Ricky Allman: I’ll Capitulate if You Succumb
Marine Contemporary, Venice, CA
June 30-August 11, 2012
At one point in this exhibition’s development, its working title was “Satiate/Proliferate” and although in the end viewers benefit from the more personal, psychological narrative which “I’ll Capitulate if You Succumb” offers, that other one might have worked just as well. That’s because the largest of these smart, cinematic, paradoxical paintings by Kansas City-based Ricky Allman seem to depict a mechanized manufacturing process in which Nature is seen as a series of mass-produced objects. For example in the mesmerizing, inky, and maze-like Pitch, trees, snow, bits of rainbow, and what might occasionally be a flower occupy nooks along a suite of vertical conveyor belts in a shadowy, slick, and geographically remote assembly-line. Devoid of human figures that might provide clues as to whether Nature is being made or destroyed in the scene, this absence of humanity’s traces becomes its own clue. In the end it reads not like a junkery, but instead more like a factory; the factory floor of the universe, humming along within a closed system in a realm of pure ideas where people are not required or even welcome. The catalog essay calls it “Darwinian architecture” and that sounds right. Maybe the building has a consciousness that drives it, something internal, that might explain the obscured source of the soft, radiating, insistent light.
In fact, architectural structures and routinely confounded relationships to the natural world and the laws that govern it (like gravity and centrifugal force) are hallmarks of Allman’s painting practice. In the past, the sprawling, rigidly symmetrical, post-industrial structures he favored were specifically representative of the tabernacles and temples of Mormonism, in which he was raised, and, for a while, in which he placed his faith. The lavish interpretations of the natural world and its elements which surrounded and invaded these sanctums were often rendered in artificial palettes that clued the viewer into their symbolist status. But he’s “worked out” his Mormon “issues” now, and he’s on to broader ideas about painting itself, culture in general, and a more literal examination of the tension between the natural world and the world of ideas (like religion, capitalism, and progress). In that context, the settled-upon show title has a wonderful narrative insightfulness.
The relationship of the small works (called mostly Segments) to the larger ones is not like details, or small versions of the same. They are more like components isolated in fully formed, spatial settings of their own; charming and resolved, rich with detail and gesture. Like cast members from an ensemble, or the individual pieces of a sci-fi Lego set the artist proceeds to assemble all wrong, they exist as discrete objects. The larger Over Turn, the warmest of the interiors in both palette and design, is peppered with little nooks and niches filled with examples of these recurring shape/characters. The show’s masterpiece is the luminous and immense canvas, This is a Lighthouse. The construction of the floating architecture is no more human-centric than the others, but that is not all that makes this heavenly archipelago of negative and empty spaces so curious. Its surfaces are slick but scarred and scored, its colors are muddled but not messy, its shapes are defined crisply but arrayed so as to suggest organic chaos, its atmospherics are expansive but disorienting, and its light sources are both celestial and unnatural. Light from the image fairly bleeds off the canvas onto the wall and spreads into the room, blending into the brick and mortar architecture that contains it this dimension.
One wants so badly for it all to be a metaphor, feeling certain that it must be, with all its precisely rendered ambiguity -- but a metaphor for what? For the mind maybe, like some kind of diagram of the creative process. Creativity after all is a process of recombinant synthesis, an automated function of the healthy brain. And the ability to make divergent or even contradictory ideas coexist in the mind is a crucial creative tool. Insights, argue many neuroscientists, come from the overlap between seemingly unrelated thoughts. And one of the special properties of art is a similar power to force opposites into proximity and collusion. In the end these strikingly subtle (for Allman), eerie, and refined images may be images outlining the process of insight and invention itself, as the artist works out both how to best engineer a composition and his own existence.
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Los Angeles. She is currently LA Editor for WhiteHot Magazine, Arts Editor for Vs. Magazine, Contributing Editor to Art Ltd., and a contributor to the LA Weekly, Flaunt, Huffington Post, Palm Springs Life, and KCET’s Artbound. She studied Art History at Vassar College, curates one or two exhibitions a year, and speaks in public with alarming frequency. An account of her activities is sometimes updated at sndx.net.view all articles from this author