Thirty-year-old artist Theodora Allen’s work can best be compared to a prism of colour, subtly shifting from one tone to another - an understated rainbow viewed through a glass of water. Rather than scream for attention, Allen’s work - on view until 18 April at L.A.’s Blum & Poe - captivates viewers with its nuance.
'It’s an evolved thinness,' explains Allen, 'I applied oil paint on linen and then removed layers before it dries.' The process removes the actual pigment, yet absorbs the colour into the canvas.
Instead of obliterating all traces of her hand, Allen celebrates it, sidesteps and successes alike. Ghost images appear over the final image like layered veils, playing peek-a-boo with the eye.
Time is clearly part of Allen’s creation equation. One portrait of a woman in profile, Flash, No.2, has been reduced so much that only a sliver of actual paint indicating the woman’s silhouette actually remains. Faint stars on the woman’s sleeve seem part of the portrait, but in truth, is a remnant of a previous image on the canvas. In Allen’s process, the past is not whitewashed, it seeps through in the final piece, so much so that one cannot tell aberration from deliberate intention.
Known for her collaboration with Saint Lauren creative director Hedi Slimane from 2013 (where the artist designed a book called '49 Paintings' as an invitation to Saint Laurent’s fall’13 women’s ready-to-wear show), Allen is more than her erstwhile fashion association. Her first major solo show is all about the art. Ten works of varying sizes are filled with symbols borrowed from various countercultures throughout history, from the Pre-Raphaelites to the hippie culture of Los Angeles.
Her smaller works are minimalist affairs - studies in juxtaposed geometry - but these shapes sometimes return in more embellished forms in her larger pieces. Plot, No.3, for example looks to be an arched entrance to a fairy-tale land, framed by moths, weeds, and dandelions, but Allen reveals that the simple shape of a house intersecting a circle informed its basic frame.
Such is Allen’s quiet thoughtfulness presented in the show - that though her work may not immediately grab one’s attention, as bright red fire truck would - its spectral aspect somehow lingers in the mind long after walking out of the gallery.