by Kevin L. Miller

"The Last Supper," 4 ft x 7 ft acrylic on canvas by Robert F. Allen, 2013

“The Last Supper,” 4 ft x 7 ft acrylic on canvas by Robert F. Allen, 2013

Robert F. Allen has become my very favorite living American “Outsider Artist.” His 4 ft x 7 ft new painting of 13 animals, entitled “The Last Supper,” is a prime example of vernacular, primitive “outsider art.” Sarah Boxer’s article “The Rise of the Self-Taught Artists” in The Atlantic, September, 2013, declares “Outsider artists—visionary, schizophrenic, primitive, psychotic, obsessive, compulsive, untutored, vernacular, self-taught, naive, brut, rough, raw, call them what you will—are insiders now… At this moment, the universe of outsider art is huge. And it’s being enthusiastically embraced—one might say swallowed whole—by the contemporary-art world. Art fairs, biographies, retrospectives, and collections are springing up in the name of outsider art. Insiders are borrowing outsider art for their installations.”

Right side detail of "The Last Supper," by Robert F. Allen, 2013

Right side detail of “The Last Supper,” by Robert F. Allen, 2013

Robert is certainly not schizophrenic or psychotic, but the other elements of the “outsider artist’s” profile fit him like a glove. An editorial “in praise of outsider art” in The Guardian, August 7, 2013, says, “Outsider art is made by people who, through mental or physical isolation, live beyond the reach of cultural conditioning.” Robert was born into profound poverty in the back woods 50 miles north of Syracuse. His family was so dysfunctional that as soon as he could wield tools, he made a small shelter for himself out in the woods behind the family home, and lived there with his pet raccoon Cooner, whom he raised from infancy.

Left side detail of "The Last Supper" by Robert F. Allen, 2013.

Left side detail of “The Last Supper” by Robert F. Allen, 2013.

To make his “mental and physical isolation” even more complete, Robert sustained severe brain trauma at age 13, when his abusive step father carelessly allowed a cut tree to fall on his head. His sisters, attempting to help their mother care for baby Robert, poured motor oil in his ears and burned out his eardrums. He was nearly deaf throughout his childhood, but nobody discovered the condition because he was so adept at lip-reading. Now he has an implanted mechanical eardrum, but he still cannot hear anyone unless he is looking at their lips.

His brain and ear injuries have made reading very difficult for Robert, but he gained an almost savant-like spacial intelligence and an uncanny connection with animals. He can solve any Rubik’s cube in 90 seconds at lightning speed, and he knows when any woodland animal is nearby even on a pitch black moonless night. Just before I began writing this post, Robert came in from the woods and told me that he had just had a very special close encounter with a wild red fox beside our pond. Robert talked to the beautiful animal who allowed him to walk right up to it. Animals seem to sense that Robert has no fear and nothing but goodwill for them.

"The Last Supper," Robert F. Allen's 2013 acrylic on canvas is shown taped to the side of our 12-foot art trailer for photographing before stretching onto the sturdy pine stretchers that Robert constructs.

“The Last Supper,” Robert F. Allen’s 2013 acrylic on canvas is shown taped to the side of our 12-foot art trailer for photographing before stretching onto the sturdy pine stretchers that Robert constructs.

Very soon now, we will load scores of Robert’s paintings and my own into our 12-foot art trailer pictured above, and take them to North Manchester, Indiana in order to install our two, tandem one-man shows at Manchester University. Robert F. Allen’s show, “PLEASE TOUCH THE ART! — Texture Is Part of the Experience,” will be at Link Gallery, Winger Building, Sept 13 – Nov 19, 2013; Artist’s Reception Oct 5, 11 am – 1 pm.

Kevin L. Miller’s retrospective, “UTOPIA AND APOCALYPSE — Seven Decades Re-imagined,” will be across the street from Robert’s show in Gallery G, upper level Union, Sept 16 – Dec 4, 2013; Artist’s Reception Oct 4, 4 – 6 pm. Kevin’s presentation “TOLERATING CREATIVITY — A Profit and Loss Analysis,” followed by a conversational tour of his exhibit, will be offered Oct 3, 7pm, upper level Union.

 

Advertisements

by Kevin L. Miller

"A Winter Walk," 4 ft x 8 ft acrylic on canvas by Robert F. Allen, 2013

“A Winter Walk,” 4 ft x 8 ft acrylic on canvas by Robert F. Allen, 2013

Robert built himself a tiny shelter in the woods behind his family home in the sticks north of Syracuse when he was growing up, and lived there with his pet raccoon, Cooner, who was fiercely protective of the artist as a young man. Robert tells the story of a time when his abusive step father raised a hand to hit him, but Cooner attacked and nearly shredded that hand. The man found it easier to leave Robert alone after that. Robert’s intense devotion to the animal kingdom is evident in his new, highly textured 4 ft x 8 ft canvas, “A Winter Walk.”

"A Winter Walk," acrylic on canvas, detail of Scrappy the dog, Robert F. Allen, 2013

“A Winter Walk,” acrylic on canvas, detail of Scrappy the dog, Robert F. Allen, 2013

 

Robert has always loved animals, nature, and the elements. His personal connection with his favorite of five dogs — Scrappy — is evident in “A Winter Walk,” which depicts “Crappy,” as Robert calls him, trudging through the snow in a cityscape. The acrylic painting so intensely textured that the dog stands 3/4 inch above the canvas in some places. The cold pelting snow is palpable, as is the clear intention of the dog to get to his destination. Robert has captured that admirable ability of dogs to focus completely on a task. He paints with that concentration.

"Matter of the Heart," 4 ft x 7 ft acrylic on canvas by Robert F. Allen, 2013

“Matter of the Heart,” 4 ft x 7 ft acrylic on canvas by Robert F. Allen, 2013

For the last five years, until just recently, Robert F. Allen had painted prolifically in a purely abstract expressionist style, reminiscent of the work of Jackson Pollock. Suddenly, he exploded that paradigm several months ago and has now produced four major representational canvases, in which some objects are recognizeable and some forms are abstract. In his most recent 4 ft x 7 ft acrylic painting, “Matter of the Heart,” Robert’s love of Jackson Pollock’s airborn paint application techniques is still visible in the background behind an obvious heart shape, a big crown, and some cactus-like forms. The texture is increasingly intense in Robert’s work, as he draws parts of his paintingts by squeezing lines and swirling piles of paint directly out of the tubes onto his canvases. Many of his pieces look like edible confections, and they are certainly candy for the eyes. The overall effect is very tactile and sensuous.

"Matter of the Heart," detail from the center right side of the 4 ft x 7 ft acrylic on canvas by Robert F. Allen, 2013

“Matter of the Heart,” detail from the center right side of the 4 ft x 7 ft acrylic on canvas by Robert F. Allen, 2013

Robert is currently working on another large canvas full of many highly textured animals, and he has said that he hopes to complete yet another major painting before his one-man show at Manchester University, North Manchester, Indiana, Link Gallery, Winger Building, Sept 13 — Nov 19, 2013. His artist’s reception will take place in Link Gallery on Saturday, Oct 5, 11 am — 1 pm. The show is entitled, “PLEASE TOUCH THE ART — Texture Is Part of the Experience.” The public is invited to meet Robert F. Allen and run their hands over his highly textured canvases. He also plans to show some of his highly detailed inlaid hardwood tables and painted chairs.