out fins and ladders and ship interiors. With regards to how I work in glass, which is cold working — where you’re cutting, chopping-up, polishing, grinding, reshaping, etc. — the transition to using a lot of metal in the work has been logistically easy.”
Allen uses a technique called scavo (an Italian word meaning excavation), which “chews up” the surface of the glass while it’s still hot, giving it the appearance of an artifact. He uses several processes to delicately fracture glass, including “quenching” the hot medium in plain water or water mixed with other compounds. He also applies glass powders to hot glass to “give it a rough, rusty appearance, to make it look a little more like debris, to give it the appearance of something with some real history,” he said. He incorporates oil paints, metal oxides, and silver foil to help distress and shade the surfaces of the metal and glass.
“My assistant is very meticulous,” Allen said. “When I have him clean up a weld or something, it looks just beautiful, and I always joke that I have to drag it down the driveway behind my car for a while to get it to look like it fits my aesthetic.” Allen’s process for joining metal to glass makes the metal shinier, so he must re-treat the metal to achieve the “broken-in” patina he desires. “I did a lot of model building when I was younger,” Allen said, “and I always wished I had the money to buy all the expensive paints and stuff to make the piece look perfect. But as an artist today, I don’t care for making decorative work at all.”
In November 2007, an exhibit of Allen’s rocket ships titled Innersphere: Sculptural Works by Rik Allen opened at the Frank Gehry-designed Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle. “Folks were very supportive of my work there,” Allen said. “When you show your work in a gallery, you don’t get many children or whole families coming through to see your work. At the Experience, I got to see a lot of children react to my artwork in an incredibly positive way. It was a deeply rewarding thing to witness. Of course, those kids aren’t out there buying the work, so I guess I have to think about that. But I can’t complain. To top off the show at Experience, my work was exhibited right next to a model of the alien queen from one of the Sigourney Weaver Alien movies. I mean, it doesn’t get any cooler than that, right?”
There are times when Allen is confronted with the unsavory opinion that his newer work ventures too far from serious artwork and into the realm of whimsical objects or toys, and he admited that this sometimes weighs heavily on his mind. “When a friend or fellow artist or someone says, ‘ So, Rik, how long are you planning to keep this whole rocket-ship thing up?,’ I just remember that I’m fortunate enough to have some of this work in a number of serious collections.” Furthermore, among his artist friends, only he can name-drop the alien queen with a straight face.