Projections & Personas: Inside J. Adam McGalliard’s Studio


McGalliard in his studio, working on “Persephone”


Going into J. Adam McGalliard’s studio in downtown Savannah, I fawn over the shiny Vespa parked outside the front door and am enamored with his undeterred, pet-seeking pup. But it’s his works on the walls around us that ultimately hold my attention–words leaping from the bridge of a nose and clouds sweeping across a forehead.

McGalliard waits patiently as I look from one work to the next. A series of his fiancee, Jenny; a self portrait spontaneously created during an epic wait at an AT&T store; and others he started years ago, only to have recently finished.

His studio doubles as his living room. One corner holds carefully stacked paintings, another his work space. McGalliard is soft spoken but animated. A painter originally from North Carolina, McGalliard has a deep respect for classical art, a passion for realism, and a bio that boasts a graduate degree from The New York Academy of Art and an artist assistant position for Jeff Koons.


“Head Space”


McGalliard’s work combines his command of realism and classical techniques with contemporary imagery. In his current body of work, “Projections”, he explores portraiture that moves beyond outward physical appearances to depict an individual’s conscious and unconscious spheres.

“This is really a visualization of how I see the world,” McGalliard says. “I feel like I see motivations. I feel a hypersensitivity to it – my sense of what people are projecting of themselves.” McGalliard’s intention isn’t criticism–it comes out of curiosity. On making his many self portraits he says, I’m not above this whole thing, this is how we socially communicate.”




The human form is a constant source of inspiration. When asked what keeps him so interested he says, “I discovered I have this fascination for the way the light hits a three dimensional plane. The body captures that so well.” The reference for his work comes from directly playing with projected imagery onto the figure. When choosing his subject he says, Strangers are almost always easier.Those close to him offer a greater challenge. “There are so many different levels of personas to choose from just one.”

Projecting images onto the form forces the imagery to surround the figure, providing McGalliard a reference that shows the figure, image, and background all interacting. This process lends itself to a cinematic-like movement that reinforces ideas of the unconscious state. This fleeting quality in “Projections” draws the viewer into a shifting sense of consciousness.


“Sunrise, Sunset”


McGalliard did his undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in studio art and painting and, after a short stint in arts administration, he sought out the graduate program at The New York Academy of Art in New York City. “This really was a turning point in my education. The work that I went in [with] compared to the work when I came out are night and day,” he says.

He then landed a job as an artist assistant for Jeff Koons. He spent his first three months there hunched over a glass table painstakingly combining colors to perfectly match assigned color swatches. He moved on to be one of the studio’s painters for the next 4 years. At one point during that time McGalliard became known as the ‘Hulk guy’, painting Hulks, one of Koons’ oft-repeated and iconic images. McGalliard came away with unquestionable color skills and a rare insight into the highest level of the art world.


“Use Your Words”, “Wallflower III”, “Wallflower I”


McGalliard’s resume doesn’t stop at Koons’ studio. His work has exhibited nationally and internationally and sold in auction houses like Sotheby’s and Phillips. Since moving to Savannah last fall, his work has been exhibited at Jelinek Studios, Non-Fiction Gallery and regionally in the southeast.  

He shows me some new work that includes the entire figure and imagery that springs outward from the body. This new exploration mixes several different styles and is more conceptual. [The works] talk to each other. Each body of work is like its own world,” he tells me. “Really, it’s expanding the world I started with the Projections [series]. There are rules to the universe; they are not the same ones here. We’re able to see things we are not normally able to see in our perception of reality. The work really is reflecting what that reality is.

When McGalliard speaks about his work you can see him turning his ideas over in his mind. “It’s not done. There are still things coming out of the process. I’ve been working on Projections off and on since 2012 but I can’t really quit it.” I’m glad to hear this. From J. Adam McGalliard, there are exciting things to come.

To see more of J. Adam McGalliard’s work, click here.

This Artist Spotlight was made possible thanks to a grant from the Savannah Downtown Neighborhood Association.

Lisa Hueneke

Author: Lisa Hueneke

Lisa is an artist and new resident to Savannah. She loves breakfast, traveling, and exploring the art scene wherever she goes.

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