James A. Allen
Paintings and Drawings
I have always been drawn to existential and humanistic issues, and this is reflected in my cut-out paintings more than in any other series I have undertaken. The images often convey a sense of tension and distress, but this is not so unrelentingly dark as it may sound. Concurrent with the anxiety one may discern the courage and dignity with which humankind confronts the various challenges that have been with us, in one form or another, since the beginning of our tenure on the planet. Sometimes the conflict addressed is large and potentially tragic, as with war ("Nuns and Guns") or hunger ("I Am Poor, I Am Hungry"). Elsewhere the struggle may be more personal, e.g., "who/what shall I be?" ("Shoppers"). I hope to make from these situations images that are provocative, expressive, and formally arresting.
Most of the paintings consist of unstretched canvas cut-outs, virtually life-size in scale. The shaped forms are usually mounted as ensembles on a white wall, the whiteness serving as a timeless, generalized place where the narrative of the piece unfolds. In some sense these works operate similarly to figurative sculpture, in that the human figure is allowed to communicate a condition of life by the power of gesture and expression and the formal qualities of the surface, exclusive of elaboration of an environment.
I seek a balance between achieving a striking human presence and a painterly surface rich in anomaly, one that conveys a sense of transience and mutability, even vulnerability, and provides an edginess that suggests the impossibility of fully understanding the situation of my subjects. To that end certain passages may be almost naturalistically rendered, while other elements are much more freely interpreted in form, color and texture. While I virtually always am moved to work toward the realization of an image that has announced itself in my imagination, as facilitated by a drawing process, the final expression of that concept is only resolved in the excitement of the actual painting process, where risk-taking and accident add depth and subtlety to the framework of the initial impulse.