Christine Allman - The Garden Studio, Norwich review by Chris Jackson
This is a review of one of over 450 artist studio exhibitions taking place as part of Norfolk & Norwich Open Studios 2018 this summer...
Obmutescence I, oil on canvas, C Allman The Girl in the Pink Hat, oil on canvas, C Allman
A sunlit airy studio tucked away in a quiet Norwich garden seems an unlikely place to encounter the tenebrous world of artist Christine Allman. But look more closely at the eerie dreamscapes which she meticulously builds in paint and the blowsy floral displays all around start to take on a more sinister aspect. With their sclerotic colours and aggressively assertive scents what fears or nightmares do they hide? For this Norfolk-born artist the mixed themes of beauty, ugliness and memory are endlessly re-framed and re-defined in an obsessive search for a deeper and darker truth.
Working in oils her painstaking technique involves the gradual accumulation of many thin layers or glazes of alternating tones and colours which when combined suffuse the finished paintings with an inner glow or light only fully appreciated when seen in person. This methodical approach has an almost ritualistic quality and suggests that the artist sees herself in the role of shaman, paying homage to both the living and the dead. Allman's sombre paintings combine sensitive drawing skill with a deep understanding of the power of colour to create heightened emotional moods and responses in the viewer. Inspired by the medieval Christian iconography of saints, angels and demons the isolated figures which populate the artist's work seem bound for some unseen Calvary, their silent reverie left as a tantalising question mark for the viewer. Instead their inner turmoil is sublimely expressed through tortured fragments of twisted fabric, clothing and the momentoes of a life lived. This work is fundamentally about bearing witness, literally un-earthing a hidden history of events which have come back to haunt us with a vengeance. In Obmutescence I a child's delicately rendered gown is ominously draped over a rough length of rope (a skipping line, a noose?) above a pile of numbered tickets. These identifying tags suggest everything from police crime scene markers to lost Windrush embarkation certificates - official emblems of a pitiless and
inevitable bureaucracy in action. And in The Girl in the Pink Hat a fairground ride hints at hidden horrors when a pair of vividly self-aware gallopers force a frozen doll-like figure to join their endless voyage into darkness.
The central theme of Allman's work is the fold in fabric, a subject which has long been a source of morbid fascination for many from Renaissance Old Masters like Masaccio with his timeless images of Christ's body in a state of death to Victorian sideshow hucksters peddling spiritualist experiences of ectoplasmic phantasmagoria. In all these cases the presence or absence of the human body is a constant reminder of life's fleeting nature and the closeness of its inevitable shadow. The artist talks of ".. folds of draped fabric and clothing used as metaphor for the absence or presence of the human body or to give materiality to.. the unseen or other" and this sense of immanence, the presence of other-worldly forces within an everyday setting is strongly felt throughout her work. She describes important influences on her practice like contemporary Scot Ken Currie (famous for his spectral portraits of medical psychopomps) and both George Tooker and Andrew Wyeth, American mid-twentieth century visionaries with a consistently unflinching yet awe-filled gaze. As well as her own personal memories of childhood trauma Allman's earlier career as a carer supporting those with addiction problems is apparent in her empathy for society's disadvantaged and disenfranchised - the return of the repressed made flesh.
More recently the artist has begun exploring another painting medium associated with medieval iconography. Using a traditional egg tempera process allows Allman to combine speed of application with glowing glossy colour, and together with gesso-primed thick wooden panels these new works present a compressed and contracted picture plane to theatrical effect. However whilst these new works offer exciting technical opportunities for the artist to explore it still appears from these hermetically-sealed and silently screaming figures that Allman is not yet done with the notion of the 'shuttered room' and we can safely expect more revenants to appear from within this deceptively cheery studio, brought to new life in a garden of earthly delights.
Christine Allman - The Garden Studio
Art to make you think
PUBLISHED: 16:00 11 June 2007 | UPDATED: 15:54 22 October 2010
A newly-formed group of Norfolk artists launches its debut exhibition tomorrow with the aim of getting people to stop and think for a moment. KEIRON PIM finds out more about the artists behind the Slash 07 show in Norwich.
