Capacious Language, an exhibition of new oil paintings by Marin artist, Leslie Allen is featured at Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley from February 1 to February 28, 2019. There will be a reception for the artist on Saturday, February 9 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. The exhibition is accompanied by a full color catalog available through the gallery.
Leslie Allen is an abstract painter at the height of her powers. This new collection of works reveal her continued ability to approach each canvas with renewed freshness, delving into the process with a deftness arrived at through a lifetime of creative exploration. These are sophisticated intelligent paintings by an artist for whom abstraction is a native tongue.
“Making art is the way I gather in the world around me,” says Allen, “I draw on my own history, use the language of the materials, and concoct fiction that might just happen to resonate with others. I tell stories by way of quirky cartoons, moody landscapes, gestural figures, and large juicy abstract oil paintings, each revealing something about relationships, weather, attitudes, or just textures and the nature of paint.”
Allen’s paintings are a testament to a life immersed in culture. The paintings contain deft references to art history, literature and an abiding love of music. A cello player herself, Allen’s most lyrical paintings surely take their cue from music. She paints with an ear for rhythm, tone and a love of subtle crescendos of movement and form. She shares Kandinsky’s belief in hearing as well as seeing as a way to make art. “Form itself,” said Kandinsky, “even if completely abstract ... has its own inner sound.”
Many of the works in the exhibition are in series or diptychs that can be hung either together or separately. These exercises allow the artist to continue to explore themes that repeat the “happy accidents” found in one painting and use them to great advantage in another. Her “Q” series, “Club Q,” “Flipbook,” and “Speaking Circle” are satisfying examples of this process. The shapes in “Club Q” are strong and graphic, the Q clearly delineated and in interplay with the other shapes on the canvas. In “Flipbook” and “Speaking Circle” the lines are softened and in each soft pleasing drawing lines in pencil can be seen orchestrated among the floating shapes. They are variations on a theme, much like a musical exercise where a melody may be played allegro (joyful, lively and fast) and then adagio (a little slower, at ease).
Allen’s unique understanding of color may be attributed to her early years as an award-winning watercolorist. She understands the differences between sedimentary pigments which sit on the surface and staining pigments which in her words, “go deep,” soaking into the canvas. She has an intimate knowledge of how paint behaves and mixes all of her colors, never using pigment straight from the tube. “Even my blacks are mixed,” she explains. “They “rhyme” better with other elements of the canvas that way.”