Kelly Allen's paintings exhibit the kind of mastery that forces the onlooker to double-take while gawking at her artwork. Her pieces, which are often mistaken for collages, in her own words, "honor" each animal, plant species, human body part and object through the assiduous strokes of her eye-lash thick paintbrushes.
Mrs. Allen's work has been in Juxtapoz, in a ten page spread of the pop surrealism magazine High Fructose, and as commissioned work for New York Magazine. She currently resides on the sunnier side of the Bay with her husband, but I caught her a while back in her San Francisco studio for a little girly chat.
Are there any images, smells, or sounds that trigger your creative vision?
"I really adore images from old textbooks, and science books. I use an array of them to paint; there’s a really nostalgic feeling I get from when I smell them. Flowers really inspire me visually — all the roses and passionflowers I see walking around the city. And of course all the things I find in the thrift store. I absolutely love going to thrift stores and garage sales. I get super excited and inspired by all of the possibilities. Sometimes I think, ‘oh I could use these pantyhose and stuff them with cotton balls and make something out of them’... But the smell of the redwood forest is my favorite. I love nature sounds a lot, like crickets, cicadas, birds, and the sound water makes when you're swimming."
I saw your bio and ended up reading a little about the book you published. It's amazing to know that your work has been exhibited for 10 years — that’s really impressive for a woman as young as you.
"Yes. Thank you! It's true, I started close to 10 years ago. And when I moved back to Grand Rapids in 2003 for my MFA, I realized I needed to teach myself about how to be a professional artists in terms of business and marketing matters. They don’t teach that in most schools, so I got a book and learned how to submit work to a gallery in a proper way. A couple galleries that I really respected picked up my work up that summer — I’ve been exhibited since 2003 pretty much consistently."
And who would you say are your favorite hero’s or heroin's either in fiction or in life?
"One of my favorite heroines is Diane Rehm. And my fictional hero would be Pewee Herman. They started doing The Pewee Herman Show on Broadway with the original cast members, I heard it on an interview with him on NPR. Then there's Deborah Rockman, an amazing professor, writer and artist who was my mentor and head of my MFA drawing program at Kendall. Oh, and my mother-in-law, Sue."
"René Descartes, known as the father of Western philosophy. He was the one who said, 'I think, therefore I am'. I consider him somewhat responsible for the split of mind/body and I think he caused a lot of inner conflicts and problems that we suffer from today."
What's difficult for you, if anything?
"It's been a longtime practice of mine to focus on being in the present moment for the sake of inner peace. I have a really difficult time remembering to do that in general — embodying thoughts and ideas that I agree with and admire; but putting them into daily practice is sometimes tough. That’s always a challenge for me. And pull-ups, those are also very difficult too."
Are you frightened by anything?
"The future of our planet with things going the current way that they are. Apocalyptic-type events frighten me. — Watching more and more animals becoming extinct, which is more sad, than frightening but freighting nonetheless. I was just going through my National Geographics and you look through the pages of amazing photographs and it’s like, ‘wow, there’s only 20 of these species left, and only 5 of those’. You see this kind of thing all the time. Their extinctions really stems from our lack of realizing that we are all one."
What would you say matters to you most?
"My relationships with my husband, family and friends. Plant-life in general is really amazing and important to me. So is natural beauty and being able to experience and enjoy it. Creativity of course and being able to paint, create, cook and grow things. Oh, and laughter — that's really important. Pandora has a comedy station now, I don’t know if you know that but you should check it out. That’s usually what's on while I’m working in my studio."
Kelly Allen has had another busy year of exhibitions, if you'd like to see her and her work in person, there's upcoming shows at 111 Minna in SF this October. Her show at Thinkspace Gallery in Culver City on May 26, entitled, "Wild at Heart" highlights endangered species with 20% of all sales benefit Born Free USA and endangered species. She also will be releasing a print through Warholian this coming month. And her big solo show takes place on November 15 at Bold Hype Gallery in New York City.