Lara Allen

Lara Allen

A graduate of Master in Fine Art from Yale University in 2005. Allen’s work is childish. Not innocent, or simple, or naive, or, heaven forbid, sincere. No. Lara Allen’s work is childish, in the very best way: it is cheeky, dauntless, rollickingly grim, and wholly unburdened by false distinctions.

High, low, christian, heathen, serious, playful, kitsch, sublime: critical taxonomies carry no currency here. Classifications are ersatz niceties that amputate, and Allen prefers the smoky, spooky plenitude of the nightmare, in all its dreadful glory, to the nightmare of imperious, limping half-truth. In her work, t-shirt design, grease paint motion pictures, and images sprung of the Book of Psalms are equivalent, not because she has trained herself in clever juxtapositions, but because she knows, as any wise six year old would, that art, like life, is always matter of catching as catch can, making do, derring-do: everything is unfair game.

Allen also has the presence of mind to remember, and to remind us, that art has never really grown up that much, that, at bottom, the high, low, christian, heathen, serious, playful, kitsch, sublime are simply the names we give to some of our ways of dispelling the Boogeyman. Allen understands, in a way that most of us have forgotten, that in order to kill a monster, you don’t deny it exists: you summon it, call it forth into the light, since there’s nothing a monster dislikes more than light.

To read Allen’s work as morbid is to misread it. Yes, it’s full of blacks and grays, rife with city blocks on fire, and men falling out of the sky, but that doesn’t make it macabre. Not at all. Allen’s work doesn’t glory in disaster; it domesticates disaster, projecting it onto a wall that can’t go anywhere, turning it into an owl smaller than a fist. Allen plays with scale the way she plays with horror: they are things that can be manipulated, mastered, because she is willing to maintain a blithe indifference to that dubious thing we call common sense.

Imaginative willfulness, as children know, can transform a blanket into a fort, a box into boat, can make the prosaic extraordinary. Allen’s work operates on a similar principle, albeit through a looking glass: she refuses to shrink away from the cataclysmic, and in so doing, makes the awful humdrum. “Look here how bad it was,” each piece says, “Just terrible.” It is. And yet…There she is, there we are, alive, looking, depicting. We’ve confronted a demon, and find that we are none the worse for wear. Allen tames calamity, not by denying it its devastating power, but by reminding us of our own. It isn’t difficult, Allen insists. It’s only magic. Magic makes you brave enough to give the Devil his due and trounce on his head.

Part of the Transvoyeur Liverpool/New York 2006.
Thursday 14 September 2006 – Saturday 15 October 2006