about richard allen
I am a London Brit by birth, and an Australian by choice. That is an extraordinarily privileged position to be in, and I am very proud of my international identity.
My wife Ag and I live by a railway line in the western suburbs of Brisbane, and have done since the mid-1980s. I have always loved trains, and have a model train set, which anyone is more than welcome to take a look at!
A great deal of my formal art education occurred through seamless and continual processes of absorption.
Three of my five years of fine art studies were at the Central St Martins School in London, between 1970 and 1973. The painting, drawing and printmaking studios shared the top floor, and although I never explored printmaking in any formal capacity, I have a very clear memory of a dedicated teacher of etching, who was in his early thirties. He was always working! From morning to night he constantly advised, guided and inspired not only students working directly with him, but also those close by. It was palpable – and his name was Norman Ackroyd.
Instinctive. Dedicated. Disciplined.
Migrating to Australia in 1982, and following some twenty seven years heading a commercial graphic design practice, I returned to my fine art ‘roots’, and started full time work, literally “back to the drawing board”, in early 2010.
Initially, a scope of 10,000 hours was set, and took five years and four months to complete. I felt the need for this disciplined approach for a number of reasons, including the desire to work towards some sort of mastery. From the outset, all my hours have been recorded in journals, as this maintains momentum and assists the overall process. I am currently working through a second scope of the same duration.
The works of French painters Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard lie at the heart of my inspiration. Both have been described as 'Intimists', renowned for subjects of simple everyday domestic scenes, and I have adopted the title “INTIMISM” as the single-minded theme for my current drawing explorations.
It interests me that during the late nineteenth century these two artists employed photography as a preparatory tool. Both were also commercial artists, and Bonnard especially, was strongly influenced by the recent influx into Europe of Japanese art and printmaking. And then, of course, there is their mutual friend Henri Matisse.
I am continually charged by the ceaseless energy, exquisite palette selection, and decorative patterning employed by these three giants, and Matisse’s subject of odalisques lit a particular fire.
I strive to communicate a sense of warmth and comfort in quiet solitude, and perhaps capture a fleeting moment in time.
My subject is a single female figure, who might be seen engaged in a simple activity; enjoying an afternoon siesta; or naturally posed to express a mood of languid reflection/contemplation. She is set in an embellished interior, which on occasions features a view through a window, and might also include a vase of flowers.
The subject of the figure has always engaged me, so I began this ‘journey’ by attending two semesters of life drawing, and this proved to be an enriching exercise. During classes, and over the subsequent months, I spent some time experimenting with various materials and surfaces.
Early explorations included making a series of pictures from paintings by Bonnard, Vuillard and Matisse. Additional reference sources included photographs by Brassai, Kertész and Cartier Bresson. I was intrigued by their capture of images of Parisienne life during the 1920s and 30s. Matisse was featured in some of these works, and his subject of Odalisques drew me to Ken Jacobson's book: “Odalisques and Arabesques – Oriental Photography 1839-1925”. This outstanding publication presented further inspirational material from which to work, and also introduced various links to Orientalist Art.
These initial explorations were valuable in setting the scene for future direction. After exhausting existing resources in mid-2011, I made the decision to secure personal subject matter through hiring professional models, and creating my own themes, designs and compositions.
My work is often described as “obsessive”, and I am comfortable with the description. It is certainly organised, and I believe that as, such is, a fair reflection of my approach and character.
I am wholly absorbed [“obsessed!”] with the construction of grids and ‘tilings’, and the building of multiple transparent layers of marks, washes of colour, ‘controlled’ shape and pattern making. There are also quite gestural and intuitive elements - perhaps even ‘random’, and I acknowledge that these probably have their origins back to my days at art school in the very early 1970s, when American Abstract Expressionism was at the height of its popularity.
Music from my CD player is a constant companion, and assists with “putting me in the zone” for extended periods of time - on occasions, the experience can be quite meditative.