An interview with Kelly Allen

Kelly Allen at work in her Oakland studio

Kelly Allen’s new body of work “Hidden Seeking” continues the artist’s investigation of graphic symbolism and popular cultural imagery, in collision with the natural world. Deriving her inspiration from variegated sources, her work is both illustrative and symbolically elusive. The artist’s selective use, and omission, of imagery is in keeping with her highly refined and recognizable aesthetic. A thematic undercurrent of contemporary mysticism seems to imbue the tone and composition of her work, as it borders on the magical. Everything from tigers and birds, to deer and foxes, to botanicals and bees, co- exist with graphics and decorative patterning. Allen takes representational fragments from nature and life, and constructs elaborate and stylized compositions, as reliant on her selective use of negative space as they are on their dizzying compendium of visual information. The work is dynamic, kinetic, dense and chromatically vibrant: an unparalleled visual syncopation of graphic and natural intrigues.

As the title of this show suggests, Allen’s work is more about the intuitive process of aesthetic seeking, and the adventure of unlikely combinations of images and references, rather than the resolution of full disclosures. The work is dialogic in that meaning is derived from the collision and collusion of polarities, and resides in suggestion rather than in imperatives. By transplanting and juxtaposing seemingly unrelated images and content, her work becomes entirely fantastical and “other”. Allen has created a symbolic cosmology that exists entirely unto itself, and in its own realm, and yet uses the material of the recognizable world to weave elaborate dreamscapes. Her revelations are subtle and discrete, and embedded in complex assemblies of visual languages. Her synthesis of illustration, graphic design, and painterly realism, combined with her collage like compositions and graphic designations of space, speaks to an eclectic metabolization of visual vocabularies and influences. The end result is one of beautiful interrogation and exploration, as the fabric and patchwork of Allen’s juxtapositions compel us to embark on a journey of aesthetic mysticism with possibilities that resist the confines of the finite.

Kelly Allen 'Golden Day' - colored pencil on paper

An interview with Kelly Allen

Can you share a bit about your new body of work for ‘Hidden Seeking‘? What do these new works represent for you?
My new works for Hidden Seeking are further explorations into the realm of realized interconnection, symbolic reverence, patience and focus. These works emanate from the fundamental truth of the unity of all things, and recognizing the importance of experiencing gratitude for this unity.

You first create the collage ‘reference’ in your studio before you go about creating the final piece in gouache or oil, I feel this is important for collectors to know. Have you ever thought about displaying some of these original collages in the future to better document your intense process?
I have considered the idea of showing my collages alongside my paintings, but then I decided against it, as I realized that viewers could get too caught up in comparing the painting to the collage, focusing too much on my technique, and losing sight of what I’m actually depicting. It can be more of a challenge to make viewers understand that I’m actually spending many, many hours painting my works, in addition to creating the composition by seeking out and cutting out the elements, and than composing them to create the collage sketch. (This is especially true when people see my work on the internet.) Where the traditional collage artist’s work ends, mine only begins. My process requires so much more time, devotion, dedication, energy, and skill, which goes largely unseen when viewed on a computer, but that’s sort of a part of my plan. Paintings are original, one of a kind creations that simply must be experienced in the flesh to really, truly see them for what they are. It is so powerful for an artist to spend so much time working and focusing on a single canvas or sheet of paper. The energy of the artist is transferred to the object that is being created. The viewer who witnesses the painting first hand can sense that energy, first visually, with the ability to get up close and personal and really inspect the piece, and then subconsciously, as the artist’s energy that has been poured into the work mingles with that of the viewer.

I think the internet is great for so many things, but nothing can replace the experience of witnessing an original painting or drawing in real life. So, in this way, first-hand viewers are rewarded when experiencing my works in a way that can never be conveyed through a computer screen. As people continue to discover the truth of my works being paintings, that knowledge spreads through the excitement people feel when they finally realize what they are looking at. It may take longer than it might if I announced over and over “HEY! THESE ARE PAINTINGS!!” but it’s much more valuable when other people share that knowledge with one another instead.

Kelly Allen 'Shifting Breezes' - oil on wood panel

You excel in both gouache and oils, two mediums that take a good bit of work to master. Do you prefer one over the other for any particular reason?
I love both oil paint and gouache for very different reasons. They are basically opposites from one another in how they are used and what they can achieve. Though I went to art school, I was never taught how to use these particular mediums, so they are both things I learned how to manipulate on my own. Gouache is amazing for being able to achieve fantastic detail with it’s opacity and intensity of color. A tiny bit goes such a long way, and best of all, it dries pretty much instantly, so it’s great to be able to work on a piece, get up for 5 minutes, come back and it’s totally dry. However, rendering, and doing things like creating gradations (fades from light to dark) are super difficult. There is no ability to glaze colors (create transparent layers) with gouache.

