At first glance Matthew Allen’s work has a crispness and clarity, a latent sense of formality about it that one could be forgiven for assuming that technology played a role in its manifestation…and of course it did. Wood, linen, graphite, paint, brush, burnishing tools – all determinedly analogue technologies in a pervasively digital age.
Allen’s measured configurations, much like the sequential forms of Judd, act as containers for an intuitively driven inquiry into the luminescence of material – one where patient attention arouses a sensuality in that matter that in turn engenders a heightened sensitivity in the viewer. The apparently repeated forms avoid any systemic predictability because rather than repeat, each element acts as a deep echo of the other. Like a ‘Chinese whisper’ whose reverberation delivers a new iteration, they are subtley altered by transference and time.
Allen’s polished graphite works don’t wish to be viewed at a distance. They invite us, up close and personal as if we are approaching a mysterious darkened mirror, tarnished by time and resisting reflection. This notion has been reinforced by the intimacy and scale of the objects he made – many works being the size of a small head and shoulders portrait, certainly no more. In this new group of works Allen has not only increased the scale dramatically but he has turned the axis of the work to insinuate a horizon line.
These “landscape” works of Allen’s might be the flattened DNA of the Northern European Lowlands infiltrating his consciousness, but equally there is a meditative ambience akin to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s celebrated Seascapesthat has always been present in Allen’s work. Allowing himself permission to paint the horizon line, it is almost as if he was granting himself permission to look away from the close scrutiny of intimate portraiture…to calm his eyes and mind on the distant horizon…to find oneself through the release of a distant gaze rather than the demands of close quarter inspection.
Untitled, 2019 is the largest of these works. At almost 2 metres in height the work extends beyond the physical height of most viewers (though probably not Matthew). The top band is painted in a beautiful, soft, deep black with the three horizontal bands below each a shimmering meniscus of burnished graphite. Looking up and through the graphite panels towards the darkened horizon line one senses that Allen is looking back beyond Sugimoto to the romanticism of Casper David Friedrich. Friedrich’s Sea Shore in Moonlightcirca 1835-36 with its diffuse evening light, has a sense of serenity and implied confrontation of man against nature.
Whatever the scale of these new paintings and the “macro” implications that such a horizon line implies psychologically, Allen’s work remains an aggregate of “micro” gestures. From the small ceremonies attached to substrate preparation, to the burnishing and polishing of his graphite surfaces these paintings are very much hand-made and understood through our own analogue technologies – eyes and intuition.
Andrew Jensen 2019