Over the last few years Matthew Allen’s paintings appear to have been shunning colour. His patient working of the graphite forced his substitution of the brush for comfortable burnishing tools as he set about to extricate any available light in the material itself. In the past Matthew, in effect rendered light through veils of translucent pigment which approximated its behavior and its collusion with colour. These earlier works had more Joseph Marioni about them – the fall and fetishized pooling of glazes, the seduction that colour alone can illicit. However, it is pleasing for me to see his work avoid the cul-de-sac of that monochrome position and steer his work away from affect towards consequence.
To do so he didn’t abandon all the co-ordinates of painting, retaining the orthodox proportions that clearly imply portraiture and landscape, choosing beautiful linen, folding and tucking it oh so neatly around a timber support so as to at least initiate this curious process as if he were going to paint.
After the palette cleansing of these meditative graphite panels Matthew has once again invited colour back into the matrix, though it is colour at its most discreet. The softest blush of pink – an intimate colour we demurely recognize perhaps and most recently a deep velvety black.
The clarity of Allen’s forms, the way that color is now set against the graphite in equal volume makes for narrow distinctions in one way and utterly antagonistic characteristics in others. Light against dark, soft against resolute, open and closed, left against right. There is a calm rhythm and repetition in this duality, a pleasure in the resolution of opposites.
In his newest works Allen seems to be abandoning painting along with colour. What is left you might wonder? Well there is the architecture of the support and the fine tooth of the linen he chooses to stretch. These naked elements now sit undressed beside exquisitely made graphite panels, forms that shimmer and seduce in the shifting light, beckoning us closer with their mirror like lure and charisma. Stripped of material the full-frontal nudity of the linen panels is confronting. As viewers it’s as if we don’t know where to look – politely. It is almost as if he were asking us to look beyond the skin of the painting so as to see something other than illusion. It’s not some cool Magrittean trick…Ceci n’est une peinture…This really is the painting. Its bareness confirming its precariousness and vulnerability and further endowing the shimmer of the graphite that nestles up close with a spirit and felicity.
Andrew Jensen, July 2020