Oil on the other hand, is so willing to be worked and worked, building up layers and layers of transparent glazes that really make the forms come alive with shimmering color. There are so many more ways to work with oils, to create so many different textures, shades, shadows, etc. The playing field is a lot larger, but it takes so much longer to dry.

Painting with gouache is like creating fireworks, while painting with oils is like planting a garden. Both yield beautiful results when you know what you’re doing, but one is fast and flashy, while the other is gradual and glistening.

Kelly Allen 'Had No Idea What I Was Thinking Until I Started Paying Attention' - gouache on paper

Share with us a lil’ bit about the recent volunteering you’ve been doing with the folks at Creative Growth. Have you found the experiences there influencing your work in any way or too early to say?
I am a volunteer at Creative Growth, in Oakland. It is the oldest art center for adults with developmental disabilities in the world. At Creative Growth, they really focus on the artists’ original visions and inclinations, and their work is valued for being unique, individual expressions, as valid, beautiful artwork, which it truly is. They have a beautiful gallery space adjacent to the studios and revolving exhibitions. Many of the artists have been making work there for years and years, and they have serious collectors from around the world. It has been such a gift for me to be able to come in and be with these artists. I am truly inspired by them every time I get to see them. They are all true artists, dedicated to coming in and focusing on their work, and not at all preoccupied with the laundry list of fears/expectations that most other artists have running though our heads. They aren’t concerned with what anyone thinks of their creations, they don’t worry about it selling or not, or whether the meaning behind their work is relevant to our society. They simply create. Each person there is so unique, and so real, honest, and true. I see a lot of myself in many of them. It is such a joy to help them in whatever ways I can, whether I’m sharpening pencils, helping them make dolls, or fetching paint brushes and water. They are amazing.

What fuels you to keep creating?
Eating and sleeping. 🙂

Please describe your dream project if time and money were not issues.
I would like to travel to Africa, Bali, Japan, and South America to live with certain tribal cultures and learn from their artists. I am most interested in the history of humanity and the role of art in primitive societies. As Americans in our materially affluent societies, we are so detached from the basic necessities of life. Art has usually played a large role in rituals throughout history, and the artists of the tribe have a valuable role to create the objects/costumes/imagery, etc. for the rest of the group to come together and celebrate or commemorate some aspect of life. I feel a strong connection to this dynamic, and I have a longing desire to learn from people who have been carrying on this ancient way of living. Who knows what I would learn and discover? After my learning and travels, I would come back and begin creating again. Then, I would find help to open a non-profit art center for people of all ages to come in and create, utilizing recycled/discarded/donated materials.

Kelly Allen 'Fortunate One' - colored pencil

Favorite item in your studio?
My kneaded eraser.

If you were to take us out on the town in the Bay Area (SF/Oakland), what might we get up to?
Well, first we would start in Oakland, because that’s where I live now. We would walk through the beautiful Dimond Park by my house, following Sausal Creek up as far as we could. Then, get lunch at the rad Indian Buffet spot right around the corner. Then we would head to SF. First, we’d start downtown so I could go to Dick Blick and buy some art supplies. Then, walk through the madness of the shoppers up to Chinatown and stroll through their funky little grocery stores to find strange snacks to eat later. Keep walking up to North Beach, grab a cappuccino and get up to Coit Tower (so beautiful up there!) Then we could head over to the Mission, where I used to live, and check out some thrift stores and boutiques. We’d have lunch at Pickaro Cafe, my fave little Tapas restaurant, and have a little sangria. Then, we would walk to Dolores Park and people watch and play with my awesome frisbee for a bit. Then up to Twin Peaks at dusk to see the most amazing view of the city. Back down to the Mission/Bernal Heights to get a shrimp burrito at Taqueria San Jose for energy to go dancing at The Makeout Room until we’re ready to pass out. Ready? Let’s go!!!

Is there anyone in particular, artist or otherwise, that you’d like to mention here?
artists: Nick Cave, Judy Pfaff, Phyllis Galembo
musicians: Os Mutantes, Stevie Wonder, Funkadelic
authors: Joseph Campbell, David Sedaris, Eckhart Tolle
others: Jane Goodall, Carmen Miranda, Pee Wee Herman

Take a sneak peek at Kelly Allen’s new works for ‘Hidden Seeking‘ here:

Opening Reception: this Saturday, July 7th 5-9PM – come on by and say hi to Kelly

Hidden Seeking‘ will be on view July 7th – July 28th at Thinkspace

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