Artist gives old photos faded life
“Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.” — Ecclesiastes 3:15
The spirits of the dead float, ever so gently, back into frame. The paintings of Lucy Kirkman Allen are burdened with the stories of the deceased, yet freed within the cyclical nature of remembrance.
Before moving a few years ago to Virginia, where she runs the gallery #FFFHEX, Allen and her husband, Justin Hunter Allen, spent time in Dallas during one of its art crescendos, from 2012 to 2014. It was a period of remarkable DIY efforts, during which the couple founded Studio DTFU in Fair Park and belonged to the acclaimed artist group S.C.A.B. (Socialized Contemporary Artists Bureau), which connected eight artists interested in
domestic spaces and DIY ethos.
The paintings shown in “When a Man’s House Is Finished” at Galleri Urbane in the Dallas Design District are reproduced works on canvas of photographs held sacred in a dusty old photo album given to the artist by the landlord of her studio. They are of strong women with thick frames, members of the same family, standing in and around the front of the house, when it was livable and the songs of a family filled those rooms.
Allen uses a layering process, beginning with ink drawings, forming the outlines of bodies long gone but whose spirits remain in the studio where their images are called back. The reproductions are quiet reflections on memory, how most of ours contain only sketches of those we love or hate, rather than the full flesh.
Limbs are half drawn; mouths go missing. Nevertheless, these people breathe again. Allen infuses each portrait as silhouette standing tall. It is in the absence of completion that we are able to fill in our own fragmented memories. These paintings become mirrors into what we have lost ourselves.
It is through the artist’s mashing of blues and browns that she develops a shimmering black, endowed with an ether sheen, marked on the paintings with an almost blind pinching. This final layer is the artist changing the course of history on her own terms.
Each smearing of black paint casts doubt over the truth of the image, reinforcing both the relative and relativity of what an image can truly capture. Especially when the lens is pointed toward those we hold most dear.
Demeter is among paintings by Lucy Kirkman Allen in an exhibit at Galleri Urbane.
Gleaners (above) and Pillars (left) are paintings by Lucy Kirkman Allen that were inspired by old photographs given to her by her landlord.