Paula Gillen emerged on the Baltimore art scene of the late 1970s. Like other artists of the Pictures Generation, she appropriated media and advertising images to highlight and disrupt social norms. She soon began staging her photographs, using friends as models and creating sets with cardboard, stencils and spray paint. The resulting scenarios examined women’s roles and patriarchal hierarchies “from Playboy to the Catholic Church,” Gillen says. Later, as an art student in Chicago in the 1980s, her work became increasingly psychological, addressing anxiety, mental states and gender performativity. To this day, she remains consumed by many of the same themes and techniques.
Head Trip includes 18 photographs from Gillen’s prolific early years, revealing her deadpan humor, intelligence and subversive ideas. It also includes ten photomontages from her most recent series, Superpower Women in Space.Yearning to escape earthly issues and conflict, Gillen found breathing room in space and its promise of cross-cultural cooperation and scientific discovery. Blending NASA imagery, op art and fashion spreads along with her own original photographs, she has created a multiverse and populated it with bold, heroic women. This is a realm where brave, forward-thinking women are in charge, and “there’s a trap door to Earth if you get out of line.”