Moments after I stepped into Blum & Poe, the place Theodora Allen’s current work are hanging, a lady entered and declared to her companion, “These are so pleasing.” Allen’s works do, certainly, give instantly and generously of their visible splendor. They deftly marry ostensibly opposing formal qualities—flatness and depth, extravagance and restraint, presence and absence—eliciting not solely sensual pleasure but in addition an mental rush.
“Syzygy” is modest in scale in comparison with “Vigil,” her final present right here in 2017, which sprawled brilliantly by means of a sequence of capacious galleries. This present feels appropriately-sized for the second, nevertheless. Its meeting of 5 work, all made in the course of the pandemic yr of 2021, transforms its single room into an intimate, meditative chamber.
Born and based mostly in Los Angeles, Allen makes use of a lexicon of acquainted, legible symbols that come preloaded with resonance from their established roles in art historical past, mythology, alchemy, and heraldry. She combines and repurposes these parts—candle, serpent, sword, moon, moth, and extra—with a twenty-first-century sense of entitlement and but a refreshing lack of irony. Her symmetrical compositions and mirrored figures suggest a harmonious visible order above or throughout the huge dysfunction we all know as life. When Allen makes use of an emblem, it’s an homage of types to the students, believers, and seekers throughout time who conceived schematic narratives to assist us account for ourselves, our histories, our origins. Her work embody that very same everlasting starvation for final data and replicate again to us the archetypal instruments of the search. She attracts with earnest savvy upon all the pieces from the visionary drive of William Blake to the romanticized retrospection of the Pre-Raphaelites and the non secular modernism of Agnes Pelton, every supply providing a definite mannequin for fusing the sensuous and the heady.
In three small works right here (measuring roughly two toes tall), Allen paints a slender band across the perimeter, a body throughout the body that serves as a boundary between the purplish-gray aircraft of the canvas’s outer rim and an indeterminate blue inside, dilute as light denim. She gracefully incorporates the emblems of arrow, coronary heart, star, and infinity signal into and round that slim, framing line so that they carry out as each ornaments and icons. The format of the work, with their shallow, ornamental border, recollects early Renaissance illuminated manuscripts, an affiliation that nudges the works—Struck, Origin, and The Amulet—towards the realm of sacred texts. The frontality and distilled readability of those compositions additional hyperlink them to the pictographic symbols of alchemy and tarot. By combining and recontextualizing emblems, Allen creates a normal atmosphere of mystical significance; the phrases of her shuffled glossary are largely uncoupled from their native grammars.
In the triptych Syzygy (Narcissus) and associated portray Falling Star (Memento Mori), ravishingly elegant vertical panels greater than six toes tall current stylized scenes of the cosmos in monochromatic indigo. Within every alluring area, a big diamond form with a comet’s tail of luxuriant flame rises, falls, or hovers. Each fiery type incorporates, within the method of a crystal ball, a pale, hazy picture: an hourglass, sifting seconds; a scorpion resting on an upturned palm; a narcissus blossom bending, like its namesake, towards its personal watery double.
Painted in skinny layers of oil and wiped away between additions, these surfaces conjure atmospheres saturated with fog. The white weave of the ready linen substrate stays conspicuous; it registers as a textural flickering, a luminosity from inside. This insistent materiality coexists with a vaporous metaphysicality—a compelling enactment of one among many definitions of syzygy, a union of contradicting forces.