Mark Andrew Allen is making art fun again
By Christina Campodonico
The art world can be a serious place. Or as sociologist and visual arts writer author Sarah Thornton observed in her book “Seven Days in the Art World”: “If the art world shared one principle, it would be that nothing is more important than the art itself.
“… [C]ontemporary art has become a kind of alternative religion for atheists,” she writes. “For many art world insiders and art aficionados of other kinds, concept-driven art is a kind of existential channel through which they bring meaning to their lives. It demands leaps of faith, but it rewards the believer with a sense of consequence.”
Westchester-based artist Mark Andrew Allen takes his art seriously. (He makes a new piece every day, peppers his art with nods to 1950s-style “action painting” and is represented by galleries all over the world.)
But he prefers to infuse his work with fun, rather than fanaticism — even better if he can put a pun on it.
Playful turns of phrase and circumstance abound in his Warholian-style mixed media collages, which also pop with the countenances of celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
In Allen’s hands, a stretch of Abbot Kinney Boulevard transforms into “Abbey Kinney,” as a cutout of the Fab Four — Paul and Ringo toting a surfboard — stroll across the street à la the iconic image on their “Abbey Road” album cover. A bottle of Don Julio tequila becomes a “Flu Shot” in another work. A vintage Barbie doll — the plaything of many a young child — exclaims “Don’t toy with me!” in another. In the piece “Harvey n Irma,” Jackson Pollock performs his signature drip painting dance over the eye of swirling storm, as if he were a witch dropping the final ingredient into a swirling cauldron.
“That’s just how my brain works,” says Allen, 60, whose work is currently on display in “This is Now” at Santa Monica fashion, beauty and home décor boutique Ron Robinson. “I like to include puns and humor in my work … and just put out things that are a little bit tongue in cheek.
“I kind of like to think of myself as an art comedian,” he continues. “I salute Warhol for almost mocking the sacred art world.”
Much like an irreverent artist or late-night talk show host, Allen — who kept an apartment across the street from Warhol’s Factory while studying at New York’s Parsons School of Design and crossed paths with the artist during that time — is unafraid of tackling the hot button topics of the day with a humorous spin either.
One of his latest images, titled “Hurricane Harvey Weinstein,” lays a meteorological image of Houston’s Hurricane Harvey over a photo of disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein.
“It was just a direct hit on Hollywood,” says Allen, referencing the movie mogul’s recent fall from grace following a wave of sexual harassment allegations against him.
“I want the work to all represent what it looks like to be alive today,” continues Allen, who dots all his works with tiny pixels — a nod to the digital age — and enjoys updating his social media feeds with his latest creations. “I like the idea of people liking photos or commenting on the photos of these drawings and you can get that instant feedback.”
That sense of immediacy, but also nostalgia or pastiche, attracted shopping experience impresario Ron Robinson to showcase Allen’s work in his flagship store.
“Mark’s art is a perfect fit. It’s pop culture. Here’s Marilyn and here’s old toys, like Hula Hoops and Slip ’n Slides and Crayolas. … It’s a piece of life today,” says Robinson.
Part of Allen’s impulse to stay current, but also insert images of iconic Americana, stems from the artist’s previous career as a graphic designer in the entertainment industry, during which time he designed the “Nightmare Before Christmas” logo for Disney, redesigned Coca-Cola bottles, worked on the 60th anniversary logo for “The Wizard of Oz” with his father Harrison Allen, and art directed for Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs record label, Bad Boy Records.
The sage advice of artist Robert Rauschenberg, another influence whom Allen met several times throughout his career, also reminds him to always be on the lookout for inspiring images or concepts that can be reimagined or appropriated for artistic purposes.
“Just one of the things that he said to me was, ‘Everything you see is important.’ To me, that really clicked. I try to do that with a lot of my work,” says Allen.
When not chasing down current event storms or celebrity images, Allen remixes the Westside’s landmarks into his work. The Venice Sign over Windward Plaza, the Santa Monica Pier’s neon archway (which becomes a tiara for a smiling woman in the collage “Santa Monica Sun Queen”), LAX’s Theme Building and the Westside’s baby blue lifeguard towers figure prominently in his mash ups of dripping paint, newsprint, stars and graffiti swirls.
But it took him a while to embrace the L.A. lifestyle.
“I also had an apartment in New York for 10 years, and the reason that I got the apartment in New York is because they wouldn’t really consider L.A. artists in New York,” says Allen. “During that 10-year period I noticed that, in the beginning, people didn’t really like the whole L.A. art scene. Towards the end, their ears really perked up when you would mention L.A.”
Since relocating to L.A., then ultimately settling in Westchester five years ago, Allen hasn’t been able to tear himself away from the coast — even when his fellow artists beckoned him to join downtown L.A.’s thriving art scene, centered around The Brewery Arts Complex.
“I had several friends that lived down there at The Brewery, and they were like, ‘Oh, this is where all the artists are trying to make it, and once they make it, they end up probably on the Westside.’ I’m thinking, wait a minute. I’m on the Westside. Why am I going to move downtown? I think, ‘I’m doing things pretty OK. … I’m doing great right here.’”
Mark Andrew Allen’s “This is Now” is on display through Oct. 31 at Ron Robinson, 1327 5th St., Santa Monica. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Follow @mallendesign2 or visit markandrewallen.com for more info.