Review of Seven Simultaneous Sunsets, Ricky Allman, Studios Inc. Kansas City
8 September-14 October 2017
by Craig Deppen Auge
Seven Simultaneous Sunsets presents seven new and selected works by Kansas City artist, educator and Studios Inc. resident Ricky Allman. The austere feel of the Studios Inc. project space, gray cinderblock and buffed concrete, is the perfect stage for the five often near-monumental paintings, a playful, sunken installation and eerie, Western landscape video and sound collaboration with Barry Anderson (for which there was also an accompanying performance opening night). Breaking free of the strict, Apocalypse-centric Mormon belief system several years ago left Allman with a newfound freedom to fully explore infinitely exponential potentialities of humanity, technology, natural organisms, artificial intelligence and limitless creativity at-large.
These are works that truly go “down the rabbit hole” in the merging of technology, biological systems, and architecture. The core aesthetic of the paintings consist of distorted, hyper-perspective of geometric super-structures. These combine meticulously, yet effortlessly, with the drips, splatters, and liquid textures of the painter’s action. Fine lines often retrace and uncover the existing patterns within the chaos of dripping paint. We are left with a sense of flux and urgency, but also a distinct purpose. These are paintings of evolution, our own evolution, in fact, though it may not be immediately apparent. Looking longer, the environments reveal familiarity; the distilled amenities of home, or the utility of office. There may be a sense that something has gone awry, but there also exists a sense of comfort in somehow knowing that these worlds are able to repair themselves, adapt. Whatever has occurred, developed, be it cataclysmic or simply evolutionary overhaul, there is still existence. Now, where are we in this new world?
There is a subtle irony that emerged for me when encountering Allman’s work, as I studied the painterly aspects and masterful approach to the medium, and then listened to him speak on the themes of technology and futurism in his paintings. This is, the irony of the subject matter of technologically advanced systems -self-replicating, cross-functional systems, portrayed not by use of digital or new media, which might be expected, but in the oldest and most traditional medium – paint. This is where his training and obvious expertise lies, grounded in the rigors of academic technique, then breaking free in the textural under-washes or intricate, free-form line work. Allman proves that painting is still one of the most valuable go-to media for exploring unbridled imagination and expressive visual experiments. These works could almost be illustrations for science fiction narratives. This source of irony creates tension, and excitement, in that these imagined scenarios, or environments, are lacking in humanistic emotion, taken over by a pure sense of functional pragmatism, but executed in such a way as to somehow express some form of desire, empathy, and optimism.
In terms of the grandeur of scale, and the depiction of utopian and or dystopian worlds, (depending on your world outlook, although Allman would zealously argue for the former) and ultimate liberty, the works may fall on the far opposite in lineage of painting from say, Heironymus Bosch. He presents the far (or not so far) reach into the future, in worlds free from the chains of religion and the physical restraints of the body, but paying homage to scenes from those of Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” These paintings also strike a distant similarity to the art of Alex Gray (yes, the same artist who gained a cult following partially due to his association with the album art of the band Tool), specifically in the cyber-muscular-skeletal figures within “Domestic Dusk” and “The Fear and Fragility of the Biological Body Fleeing from the Inevitability of the Cyborgization of Humanity.” Where Gray’s more illustrative, equally dense work explores the biological, metaphysical, psycho-spiritual nexus, Allman takes the same x-ray, peering-into-the-depths-of-the-soul approach with architecture, manufactured “natural” landscape, and the cyborg frontier. Do robots and self-replicating machines have soul, or will we still have soul and spirit when fully fused and surrendered to our
artificially intelligent, robotic, evolved forms? Are we then capable essentially of being gods, masters of the worlds of our own making?
The installation “City In a Pit” seems to be a transitional work for Allman, however inviting and thought provoking in its own right. There is clearly a plan, an order, but with an impromptu vibration that echoes the 2D pieces, as though it assembled itself. The takeaway is that you are somehow stepping into the architecture and landscape of one of the paintings, all the while questioning the functionality and scale of the environment, as your own human body peers down upon these painted wood remnants, mirrors, acrylic cubes, and folded paper ornaments, among other stylized, geometric elements. I will be eager to see more development in realizing his painted worlds in three dimensional space.
Also worth highlighting is the smallest of the paintings at a mere 29 by 39 inches, is “Murders of Faith and Anti-Faith,” referencing two prominent figures of the Mormon community who eventually faced criminal prosecution for crimes related to the church. Opposites in terms of their self-perceived notions of piety and righteousness, they now serve time together in a shared jail cell. This is an example of the depth of Allman’s work, where we have perhaps one of the most accessible works from an aesthetic standpoint, the most minimal and free of human intervention, but also one of the more specific as far as utilizing a direct, speculative plot device as the inspiration.
Perhaps what we really approach in these works is the ultimate freedom, permission and longing to fully recognize a world, or worlds, without end, as Allman himself declares in his statement, “because we deserve it.” These works are the painter’s affirmation that there will never be an end to days, no end of the dawn and the dusk. And what could be better than watching a sunset? Seven simultaneous sunsets, of course. These paintings not only represent unlimited potential and the unlimited speculation of self-replicating homes, cities, metropolises, but in general, the unlimited potential for self-healing and infinite optimism. These are worlds stripped bare of judgement and ego. However, the underlying thread is not only that of possibility and options, but choice. It is the choice between self-destruction and healing. It may be the ultimate choice to surrender fully to the now, which is already tomorrow, the suns having set.
Originally from Charleston, West Virginia, Craig Deppen Auge is a multimedia artist and designer currently living and working in Kansas City, Missouri. He has exhibited work in solo and group shows throughout the U.S., including The Billboard Creative Q1 Show in Los Angeles, and locally at Leedy-Voulkos Art Center. He has participated in numerous collaborative projects, such as New York-based Satellite Collective’s Telephone: An International Arts Experiment. His art has been featured in several print and digital publications including Art Yellow Book #2, Sprung Formal, Dossier, Gambling the Aisle, Duende Literary Journal and Blacklist Journal.