A Profile of Daniel Allen and His Recent Work: Now Do You Want Me?
Woodley, Frances, Ceramics Art & Perception
A PROFILE OF DANIEL ALLEN DEMANDS A CONTEXT, both for him and his work. Allen is a prolific maker and has exhibited and sold internationally. He is also the founder member of Fireworks in Cardiff, a successful co-operative of artists' studios where he has worked alongside ceramic artists such as Claire Curneen, David Cushway and Virginia Graham to name but a few. Fireworks has been an essential part of Allen's working life and he has had a profound influence on the way it has developed including the group's commitment to fostering new talent from Britain and abroad. It has been Allen's creative home. Add to this his academic role as senior lecturer in ceramics and sometime gallery director at the University of Glamorgan and it is possible to get a sense of his range and commitment to ceramic practice.
Allen's work is essentially about himself, though self-portraiture is probably too simple a term. "Producing self-portraiture allows me the privilege to indulge myself, it gives me the freedom to explore my thoughts and delve into my psyche in the hope that I may find some answers, that I can grow to understand myself, manage myself and live happily with me." He creates figures onto which he projects aspects of himself that he wishes to explore. The figures become imaginative spaces for him. Their final resting space, the gallery, is their stage. Thus, the monumental and ambitious self is made to confront its own shortcomings and frustrations in a static performance, a tableau, in an alien environment.
Standing figures have been an ongoing theme in Allen's work for quite some time now. These half life-size figures are essentially a variation on a theme, a series of caricatures of the artist in different guises, though none so extreme that the figure or its identity are obscured. They represent exaggerations of his personality traits, his physique, his gender. They are caricatures that plead to be looked at, which, in spite of their humorous appendages, invite the viewer's sympathy rather than their derision. The figures are certainly travesties of sorts. They are both monolithic and ambiguous, a contradiction that serves to produce an expressive tension evident in works such as the Mook figures, Now Do You Want Me?, Now Do You Want Me Too and Curtain Call. They stand full frontal and exposed, demanding to be read from the front. They are occasionally made to point with staccato fingers or to dress up in absurd, pastry-like high heels, but in spite of such gestural or humorous concessions to dramatic expression, they seem unable to invite the viewer in. They are absorbed in themselves, gazing out with no fixed focal point, in what seem to be private moments of hubris or despair. If placed directly on the floor, the viewer can peer down at them as if they were some miniature race of human beings, familiar but strange. If positioned higher on a plinth they become monumental, but either way they also appear slightly vulnerable, at odds with their surroundings.
Allen has written that his "figures are awkward, they sit uncomfortably between what is considered art and what is considered craft, they respond to awkward themes, they take on an awkwardness in their persona, they are awkwardly sized". His figures rely for their expressiveness not just on their implicit narrative or their formal qualities, facial expressions and gestures, but also on an economical style of modelling. The modelling is not in itself expressive yet it bears the imprint of the maker. The paper clay mix that Allen uses has many advantages for artists wishing to build on a large scale, but it also changes the nature of modelling. Instead it is the occasional and restrained blasts of vivid colour such as the red on a clown's nose, the splashed slip on a chest, or the trace of transfers on a hand, that are expressive, particularly when they are used to contribute to the meaning, and consequently, to the reading of a work. …