WILLIAM ALLEN (American, b. 1957)
Good Fish, Bad Fish
Painter, print-maker and poet, Bill works in the world of words and images. A child of Fluxus art, Concrete and political poetry, and historical curiosities, Bill curates language, takes apart taxonomies and recombines encyclopedic knowledge in visual haiku, as he strains for bits of wisdom, precision, philosophy or humor. His incidentalism relies on discovering incidental ideas that resonate in beautiful, colorful and playful works with undercurrents that are political, dark and dreamy.
Allen’s work explores the formal quality of words, their acoustics and ambiguities. This critical art world work seeks out the luxuriousness and languor of words joyfully lolling off the tongue. The works in Good Fish, Bad Fish… quietly assert the beauty of language and our brainy love for lists, from cutesy dogs and sustainable fish species to American Place Names, exoplanets and names of neighborhoods in Queens, New York. Add assonance and alliteration, and you have a poem-painting on the wall. Vying with information overload, Bill builds his web of words in art’s world, with tangible materials — wood, aluminum and brushes full of hardware store enamel paint.
This smart-art-meets-sign-painting is meticulous and meditative, where folk art and signature become a personalised voice. As a viewer reads out loud, patterns emerge, flow together or get dizzy with idiosyncratic prose. A recent work, My Friend the Dog, plays with the problem of what lies beneath the painted script. Here, names of beloved dog breeds are rendered on aluminum ‘Beware of the Dog’ signs, looking for what’s tender as well as taut. Although not obvious at a glance, the artist takes pleasure in the secret, subtle shifts of meaning between form and function, between the underlying primal message and its frisky recreation.
William Allen’s work has been included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern, PS 1, Momenta Art, Harvard University, Williams College, Newark Museum, Ann Norton Sculpture Garden, on the NYC subway, and Buffalo metro bus lines. He’s worked with artist collectives like Group Material and Argo Group, as well as many collaborations with the minimalist sculptor and critical artist Barbara Westermann.
His prints with Clay Street Press are made on different surfaces like street signs, Egyptian cotton, limestone and zinc. He is a recipient of a Queens Council on the Arts Fellowship (2012) for his Queens street names paintings, and a National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship (2009) for his poems.
His two published books of poems are The Man on the Moon (Persea and NYU Presses, 1987) and Sevastopol: On Photographs of War (Xenos Press, 1997). New poetry includes “The Largest Glue Factory in the World” (a history of the Newtown Creek), “22 Stations” about the 7 train in New York, and “Linea Eins,” on the German U-Bahn of the Berlin Wall.