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The first time I saw one of Kelly Allen’s creations I was sure I was looking at a collage. It contained, in no particular order, brown pears, a roaring tiger, vibrant colourful objects, plants, tiny bees and red shiny Christmas balls. No wonder I was blown away when I realized I was looking at a painting made with acrylic on laser cut steel.
Yet, it was not the combination of unexpected subjects or the giant monstera leaves coming out of the tiger´s mouth that tricked me. Rather on the contrary, I was fished in by Allen’s talent with the brush and her meticulous attention to detail which undeniably do make her paintings look like photorealistic cut-and-pastes. And yes, I might have felt a bit duped, but more than anything I fell in love with these impeccably hand painted gems.

You sure have a unique style! First time I saw your work I actually thought they were collages and not paintings. Is that your intention?

Thank you! You are definitely not alone in thinking that my work is a collage. It’s funny because it kind of is my intention, but not completely. My style arose because I was fulfilling a list of needs and desires I have when I’m making art. It’s a synthesis of my loves for collage, painting, rendering, intuitive composition, experimentation, symbolism, and nature.
The fact that so many people are initially fooled into thinking my work is collage is in keeping with my belief that the closer you look at things, the more you will see. This holds true for so many things- from a pile of ants in a crack in the sidewalk, to a painting, to an individual person, etc. There is so much depth and beauty in so much of life. And while it can be a bit frustrating at times that so many people don’t realize that I spend many, many hours painting an image someone assumes is a cut and paste collage, it is so gratifying when someone actually realizes it! A huge mental shift takes place and the painting holds a much larger space in the heart and mind of the viewer. That is my intention.

Looking at your paintings there are a lot of animals involved like sharks, tigers and spiders, but also mouths, bubbles and trumpet-blowing little boys. From where do you get your inspiration?

I get my inspiration from learning about nature and mythology. My work is a celebration of beauty, life and the amazing animals who share this planet with us. It is my hope that this enthusiasm will spread to my viewers. I find all of my imagery in old books, magazines, text books, calendars and things like that. I’m always on the lookout for new imagery to introduce to my ever-expanding library of images. It happens in a very intuitive manner. I don’t really question it when I am struck by a particular image. I’m simply drawn to it, and then I carefully cut it out and add it to my collection.

When you start working on a new piece, do you have a clear idea of the final result or does it evolve as you go along? How do you go on about it?

I compose my imagery through constructing temporary collages on the floor. I never know what is going to happen when I begin a collaging session, and that’s just how I like it. The resulting composition depends on the pieces I scatter on the floor, my mood, my infatuation with a particular animal or theme at the time, etc. I never glue down the collage so I can reuse images in future compositions. They tend to become recurring characters to me. I develop a kind of strong connection to them as they continue to emerge in future sketches. But I do digress…

Are you picky about when and where you paint?

Sort of. I most enjoy having a home studio, where I can visit the work at any time of the day or night. It is my life’s work and obsession, so I can’t really stand having my studio in a separate place. Also, I like to work in the daytime. I love the sunshine and natural light. It keeps my energy and my spirits high while I’m painting.

What did you want to be as a child?

I have always wanted to be an artist. I have always been a creator as long as I can remember. I love to work with all kinds of materials. One of my earliest memories of making art was when I was maybe 6 years old. I transformed my plastic trash can from my bedroom into a loom. I would sit in front of the TV, watching cartoons and weaving bookmarks with pink yarn. To this day, I always have to keep my hands busy making something.

If you compare your early works to more recent pieces, how do you feel your style has developed over the years?

My work has made large loops of progress. I’ve gone from working with yarn to drawing to painting, back to drawing, and back to painting, with sculpture, printmaking, sewing, and jewelry all in between. I feel my work becoming closer to expressing the core of my energy- full of color, patterns, shiny and sparkly things, animals, and nature, mystery and desire. I think, as a whole, my work has become more mature, while still retaining the curiosity and enthusiasm about life that I’ve had since I was a child.

You recently moved to San Francisco, how did you end up there?

I have always LOVED San Francisco! I used to take trips here often while I was going to school way up north in California at Humboldt State University, and I’ve always been inspired by the freedom, creativity, and beauty of the city. I moved back to my native state of Michigan for 6 years, always with the intention of moving back to California and living in San Francisco, which finally happened two years ago. I always felt that my work would be well-received here, and it definitely has been. There are so many freaky weirdos in the city as well. I fit right in!

Five key dates in your artistic career would be…

Let’s see… in 1997, my high school art teacher really encouraged me to continue with art in college. I was on the fence of going into psychology, but her support and interest in me really helped me to value my skills as an artist, and believe that I had what it takes to continue on successfully in the arts.
Then in 2000, I took my first painting class in college at Humboldt State University. Until then, I thought I would focus on jewelry or fiber arts, but I immediately became seduced by the color, texture, and possibilities of paint.
In 2003, I met my husband and we started a line of screen-printed t-shirts, featuring my artwork, and printed by him. We learned so much, traveled across the country, and learned more about business. He is now my assistant, number one fan, and best friend.
In 2006, I met my professor and mentor, Deborah Rockman, at Kendall College of Art and Design, under whom I studied for my MFA degree in Drawing. Through her, I came to learn so much more about myself as an artist, a woman, and a human.
In 2010, I had my first solo show in San Francisco at The Medicine Agency Gallery. It was the first time I was showing my work to the west coast, which led to gallery representation in New York, then Los Angeles and London!

Do you enjoy the business side of working with art or does it upset you? How do you deal with it?

Honestly, I don’t enjoy the business side of working with art. Art and money are really incompatible at the core. Prices of artwork are all over the board and the price of a work can never really relate to its true value. Art enhances our lives in a way that can never be monetized. I just try to accept things as they are and do my best to create the strongest work that I can. I just have to believe that my works will be seen by the right eyes at the right time. A lot of trust, perseverance, and optimism is required.

You have formed part of various exhibitions and you have your own book, something many artists can only dream about, what other dreams do you want to accomplish?

I would love to paint some large murals in San Francisco and other cities around the world. I also want to learn how to tattoo. I plan to develop some textile patterns as well. I’d also like to work more closely with children to make sure future generations understand the power and value of creativity. Ultimately, however, I would like my work to directly benefit the preservation of natural resources and wildlife. We all need to invest in keeping our beautiful planet healthy and filled with wild nature, and I’d love to have a positive impact on this important goal. So, I’ll be busy for a long time.

If Kelly Allen were president for a day what would she do?

I’d paint the White House with zebra stripes!

Haha, thank you Kelly!

Amelie Malmgren


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