Artist Allenspach’s show attempts to conjure a Dreaming
There are experiences and objects in our lives, some obvious and some unexpected, that are infused with a kind of magic. Sometimes we are especially aware of the metaphysical in our connections to things in the world, and certain moments even bend our notions of time and space.
Expressing the depth and magic in these relationships visually is quite a challenge. Artist Janet Allenspach has answered this challenge with the use of hyper-realistic color and Australian aboriginal symbolism in her work, and her current exhibition at Moxie’s Café and Gallery in Chico is no exception. Allenspach continues her study and use of Australian aboriginal visual imagery and bright, varied color to depict her connections with native California and Maui wildlife that are significant to her.
Peoples like the Walbiri and others in Australia today still use color, dotting, and line patterns in decoration of objects, body art, and in performance and storytelling. Allenspach uses some designs from these cultures, as well as their fundamental concept of Dreamings. Dreamings are characters and elements from the natural world that are responsible for the creation of its landscape and life. In using these motifs, Allenspach hopes to express to the viewer her love of life, natural forms and color.
The artist is drawn to dynamic subjects and has an obvious interest in forms—forms made even bolder by isolating them from any traditional spatial context. Lines and dots saturate the canvas and surround the icon-like depictions of birds and fish for example in measured, rhythmic celebration of the forms.
Both previous and more recent works, inspired by her journey to Maui, are on display, and there are noticeable differences. The colors are brighter and more varied, and the forms are not so infused with dotting. Rather, they pop out from the background, like feature characters of the Dreaming Allenspach is creating, and these forms are tied together on the canvas by the aboriginal visual references. These effects work particularly well for the artist in “Octopus Dreaming,” featuring an octopus with undulating appendages. There are two yellow-toned fish below and a rainbow fish below them, all in profile. The dotting on the fish, the swirling of the octopus’ articulated tentacles, and the line of dot-like suction cups work well with her motifs.
There are some pieces that seem indicative of a transition for Allenspach. She makes a natural progression to depicting close-up views of animal forms in natural surroundings, like clown fish in swirling tip-lit tendrils of many an anemone. There are also some attempts at still life and landscape images on a few different scales, but for the most part the spatial relationships between the objects remind us of the icon-like forms in her pervious work—these have more of a collage effect rather than creating a space.
The one exception is a watercolor piece titled “Blue Mountains,” where Allenspach uses her skill with color to create nice atmospheric perspective. However, while the piece is good, it seems out of place with the rest of the exhibition. Other misfits in the show include some pieces that seem simply to fill up the wall rather than add layers to the show, and the displayed t-shirts with her images reflect more about marketing artwork in Chico than they do the aesthetic Allenspach works with.
Regardless, in Allenspach’s work there is a definite emphasis on the iconic form and the celebration of hyper color that comprise a saccharine, visual feast. Her use of Australian aboriginal symbolism, along with the line and dot saturated surfaces, conveys a sense of magic that surrounds the isolated forms, and also creates a stream-like link across the canvases, between these objects or moments in time and space.