Interview Series: Ali Gallagher

Meet Ali Gallagher, creative visionary set designer behind big-budget ad campaigns + whimsical painter extraordinaire. Her sassy personality is so infectious, it’s hard not to love her. Her work with large-scale installations has propelled her into an elite pack of visual artists who create the compelling images we see everyday on the streets, in magazines and on TV. Jet-setting from sunny Los Angeles to bustling New York City, Ali continues to inspire those around her with her stunning creations. We had a moment to catch up with the busy bee, and this is what she had to say:

LF:  Your work as a set designer, when and how did that start?

AG: I moved to NY when I was 23 and through a friend was referred to the Production Design department for Sex and the City. For season 3 and 4 I was the Art Department PA. Fun gig, the wardrobe room was insane!! After two seasons I went on to do window displays for Barney’s NY where I learned how to rig and dress windows. The following year my friend Janine Martel introduced me to a wonderful Set Designer named Zac Mitchell, I assisted him as well two other amazing designers Shona Heath and Stockton Hall. Naturally I moved on and began to collaborate with photo assistants by creating what we call “test” shoots. I got picked up by an agency and it went from there, still going…

ABOVE and HOMEPAGE: Editorial for The New Tough –  Photographer: Robin Black, Stylist: Brett Bailey

LF: What is it about working on a larger scale, such as in set design?

AG: With set design we are creating temporary atmospheres to house a story. I am fortunate to work along side some amazing talent and crew as well as my golden assistants who are truly my life line. Each job is different, you never know what you will have to source or construct as well be able to turn it around quick and flawless. Smoke and mirrors style. It’s indeed “ready, set, go!”

LF: Do you do any fashion styling on any of the shoots or is it mainly set design?

AG: Set Design, Prop Styling and Art Installation. I can barely handle dressing myself let alone others. Wardrobe styling is its own art. I wish I had the perks they do because I can not wear lumber out that easily. Stylists always look so cute on set. Usually my bum is falling out of my jeans and I am covered in paint while in the process of burning my fingers with hot glue. I will just stick with what I know best, paint, hammers and furniture.

ABOVE: Advertising Campaign for Penguin Clothing

LF: Who was the most inspiring photographer you have worked with?

AG: Tim Walker, if you don’t know him… look him up kids. It was years ago while I was still assisting his set designer Shona. They are both beyond talented and I learned a lot about the passion it takes to stay in the game while still staying true to the art of it, they hooked me. Currently, I work with a variety of photographers from still life, lifestyle, fashion, advertising, music, portrait’s, you name it…all of which inspire me. Every job differs conceptually and becomes their own sweet challenge.

LF:   You have done quite a bit of commercial work with large companies such as Puma and Target. What has your experience been like working with high-profile companies like this vs. working on something that is more personal?

AG: With commercial work there are a lot more people involved such as art directors, ad agencies, art buyers, etc. working together to deliver the concept of that particular brands vision with a given budget. This is how one eats. Editorial shoots are where we can get extra creative and credited on page with less restrictions. When you do editorial this is how you begin to land the advertising jobs because people read your name and that is how they find you. I love doing both, it’s important for me to keep that balance within my portfolio.

ABOVE: Advertising Campaign for PUMA

LF:  What were you like as a child? Did you like building things? When did you start painting/drawing?

AG: I was always fascinated with building spaces such as forts which I am not sure sets me apart from most kids. I started painting around the age of 10, my mom took my siblings and I to art classes when we were young. My parents always had the crayons out for us and encouraged us to create.

LF: You mentioned being raised in a large tight-knit family. Do any of your family members pursue careers in the arts? Are your parents artists? If so, please elaborate.

AG: I come from quite an amazing clan I must say. Both my grandmothers are very crafty, one of which is a painter. As well my grandfather played saxophone in a chicago blues band. Some of my sisters are super talented with the brush as well my mother who has wonderful imagination.

ABOVE: Editorial for City Magazine

LF: How would you describe your color palette?

AG: For the fine art work, I would say washy, iridescent, contrasting, colors you would find in outer space.

LF: What was the most important thing about the art making process that you learned while in Univ. of Cincinnati DAAP?

AG: DAAP (Design, Architecture, art and Planning) is the art school division of the university. We were given access to amazing resources there as well proper constructive criticism. They have a foundry where I was able to study bronze casting, welding, forging, sculpture on top of my 2 dimensional courses of printmaking, painting and drawing. In order to graduate we as well had to take other humanities classes, history, science, English, math, Photoshop, video, etc. so the education was very well rounded. These other classes helped fuel the conceptions behind what I was creating. Art has to come from somewhere.

LF: What has being a real-life artist taught you?

AG: The biggest lesson most artists should learn while on the windy road is to control their emotions and to not take things personally. Whenever you create and there’s an audience be prepared for the likes and dislike. Most artists spend a lot of time alone creating so you have to be comfortable with silence in a sense but the pay off is worth it.

LF: You talk about NYC and the stimulation of the city. What is it about the city that most inspires you?

AG: I lived there for 8 1/2 years before moving to LA, however always back and forth for work luckily. The city has changed a lot over the last few years but it is and always will be the international hub. I love the mentality in general, you are there grinding the rat race for a reason and it’s usually because you are hustling. NY’ers in general are stimulating because they are not wasting anyone’s time, to damn busy to. Plus the whole street culture  aspect, every day is an adventure.

LF: Have you ever dated a skateboarder

AG: Irrelevant, ha ha.

LF: What is your favorite painting technique?

AG: Experimenting with different mediums and textures, collage, gold leafing, just getting in there and getting dirty basically, happy accidents if you will.

LF: Who is your favorite artist/s?

AG: I have always loved Egon Schiele, Kathe Kollwitz, JMW Turner, Shona Heath, too many to list. The process of creating is more important than the outcome so I respect anyone who has the courage to let it out and go for it.

LF: What would you call your style?

AG: Expressionistic, emotional, melancholy, whimsical.

LF: If you could be any public figure/icon, who would it be?

AG: Dead: William Blake, he was a true mystic and a hell of a writer as well maybe the wizard himself Nikola Tesla.
Alive: Jane Goodall, she’s down with the chimps. A true artist of interpretation in regards to the behavior and correlation btw the human’s closet living relative. She rules.


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