These Surreal Collages Explore the Beauty and Constraints of the Female Experience in Western Society Elegant females, colourful birds and gorgeous flowers, combined with geometric elements and fine-tuned into a works of surreal beauty that say so much more than the sum of their parts – this is what British collage artist Alexandra Gallagher excels at in her project Birds with Birds. By placing the women in her pieces into a natural environment full of symbolic references from art history, Alexandra touches on the female role in western society. Her creations are visually appealing messages of what it’s like to grow up with constraints, showing how to make “something beautiful out of something negative.” We spoke to Alexandra about her work, her creative process and how she switches off. THE PLUS: Tell us about the interplay of birds and flowers. Alexandra Gallagher: Often the flowers and birds in my pieces symbolise parts of an overall narrative. Many cultures add symbolism to birds, animals, flowers, plants, insects. I like to use it to add to the story of each piece. Sometimes I also implement the same symbolism used by old masters throughout art history. I have huge fascination with the history of symbolism and religion. TP: How do the females you feature fit into that relationship, and how do you select them? AG: A lot of my work relates to the concept of being a woman in western society. It touches on what it’s like to grow up being female, and the connected constraints. The elements in each piece work around the female, they are part of her and tell her story. Nonetheless, I’m not sure how I pick the female models to be in my pieces. I guess I just see something in them – a certain vulnerability or strength, or even both. TP: How did the idea of implementing geometric elements and dots arise? AG: The geometric lines are the connection of energy. We’re all made of energy and I use these to symbolise how we are connected to everything. The dots specifically use the symbolism of the circle, the eternal, the never ending, the golden ratio, the most basic of molecules that make up who we are and give us life. TP: Could you give us some insight into your creative process? Do you follow a formula or do things come to you spontaneously? AG: I work mainly using Photoshop. I start with one element that speaks to me and sparks something. I never plan a piece, it’s a very organic process and I find using Photoshop keeps that spontaneity. I lose something when I plan a piece or use a sketch book. It feels like it’s over-thought. I often use the same process as I would creating a collage, and then sketch it up onto canvas to render in oil paint. I try not to be too formulaic with my work, as I feel I’d lose the pleasure of creating it if I did. TP: What message are you trying to convey with your art? AG: To me it’s a way of making something beautiful out of something negative. I don’t want to put anymore negativity out into the world. I find a strength in taking something ugly and turning it around, by using symbolism to convey something without it being obvious to the viewer. I find sometimes things speak with more volume when subtle and less obvious. TP: What are your favourite birds and flowers? AG: That’s such a tough one. I think peonies and maybe herons. I don’t know – they’re all so beautiful, it’s hard to pick. TP: The females in your images interact with insects, i.e. having a butterfly on their lips or a beetle in their mouth. Can you tell us the idea behind this? AG: The messages are usually individual to the piece themselves, but usually they convey how we express ourselves with what we speak, rather than our actions. TP: What opportunities do collage art and surrealism give you? AG: They give me the freedom to express what is in my head – to express parts of my subconscious and my inner thoughts organically. Like a true surrealist, tapping into that space behind the voice. TP: Natural elements play a dominant role in your art. Do you like exploring nature? If so, where do you go? AG: I love mountains and water. That’s where I go to totally defrag. Anywhere that is dramatic and rugged, I love the rawness and like to feel connected to it. Nature is hugely important to me and I am constantly blown away by it.