Los Angeles

Elizabeth Allen

The story of the late Elizabeth Allen’s discovery by art students in her modest London home, of how her untutored patchwork pictures were brought out of obscurity early in 1966 in an exhibition at the Crane Kalman Gallery, where they immediately caught on and were bought by the score—and finally of her death this year at the age of 84, during the very apex of her belated success, savors of the distinctively English gusto for unearthing neglected “genius.” Andre Kalman, who was instrumental in her exhumation and who has brought a selection of her works to the Fleischer-Anhalt Gallery in Los Angeles, has a confessed penchant for rescuing artists, especially aging ones, from oblivion. The popular success of Miss Allen’s strange and charming needlework probably owes as much to Kalman’s intervention as to their own inherent appeal.

The pictures now at Fleischer-Anhalt, whether they deal with whimsical, religious or fantastic subjects, are all fraught with a peculiar aura of unreality. As with many other so-called primitives, the use of the word naïf to describe Elizabeth Allen’s art could not be less appropriate. The power to project the very substance and atmosphere of imagination indicates a highly developed faculty for creative invention, which is partly what sophistication is about. Most of the works shown here incorporate human figures in narrative scenes, but there is an enormous variation among them. The one entitled Jilted depicts a young lady and her rejected suitor walking away from her doorstep. Although the artist’s conscious concern was obviously for the genre detail, the work is marvelously graceful in terms of linear pattern and color design. Miss Allen’s is an example of decorative art at its best. Besides the story-telling and abstract attributes, there is a third, atmospheric level which can only be described as sad gaiety.

Jane Livingston