Gregory Gallardo finds inspiration and beauty in the discarded: newspapers, magazines, calendars, wood and box scraps that would otherwise come to rest in a landfill instead get new life in his figurative collages.
“I call it painting with paper,” he says. “I like making something from things people no longer want. My collages are concrete - not abstract – in the sense that you feel like you’re looking at a painting, but it’s all pieces of paper.”
His other artistic mediums include oils and acrylics, often done on recycled wood and discarded whiteboards – all of which will be on full display in “Simplicity, Patience, Compassion: Works by Gregory Gallardo,” beginning September 12 at Soka University Founders Hall Art Gallery. It’s the first large solo show for the UCI social sciences facilities director who once put his primary passion on hold to earn a living as a musician, then as a career campus employee. It was his work in facilities, coupled with connections he made through the Irvine campus, that brought him full circle back to his artistic roots.
It would be easy to say that creativity is in Gallardo’s blood. The child of a jazz singing mother and piano playing father, Gregory was drawn to artistic displays of expression early on – but finding his fit has taken some time.
“I was the kid in class who always got in trouble for doodling on my homework,” he says. He devoured library books on different artists and spent a good chunk of his childhood mastering new artistic methods while his peers pounded pavement playing basketball and soccer in the street outside his Santa Ana home. By junior high – a time before PowerPoint and computer graphics software was available to the masses - he was getting paid for the pieces his classmates commissioned for school book reports.
By high school, he was both an accomplished self-taught artist and musician playing the guitar with buddies in various gigs around town. When he showed up to his first formal art class, his high school teacher immediately took notice and challenged Gallardo with harder, more advanced projects. He earned a scholarship to hone his craft in college, but instead chose to see how far he could take his career in music – not necessarily to his parents’ delight.
“My dad never really saw music as a viable career option,” Gallardo says. “But when I was a professional musician, he started coming to some of my shows and that really helped validate that I was making it.”
He earned paid work with two recording studios and toured the world plugged in as a bass player with bands including Klockwork, Anasazi, The Power of Suggestion and others.
Destined to be an Anteater
Still, the life of a traveling musician began to get the better of him. So, in 1986, Gallardo started looking at other options – particularly careers that included health insurance. With a dad, mom, brother, and sister who were all then working for a University of California campus, Gregory’s path to becoming an Anteater seemed inevitable.
He got his start on the campus’s loading dock while keeping one foot in the music industry with nightly drives up to Los Angeles to record in the studio. After two years, his guitars were put to the side with his paintbrushes as he found his Anteater groove. Still, he says, he had a creative outlet.
“I think of my job here as being creative. I like working with my hands, getting them dirty. In art you’re always on your feet, thinking of new ways to do things, problem solving,” he says. “UCI – and facilities in particular - is the perfect place for that. My job is immersed in all of that, just like art.”
He also began to take his health seriously and got heavy into cycling, harkening back to his high school track and field time where his dad had coached him from mid-field. Never one to just dabble in something, Gallardo started mountain bike racing, logging 300+ miles a week in training rides.
“I absolutely loved it, and still do,” he says. “Cycling is the most beautiful sport in the world. You can go out for a 40+ mile ride on a Saturday, be in nature and clear your head. I’ve gotten some of my best ideas staring out into the open fields and the nature around us.”
As he focused on his cycling and worked his way up in facilities posts at UCI with the Paul Merage School of Business, CALIT2 and now social sciences, he crossed paths with his future wife. It was her encouragement – propelled by the discovery of Gallardo’s paintings buried in his closet – that led him to pick up his brushes once again.
“She saw some of my work – drawings, some paintings – and she was kind of shocked and asked me why I wasn’t doing this anymore,” he said.
When he couldn’t come up with a good reason enough not to, he found his way back to painting, creating commissioned works and pieces for friends. That was 2001. He’s since done several exhibitions in Orange County, LA and the Bay area. His work hangs in restaurants and coffee houses around Santa Ana and Tustin. He’s sold paintings – upwards of several thousand dollars for some pieces - to customers as far away as France. And he donates 40% of all direct sales to local charities.
“Art for me is all about the journey and the process,” he says. “I love creating the composition. I love hunting for that right piece of paper. Once I’m done with a piece, I’m done. I’m already moving on to the next one. I want the piece to bring someone else joy – like I experienced when I made it.”
From his figurative oils of people – including UCI dancers – to his Newport Back Bay Series and environmental acrylic-based art featuring winding highways and Joshua trees, the warm desert hues of the Southern California landscape lining his well-worn bike trails shine through in his works – all of which will be on display through January 6, 2020 for public viewing.
The next project
With more than 30 years of service on campus, Gallardo is nearing retirement. He has big plans to pursue art full time and pick up his guitars again. Learning new techniques and skills – welding, sculpture-making, maybe even investing in a kiln - are all on his list. He also wants to get more involved in the community by teaching art workshops.
“My only goal is to make enough money at it to pay for the supplies and time each piece takes,” he says.
No longer competitively racing, he still logs significant miles on his bike. And with his daylight hours freeing up, he looks forward to the solace the rides provide; a cleansing, creative escape for his artistic brain to indefinitely wander.
-Heather Ashbach, UCI Social Sciences
Pictured: (top left)“Art for me is all about the journey and the process,” Gallardo says. “I love creating the composition. I love hunting for that right piece of paper. Once I’m done with a piece, I’m done. I’m already moving on to the next one. I want the piece to bring someone else joy – like I experienced when I made it.” (top right) Phantom, a collage Gallardo made from torn magazine paper glued to a board. (bottom right) The Search for Compassion, oil on canvas by Gallardo.