After the lecture by "No Big Heads" juror Alicia Candiani at UAA on Tuesday night (that show opens Thursday, see the blog listing below), Professor Mariano Gonzales asked me to follow him up to the Kimura Gallery in the Fine Arts Building. "You gotta see this," he said.
Along the walls of the gallery, awaiting hanging, leaned an assortment of some of the most remarkable paintings I've ever seen by an Alaskan. Maybe THE most remarkable.
Not much had been written about William Allen at the time Mariano showed Mike the drawings and paintings stacked against the wall last month. Mike changed that yesterday, with his detailed ADN profile on this remarkable local artist. Here's Dunham's description of Allen's early life and pursuit of his art:
Allen was born in Seattle in 1926. His mother owned bars in Alaska. His father died while he was young. He spent much of his childhood in orphanages. He graduated from Anchorage High School in 1944, was drafted into the Army and volunteered for a second enlistment. He studied art at the University of Washington. He married his wife, Coral, a schoolteacher, in Anchorage in 1953. They homesteaded near Soldotna, then in the Kasilof area.
It is probably an exaggeration to call him a recluse. Though quiet and moody, he spoke with neighbors, went out for meals, was as much a part of the community as many others living in scattered and remote homesteads in the area then and now. But as his son Russell notes in a flier for the show, "If you were not churchgoers and didn't drink around here, you didn't have a whole lot of friends."
Producing art can't always have been easy for Allen. The twisted agony that disfigures many of his drawings may reflect medical anxieties. He was tortured by arthritis, which eventually made it impossible to work. His daughter Julia was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age. Alzheimer's disease keeps any insights he may have divulged to Coral locked inside her.
[William Allen's son] Russell has said he didn't pay that much attention to his father's art while growing up. It was just part of the household. But he did note that his father "wouldn't really stop with the pencil until the drawing was done. He would tell me he didn't really know what he was drawing when he started; he just kept drawing until it came out. I think he called them 'Zen' drawings."
Dunham's assessment of Allen is not only detailed, it contains a fair amount of nuanced testimony from other Alaska artists. Also, it is garnering far more comments than one often sees at on-line versions of fine arts articles at the ADN. Here's one:
Could be worth millions if exposed on a national/worldwide stage. Would like to see more photographs of the collection online; maybe the son could create a website for ultimate exposure. Totally fascinating collection and tale.
I don't know about the web site's probability. It sounds like a good idea. As far as what this art may be worth money-wise, I have no idea. I agree with UAA Art Professor Sean Licka, that Allen's late drawings are the most interesting work in the show.