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The Glare of Laura Callaghan

Words:

Edd Norval

Photos:

Laura Callaghan
May 28, 2018

There isn't enough art around with badass lead figures. The women of Laura Callaghan's work are as cool as they come. How they dress, how they look, or most noticeably - how they look at you.

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Her watercolour based art is hyper-stylised, almost like a Nicolas Winding Refn still from Drive or Only God Forgives. Refn also focusses on making his characters look mesmerising, drawing our eyes to their aloofness and nonchalance. Here her female protagonists often look like Grease's Pink Ladies for the 21st century.


The Irish illustrator has amassed a large online following and keeps them happy by producing one-after-another of her pieces that take an interesting look at 'the female gaze'. What is it that her characters are staring at? You, me, us.

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The Warriors has become a cult-classic film. Although not the most critically revered, it had a way of grabbing people's attention, especially young boys, who had always imagined that being part of a gang would be like it was in the film. Almost any still from the film could be mounted and put up on your wall. Callaghan's work is a contemporary Warriors, only for a different audience.


The choice of colours, often bright and pastel, bring to mind neon glows and Los Angeles motels. Motion is often present in her work. These are action shots caught by a lens. We never know the full story of how the fight broke out or the riot started, but we can guess. It's the story that's untold in her work that gives it such a cinematic feeling.


The pervasive glare that many of the characters exhibit also begs the question. Why are they looking at me? The looks tend to be saying two things - I caught you looking, or what do you think you're looking at? They're at once intimate and just as easily stand off-ish.

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It's difficult not to want more from these illustrations. There is a narrative there - something happened before and will happen after the image you are seeing. But what? A short-film or animated series would probably sate our desire to know. But would that be the way? Often we're better not knowing the full story. The strength is in the silence.


Callaghan's knack for stylistically and humorously capturing the woman behaving badly ethos has reverberated around the online sphere and resulted in her attaining such a substantial following. Her appreciation for comics bleeds through into the way she manages to directorially set the scene of her work. It's bright, beautiful and often funny. It's the kind of world that feels slightly different to ours. The colours are bold yet inviting and their lives seem exciting, yet normal and believable. It's the kind of curated chaos that we'd all welcome now and then - it's a 21st century dream brought into reality. Just don't stare.

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