Critics’ Picks

Phillip Allen, Pinnacle mind hell, 2008, oil on board, 32 x 30".

Phillip Allen, Pinnacle mind hell, 2008, oil on board, 32 x 30".


Phillip Allen

The Approach
1st Floor, 47 Approach Road
November 20, 2008–January 17, 2009

Phillip Allen is known for combining landscape with Art Deco–inspired abstraction in his paintings. Whirling pinwheels, loopy arcs, blobs of paint, and Pop polka dots constitute a whimsical vocabulary that he repeats and reinterprets. For his third exhibition at this gallery, these motifs are streamlined into oil paintings on board, in which a central abstract form is rendered matte and flat and placed between robust impasto borders, as well as into a series of small paintings wherein blobs of built-up paint are placed around a found or incorporated image.

Lovejoyvian (Extended Version) (all works 2008) is an example of the former. Constructed from two panels, it is a silver-gray spiral in which semicircles of color (blues, browns, grays, and whites) are placed along the shape’s lines. These lines radiate out into bands of thick paint at the top and bottom of the composition. The planar flatness in the center of the work is in sharp contrast to its messy, encrusted edges, which form a barrier that retains the composition’s internal order. A Rich History of Foul Ups is another large painting with a similar juxtaposition of thick and thin. In this work, an undulating yellow architectonic shape is enclosed by an impasto mass at the top and bottom of the panel. Allen asserts control over whimsy in his paintings by creating a register that is never silly or decorative, despite his use of bright hues and fanciful forms. Volume Champion, one of several smaller works, proves this point with a from-salmon-to-candy pink and gray vertically striped mound that emerges from a wide, horizontally lined background, thereby indicating a friction between the two orientations. This tension festers with the introduction of swaths of multidirectional paint at the edges. Here, Allen shows that surface control is just as much about letting go as it is about holding on.