click here polymer photogravure
click here three color etching
click here large scale colograph
"Assention" collagraph on canvas, 80" x 160" y. 1988
"Portraits" of the American Psyche
Review by Ed McCormack
ART SPEAK, New York 1990
Recent exhibitions by James Rosenquist and the Swiss painter/printmaker Franz Gertsch have focused media attention on the oversize print, a new area of exploration that some artists are finding increasingly fruitful. Rosenquist and Gertsch, however, hardly have the last word in large-scale printmaking. Indeed, in this critic's opinion, the most dynamic exponent of what has recently been referred to as the "painterly print" is the Texas artist, Dan Allison, whose first New York solo exhibition, "Western Man," can be seen at New Renaissance Fine Arts Gallery, 382 West Broadway, through July l.
Born in 1953 in Houston, where he still lives and works, Allison has already achieved considerable renown in Europe, Japan, and the U.S. for his innovative painting with the surface subtleties of printmaking. Allison begins by layering various materials, such as sandpaper, fabric, and metal filings, on large masonite panels that serve as plates. The large prints that he pulls from these surfaces in limited editions are unique impressions, no two alike, which he mounts on stretched canvases, further enhancing the weighty materiality that adds to their painterly impact. Allison's richly layered textures and luminous, deeply burnished colors create a chromatically charged field for dramatic, sometimes disturbing, images And, as impressive as Allison's technical mastery may be, it is finally his imagery that makes his collographs so compelling.
Some of Allison's images have the dark drama of the old movie stills from which he often takes his inspiration. In his large collograph, "Open All Night," for one magnificent example, the shapely figure of a woman, adjusting her high heeled shoe in front of a basement after-hours dive, is freely adopted from an old photograph of Kim Novak in one of her many vampish film roles. In the same painting, which is divided into two distinctively cinematic "frames," the figure of the sexy woman is juxtaposed with that of a man in rumpled clothes, clutching his chest in apparent agony, as the chair he is standing upon collapses beneath him. The dialogue between these two separate, yet related figures evokes a sense of psychological violence as startling as that of Robert Longo's early "victim" pictures. In Allison's collograph, however, the dramatic allusiveness is enhanced by the detailed treatment of the backgrounds: the pathos of the "Bless Our Home" sign hanging on the grimy wall behind the collapsing man; the "Open All Night" sign above the sleazy doorway, to which the woman will momentarily descend.
A less linear narrative, akin to certain compositions by Larry Rivers, is suggested by the more fragmented images in Allison's collograph "Big Chief America." Here, the dominant image is a classically craggy profile of an American Indian, over which the smaller figure of infantry soldiers engaged in battle, as well as a fighter plane and a crude skull, are superimposed. The lettering under the images tips one off that the Indian, is the trademark of a school exercise book, upon which
a child has scrawled the warring figures. The slanted "Oriental" eyes of one of the soldiers makes clear that he, like the graffiti-defaced Indian chief, is "the enemy" in a Western world where deeply ingrained racial stereotypes still hold sway.
Other myths from popular culture populate Allison's collographs, often appearing in incongruous contexts, as in ""Mona Missile," where the quasi-religious female figure, standing with outstretched palms in a visionary landscape, bears a striking resemblance to Katharine Hepburn. A similar figure in the equally strong collograph "East of Eden" cradles a miniature fighter plane as though it's the baby Jesus, while Adam and Eve flee an apocalyptic garden in a swirling circular vortex.
One of the largest and most spectacular of Allison's collographs is "Ascension," where a massive figure, composed of illusionistic twigs and thorns, set against black and white checkerboard patterns, is juxtaposed with an upside down image of an astronaut, floating in black, empty space, encircled by umbilical cables. By contrast to this rich profusion of symbolic imagery, the simpler composition of "Raisin' Hell," another huge collograph, is dominated by the single image of a gleaming silver space missile, streaking through the stratosphere amid starry explosions of brilliant yellow.
In these and other recent collographs, Dan Allison emerges as a major American artist whose heroic vision transcends the artificial barriers between painting and printmaking. On the evidence of his remarkable first New York solo show, Allison's inclusion in the upcoming Moscow Exhibition, to be mounted in the U.S.S.R. in 1991, should cause a considerable stir in the international art community.