Sterling Allen: The Allen transformer as self-generator ...
Sterling Allen's irrational, exuberant drawings in the exhibit 'Writesy Drawsy' are so decisive in placement and texture that they immediately send you to a happy place as a viewer
The recent drawings by Sterling Allen, as seen in the exhibition "Writesy Drawsy" at Art Palace, are so confident that I can relax and enjoy them. His assertions with the pencil are so decisive in placement and texture that I am immediately sent to a happy place as a viewer. Sometimes frustrated realist painters default to drawing because it's easier to control a pencil or similar hard material than a brush and squishy paint. Allen is something else altogether: a photographer with the heart of a documentary filmmaker, always editing his work. He draws fast, listening to music and trying superhard to be spontaneous. But rather than obsessively adding details and density to every bit a common pitfall of artists with rendering skills he pares down his compositions, treating each one as a fresh snapshot, not a realist masterpiece. It's the cost of paper, and it's not too precious. It's fun. In a three-part process, he takes a dense scribble monster into a manga creature contour. Then he deconstructs the shape and, with one bold stroke of editing after the other, turns an emotional blobby mess into a curvaceous character, then, finally, a pop hybrid.
This final drawing is nothing like the first or second versions, unless you count the reliance on the outer edges. The third derivative pieces are forcefully reconceived and energetically drawn in full color with shading. Visual evidence of the character is there, but gone are the eyes and the continuous line. Allen combines disparate items, built into a central figure, which is oddly of the moment. The imagery Allen "samples" is like channel surfing a TV: bits of animals, cars, food, buildings, people, logos, and office supplies. Perhaps he's watching the world flash by in one way. Allen ingests these images and spits them out in patterns only he could achieve. He wills himself to a place of focus, looking inward to develop his editorial power of choice, of self-interest, and of self-generation. Allen gives himself a problem to solve and doesn't quit drawing until he renders a series in ridiculously skilled illustrative technique derived from a highly personal source.
The fact that he leaves "dragon veins" or blank spaces between items is important; it lets the composition react to the rest of the page. This also helps him avoid a straight centered format that could feel predictable. Eyes are left out, while legs, arms, and other parts of figures appear in the pieces, though they are cropped to feel generic. As anonymous body parts, they become clip art; once depersonalized, they relate to other animal and food imagery in a surprising manner. This helps the odd narrative; the contemporary elements connect through scale. I am put at ease, knowing that time spent looking and close observation will not reveal flaws. Technically, the application is tasty and efficient. These irrational, exuberant pieces delicately connect items of our time that have conformed to Allen's steel will.
"Sterling Allen: Writesy Drawsy" is on display through July 7 at Art Palace, 2109 E. Cesar Chavez. For more information, call 496-0687 or visit www.artpalacegallery.com.