Art Chat with Kelly Allen
Kelly Allen’s highly imaginative work features trompe l’oeil clusters of animals, insects, plants, fruits, molecular structures, and colorful graphic elements inspired by collage through hyper-real renderings. In her upcoming show at Thinkspace titled 'Hidden Seeking', Allen continues to explore graphic symbolism and popular cultural imagery, in collision with the natural world. Here Allen chats about creative surprises, Judy Pfaff, and describes what an average 'day in the life' with Kelly would be like.
Your upcoming show at Thinkspace, ‘Hidden Seeking’, explores the intuitive process of aesthetic seeking and the adventure of unlikely combinations of images and references. What can viewers expect to see in this body of work and what creative surprises did you encounter when constructing it?
Viewers can expect to see masses of imagery culled from life, from the macroscopic to microscopic level, abstracted and whole, nature imagery enmeshed with graphic patterns and forms, rendered in multiple styles and techniques. I seek to take images of ordinary things in life and combine them to create something rather supernatural, that emits a sense of sacredness.
As far as creative surprises are concerned, every piece arrives as a creative surprise. When I go into my compositional phase of creating, I do my best to stay out of the way and let the images come together through another aspect of myself. I never know what is going to emerge from my piles of images. The surprise element is what makes it so exciting for me.
You grew up in the great lake state of Michigan; an area filled with lush, natural beauty. What was life like growing up there and how did it shape your creative instincts?
Michigan is a really beautiful state with so much wilderness. When my family moved from Detroit to Grand Rapids (West Michigan) it was a whole new world for me. There is so much more natural beauty there- so many more nature parks and hiking, and Lake Michigan, which I consider to be like a freshwater ocean. I met my best friends in High School and we spent as much time as we could hiking, camping, and exploring nature. All that time spent in nature really allowed me the time and mental space to connect with the natural elements and feel at home there. It led me to become ever more fascinated by the incredible and strange beauty of our planet, and to strive to show my adoration, connection, and respect for nature.
The negative space in your works is given equal importance as the subject themselves. Tell us a little bit more about that.
By pairing opposites together, all elements are emphasized. The stark differences enhance the innate qualities of the elements being combined. So, having a dense “clump” of colorful, diverse imagery on a completely white ground enhances the painted elements, and enhances the whiteness and vastness of the empty space. That’s really exciting for me, visually speaking. Also, it draws from the period of Minimalism in Art Histoty, as well as from the art of collage, which is how I compose my sketches. I feel this style has more of an edginess to it. In this way, it can’t become overly sentimental. I don’t want to create a landscape with these elements in it. I want to have the tension of being able to enter into the composition and develop a loose narrative, while remaining aware that these are images, they are symbols. I enjoy the tension that exists there.
Conceptually, I see the masses as individual self-sustaining, totemic forms, as though each one is it’s own ecosystem, while also being a symbolic, totem that honors life and beauty. Also, the whiteness with its emptiness is a reminder to me that 99.999% of everything is composed of empty space. I am forever fascinated by science and physics, and trying to truly grasp that, within each molecule that composes everything in the universe is mostly made up of empty space- it’s awe-inspiring and humbling.
If you could hang only one artwork from art history in your home or studio, what would it be and why?
That is a tough question!! I can’t settle on just one that I’d want forever, but I can tell you the one I would want at this point in time. It would have to be an Untitled work by Judy Pfaff. (see image below.) I am in love with all of her work. There’s such beauty in her chaos of colorful forms. There’s such an erratic energy to them. I love the spontaneity and the completeness in her compositions that seem like they could never be complete. She is utterly inspiring to me, as an artist and a woman.
Tell us something about yourself we wouldn’t necessarily know.
I invented my own line of energy bars. They are awesome!!
If I were to spend the day with Kelly what could I expect?
If it were a studio day, I’d get up, eat some oatmeal, do my emailing and paint or draw all day, taking breaks to stretch and jump rope on my deck. I’d make an awesome “linner” (like brunch but later) and keep working until about 10:30. Then I’d watch something on Netflix or Hulu that makes me laugh and go to sleep.
If you’d rather do something besides watch me work all day-
We would go for a hike through the beautiful park right by my house, following the creek up as far as we could. Then we would grab some lunch at the Indian Buffet restaurant by my house and then probably head over to San Francisco, because I know where the stuff I like is there. We would probably hit up some thrift stores and walk around the Mission (my old hood) and then maybe ride our bikes to Golden Gate Park and make our way to the ocean. Hang out there for a while, maybe play Frisbee, then head back and have some dinner at one of my favorite Tapas Place, Pickaro Café, and then maybe to my favorite little place, Radio Habana Social Club for a glass of Sangria and conversation about all the crazy sculptures covering every inch of the interior.
Thanks Kelly! 'Hidden Seeking' opens Saturday, July 7th at Thinkspace Gallery.