Obmutescence 11, oil on canvas. Christine Allman.
In the modern, multimedia age it can be hard to distinguish the boundaries that once existed - in fact, it can seem as if everything is blurring together. Newspapers now have websites carrying television-style video footage; television channels now instruct you to press a red button for interactive digital coverage. Nothing operates in isolation, and everything seems to be something-slash-something else.
The same goes for the arts and the work by a recently-formed group of eight Norfolk artists reflects this. That is why they call themselves the Slash group, and why their new exhibition in Norwich is called Slash 07.
“It's a bit cheeky and the word has various connotations, but there's a deliberate and serious side to it,” says Kathryn Caswell, who lives in Reepham. “I think it's a good way of exposing the fragmentation of the visual arts now.”
The group formed around 18 months ago. Some members knew each other from the MA course at Norwich School of Art & Design, others were friends formed through the local art scene. Their work is diverse and the idea is not that the group's work has a common theme, more that by meeting regularly they would gain artistic stimulation and critique each other's work.
“Coming together as a group, we play off each other quite well. There's the chance to discuss your work in front of people that reaffirms that you are on the right track,” says Kathryn, whose sculpture brings together found objects with a quirky humour.
“I wanted to see how everyday life fits into art and how art fits into everyday life.
“The works are serious but, hopefully, they will disarm you with a bit of wit and make you look. Because getting people to really look at anything is really hard.”
There is a good deal of arresting work here, however, that should cause visitors to St Margaret's Church in St Benedict's to pause for thought. Kathryn's object, entitled The Grin, has eyes and leering, bared teeth but it is up to the viewer to decide what kind of creature it represents.
Similarly, Christine Allman's painting implants disturbing thoughts of lost children. Her finely-painted images suggest swaddling clothes bereft of babies. Her finely-painted images suggest swaddling clothes bereft of babies. The Norwich-born artist's work is inspired by the aftermath of a humanitarian crisis in Africa. Villages where generations have been wiped out by civil war, suggesting there is “an emptiness that can be felt but not seen”. She will continue working on this painting in situ at the gallery, making it a work of performance art.
Lynda Williams's work is again concerned with subverting our ideas about our everyday surroundings. The mixed-media works take inspiration from the Norfolk countryside, reminding us that while it is beautiful, this is not the same as being a comforting environment. In her work Verge, she takes a rural scene and paints it in bloody shades of red.
“I want people to look at something and then look beyond it, into whatever your thoughts happen to be at that moment,” she says.
“My basis for the work was from a series of photographs taken around where I live, just south of Norwich, on a beautiful sunny day. I like my work to deal with memorial sites, sites of remembrance.”
Missing from this landscape are the ancient hedgerows that formed medieval enclosures. This is emphasised by the real hedgerow branches, again painted red, which will be placed in front of the painting in the gallery.
She, Kathryn and Christine are joined by Trevor Ashwin, Imogen Bardwell, Dennis Caswell, Antonia Soto and Sue White. Each artist has chosen two words that relate to their work, divided by a slash. For instance Christine's are visceral/virtual, Emily's are assemblages/souls, and Linda's are reap/sow.
The motivation to put on the show was not financial but to showcase their thinking and encourage a dialogue with local art enthusiasts. Some works on display will not be on sale.
“We are all exhibiting and selling successfully as independent artists,” says Kathryn, “But this is not a selling exercise, the motivation is not commercial. We are investing our own time and money and effort into doing this so that people can come and see it.
“It was always about art. We want to move our art forward so we decided to fend for ourselves a bit and put together an exhibition.”
t Slash 07 runs until June 23 at St Margaret's Church, St Benedict's, Norwich. The exhibition is open from 11am to 5.30pm.
Similarly, Christine Allman's painting implants disturbing thoughts of lost children. Her finely-painted images suggest swaddling clothes bereft of babies. The Norwich-born artist's work is inspired by the experiences of her daughter, whose partner is from Africa. Visiting villages where generations have been wiped out by civil war, there is “an emptiness - you can feel it but not see it”, she says.