Artist Margaret Gallagher wasn’t expecting to find nature in the heart of the city of Los Angeles when she moved here from Oregon to study art at Occidental College, but she did, and that discovery changed the trajectory of her life.
I didn’t have a car when I moved here,” Gallagher told the Messenger Mountain News. “I got around L.A. by bike and that experience gave me new ideas.
“As I got to know the city I realized that it hadn’t replaced plants and animals; they were still here,” she said. “I was fascinated by the idea.”
Her observations of urban wilderness evolved into a whimsical series depicting animals tangled in the urban interface. She drew giant birds and praying mantises atop power poles, coyotes at war with an army of mechanized arthropods, and opossums hitching a ride on the planes at LAX.
‘I was seeing it as a metaphor for the way humans influence nature,” she explained. “Whether we acknowledge it or not, humans are just one player.”
As she put down her own roots in L.A., Gallagher began volunteering on ecological restoration and citizen science projects in locations like the L.A. River.
“I became more focused on actual organisms,” she said. “But I had the same desire to communicate what I saw.”
Gallagher turned her attention as an artist to the microcosm around her. “Look closely at any plant and you see the wonders of nature,” she said.
Gallagher’s ink-and-watercolor drawings invite the viewer to take a closer look at the natural world she explores. Her work suggests the scientific illustrations of an earlier era but also retains a distinctly post-modern edge. In a portrait of P-22, the Griffith Park mountain lion, she shows him surrounded not only by native plants and animals but by the invasive weeds that are also a major part of the Los Angeles landscape. In another landscape, a great blue heron is shown fishing in the L.A. River in a lyrical setting of reeds and insects, while a freeway visible in the background.
Many of her recent works focus on the small things she finds so fascinating. In one delicate drawing she reveals the hidden life of yucca moths, the small pale insects that depend on yuccas for every stage of their life, and are in turn the main pollinator for this plant species; in another she focuses on tiny phorid flies, a ubiquitous presence in L.A., but one that most people may never have noticed.
Gallagher says one of her main goals is to give people a glimpse of the often unseen world of urban nature that she has come to love. “If I can get them to look at this beauty then it is a pathway into their hearts,” she said. “We need to care more about nature, and recognize that it is all around.”
Gallagher discovered the world of urban nature when she moved to L.A. to study art. Now, her art is leading her back to school to study botany. “I wanted to know more so I could bring more knowledge and information to my work,” she said. “Art opens a lot of doors; it set my feet on this path.”
Margaret Gallagher is the featured artist at the King Gillette Visitor Center in Calabasas in March.
”I’m very excited for Margaret Gallagher’s exhibit,” Sophia Wong said. “Her artwork evokes scientific botanical and animal drawings from a bygone era, yet at the same time, her illustrations are contemporary.
The exhibit, entitled “Our Friends, the Nonhumans,” runs from March 8-29. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m–5 p.m. daily. There will be an opportunity to meet the artist on Saturday, March 14, 1-3 p.m. The solo show will feature original art and prints.
This is a free event with free parking. Reservations are not required. Funds from art sales will be used to further art and cultural programs in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
To learn more about Gallagher’s artwork, visit https://www.margaret-gallagher.com
For more information about this event, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 805-370-2302. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Anthony C. Beilenson Interagency Visitor Center at King Gillette Ranch is located at 26876 Mulholland Highway Calabasas, CA 91302.