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Brushes With Death: Examining the Human Condition

August 1st- October 31, 2021- International Museum of Surgical Science

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Capturing Cranial Modification


     These graphite drawings are thoughtfully rendered observational studies of the International Museum of Surgical Science’s collection of human skulls. By studying the way light moves around an organic object and using tonality, mark-making, purposeful contrast, Gallo utilizes her skillset as a draftswoman to bring to life these people forgotten to time and highlight their unique cranial modification. The two ancient cranial modifications depicted in these anthropological illustrations are the practices of trephination and head flattening. 


     Trephination—also known as trepanation, trepanning, trephining, or “making a burr hole”—is a surgical intervention in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the human skull. Theories as to how the practice of trephination was applied in ancient times include treatment for epilepsy, headaches, head wounds, mental disorders, and for spiritual purposes. Head flattening, also called head binding, is when pressure is applied to the skull during infancy to intentionally modify cranial growth. This distortion of the skull was used for cultural, social, and class distinction. 

Works for sale, contact the artist for more information


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Paintings, Drawings, and Sculptures 

     In this expansive exhibition, Kathleen Gallo puts her fine arts training on display in conversation with exhibits in the International Museum of Surgical Science exhibits. She works from observation, such as in her graphite series Capturing Cranial Modification, in which she drafted sitting in front of the skulls, as well as from photographic reference, such as in her Miniature Eye Portraits where she chose to paint her grandmothers’ eyes to highlight the generation of women before her. As well as to admire the experience chiseled in their skin.

      Gallo draws much of her inspiration from the people most experienced in life and the struggles they face as they near the end of life. One of the main muses for her exploration is her ill and elderly grandmother, also named Kathleen, whom Gallo lives with and is a caretaker for. Gallo explores the difficulties and grief of this experience with works like The Wilting of a Matriarch and Big Alex. Though not all of her works of fine art are as serious as these—there is even a pun-work-of-art included among the collection. These are works tucked into many rooms of the museum ranging in size, medium, and tone.

Works for sale, contact the artist for more information

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Installation and Social Commentary

     The function of an artist’s social commentary work is to examine issues in our society, to create another lens to examine our viewpoints and reassess our empathy. Kathleen Gallo is influenced by social dilemmas that have affected the people in her life, evaluating theirs as well as her own struggles in society. Gallo comments on her generation’s budding consumption habits for cannabis and E-smoking/vaping, as well as her mother’s fight against the opioid epidemic as a social worker. Alongside discussing modern coping mechanisms, Gallo attempts to educate her viewers on what it is like to navigate life with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and the loss of mental and bodily autonomy that this disorder brings. Being intrigued by the topic of bodily autonomy, Gallo also touches on reproductive self determination, a topic which she has discussed with many women who have had their life disrupted by reproductive discrimiation. These conceptual and symbolic works of art were made to open a dialog, and broaden horizons.

Works for sale, contact the artist for more information

Gallo Artist Statement


What is the human condition?

The human condition is all of the characteristics and key events that compose the essentials of human existence, including birth, growth, emotion, aspiration, conflict, and mortality.


     I’ve always been one to hunt for knowledge, to research any topic imaginable. History, religion, epidemiology, gestational periods—anything else the internet could provide about our young species. But there are two questions no historian or philosopher or scientist will ever see answered: 


What happens when we stop existing?


 If all existence inevitably comes to an end, what is the point of life?


     In my work, I lead my own investigation into these impossible philosophical quandaries. Like those before me, this investigation will yield no certain answers as not all journeys exist to find such things. One spiritual teaching that has inspired me and my creative process is learning to sit in discomfort. For me, studying my unknowable but inevitable mortality is quite the uncomfortable seat. Yet I continue to work with remains, for the satisfaction I feel by cheating death through art, by bringing the dead back to life in this way is what fuels me. I create art that will stay in existence long after I am gone. I don’t shun my fears or grief, I lean into it, let it express itself through pencil or paintbrush. I use my work, all formats and mediums, to confront that uncomfortable, unknowable  void of answers. And despite all those unanswerable questions that populate it, jumping into this void has taught me several things. 

     I want the people who look at my work to join me on this journey into what makes us human, to explore birth, reproductive rights, anatomy, mental health, the opioid epidemic, living with a disability, aging, death, and the bones we leave behind. I implore all to join me in this void to see if they too can learn without answers.

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