It’s so fun! Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the concept for your signature style?
It’s sort of funny how artist’s find their “thing” or style. Before I became a full time artist I worked in the zoo and aquarium world and so I have a love for animals. At the same time I was a new mother…my daughter would start every meal with the first bite going on top of her head. I’m not sure why, but we thought it was funny.
I was asked to make an installation for a show in NY with city themed foods. So as a joke, I made a pigeon with ramen on its head. The idea took off from there. I’m now made over 100 different pigeons… I am the arty pigeon lady.
I’m assuming that it started with a pigeon because you were showing in New York, but was there a reason that the pigeon became the star of your series?
I had other animals in that particular installation, but the reaction to the pigeon in that particular show was overwhelming. I was asked to come back for a second installation and bring only pigeons. I hung 27 pigeons and sold all of them. So I went with it. Now we have arty pigeon products and of course NFTs. I do a lot of commissions of pets with food on their heads. People i think love it because it’s different and happy. Every time I do a show, I hang walls full of art, but people are always drawn to my pigeons. I do a lot of other kinds of art, but this seems to be just a thing! Pigeon people are special!!
You said that before you became a full time artist you worked at the zoo and aquarium. You also lecture at the Smithsonian. I’d be interested to hear more about the transition into becoming a full-time artist. How does your life outside art influence your art, and vice versa?
I graduated with a dual degree, one in marketing and one in fine art. I went into the marketing world for about 10 years before I turned full time to art. I’m glad I did. It’s not enough to be talented. You need to be able to run a small business too…or hire someone to do it for you. I rep. a lot of artists at all the shows I go to because business isn’t for everyone. The job description of artist is elastic. Not one is like the other…we all are really just doing what we have to do to our craft. I found I needed a way to refill my creative well to keep painting full time, so I started contracting with the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. I’ve been with them for almost 15 years. I teach art and lecture about the portraiture process. It’s a critical part of my business because it give me creative energy and inspiration. With the shut down we had to start doing our lectures online. That opened up so many doors for me. I had no idea how to make videos or work digitally, but I figured it out. Now my I’ve made about 100 video lessons on the NPG You Tube channel and I teach virtually every other week to over 100 students from around the world. It’s free – anyone can join me!
That is amazing! We can never underestimate the ability to adapt. What do you find gives you artistic influence and motivation when you lecture at the Smithsonian? Do you speak about your own personal process making art and portraits?
The portraiture world started out as one thing so many years ago before the camera was invented, it was documentary. Today portrait artists are putting conversations into their art that often can’t be spoken in words…it’s about social justice and the human spirit. I’m amazed every time I walk in the door. We’re just about to open our portrait competition show and that is always just the best.
I talk about the mindset of portraiture in that it isn’t enough to just make a portrait of what someone looks like…you have to create something that looks like them and is about them. What is their essence, what are you trying to say and why. It’s a bigger message. I teach techniques, styles, medium, and elements of portrayal. Even if you aren’t a portrait artist, learning that process will enhance your art.
How did this affect the way you depicted Vincent Van Gogh in The Other Avatars?
I was so excited to work on the Van Gogh images for this very reason…the fun part of the challenge for me wasn’t just the digital part of it, but also how do I incorporate my style, stay within the trait requirements and capture the idea of “Van Gogh”. I have a great book of Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. I had those letters rolling around in my mind while I was working. It was hard to think about the tragedy of his life and add my whimsical style. In the end I focused on his use of bright colors and playful slashes of paint.
I do a lot of food art…I used that too.
I honestly just saw fruit first. I was inspired by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. His work is crazy cool. He was alive in the late 1500’s and now his style is an avatar!
Yes! You gave recognition to two deceased artists – hitting two birds with one stone (no pun intended).
Two pigeons with one stone in my world!
Now that you have experience with both traditional mediums and physical art as well as digital art and NFTs, what is your take on the creation processes? Do you have a preference?
No preference. I love both and will keep doing both. I’m new to the digital world and it’s good for me to challenge my creative brain in that way. I truly enjoyed every second of learning the process of NFTs. I ended up creating a bunch of pigeon NFTs. Actually I did it twice (I’m still trying to figure out how to take one down). I started making the NFTs to close to the originals and that wasn’t what I wanted so I made them more graphic and I love them!!
That’s terrific! I hope your pigeon collection “takes flight” on OpenSea!
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