Artist gives old pho­tos faded life

The Dallas Morning News - - ARTS & LIFE - By LEE ESCOBEDO Spe­cial Con­trib­u­tor

“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.

Lucy Kirk­man Allen

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.

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