Talking with Ricky Allman: From Mormonism to the ApocalypseJuxtapoz // Wednesday, 09 Jun 2010
Although Allman, who grew up as a Mormon prepping for Doomsday and didn’t think he’d live to see adulthood, no longer believes the end is near he’s right on target about the ills and extremism of the day. Crude oil continues to spew from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and its gelatinous blobs of poison are drifting ashore thousands of miles away.
While prepping for a current show in Denver, Allman took some time to talk to Juxtapoz. He seems pretty confident despite the omnipresent gloom lately. --Alexandra Waldhorn
Alexandra Waldhorn: Could you tell us briefly about your background and how you use themes of Apocalypse, religion and man-made environments vs. nature?
Ricky Allman: I grew up as a Mormon in Utah and was taught about the apocalypse all the time. It's a big theme in the Mormon Church. People have a year's worth of food storage to prepare for it. Utah is also on a big fault line so we had earthquake drills all the time. I honestly didn't expect to live to see adulthood. But even thought I expected the world to end the mountains surrounding my hometown were always a big comfort to me, they were constant and they felt like they protected me from the "evils" of the outside world. When I was 25 I moved to Boston and suddenly the mountains were replaced with skyscrapers and my surroundings felt much more threatening. The architecture felt like it could come crashing down on me any moment.
Can you tell us a little about your show at the David B Smith gallery in Denver, Colorado? Does the name of the showing, “I had no defense so I lied” refer to anything in particular?
I heard that Rush Limbaugh said that the BP oil spill was caused by environmentalists who blew up the oilrig, which of course is absolutely ridiculous. I thought about how he had no defense for this huge disaster of capitalism so he just lied. Then I thought that maybe there was some correlation with what I was doing as a painter, in making up these stories and images is, in a sense, lying. Many times I don’t have a valid reason or defense for my ideas but I feel compelled to make them up anyway.
What sorts of things are you working on lately?
My integrity, self-esteem, and my beard. Just kidding, except for the beard. Well, I did my first three dimensional piece for the David B Smith show, I am pretty excited about that. I’m also working on my first video. It’s a stop-motion animation of a sculpture of one of my paintings. I’m also recording the music for it. I was hoping to get it done for this show but I overestimated my ability to finish in time. It will be nice to spend some time on it and get it right.
A lot of your work pits different ways of life against each other. By capturing the polarities of our world what are you trying to say? Should we be worried?
Oh yeah, we are screwed, big time. Actually, I’m not too worried personally. I think we are facing some serious issues politically and environmentally and there is a lot of doomsday talk these days. I grew up as a Mormon preparing for the apocalypse, so that has always been something that has fascinated me, even though I don’t believe in it. I’m confident we as a species will figure out how to make things work. As many problems as we face right now things are actually pretty good for us relative to what people have faced historically.
Also I can be easily awed and amused by thinking about everything we now have at one time being in the earth. Buildings and nature can be so far removed from each other in our minds. It is inspiring for me to see where they meet, collide, and work with and against each other. I am constantly amazed at the millions of different ways we have shaped the earth's resources for our convenience.
If something inhabited the buildings in your recent painting “Seven Exteriors,” what or who would it be?
Well I like to think of it as a psychedelic spaceship or temple. So then I suppose it would be inhabited by religious astronauts on acid.
Could you tell us a little about your technique? How much planning goes into your paintings?
I am very much an intuitive painter. I am unable to conceive of an entire painting in my mind, only small parts or elements at a time. I hate following plans, sketches and formulas; I get very bored. The joy I get in making is in the doodling, accidental surprises, and unexpected placement of forms, colors and layers and figuring out a way to make connections. Although I do usually start out with a general compositional idea, some of those are taken from movie stills (Back to the Future, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), photographs, or things I see as I'm out and about.
If your art had accompanying sound or music what would it be?
I would hope that my work has some resonance with bands like Mogwai, Sigur Ros, Maserati, Explosions in the Sky, where there are some slow, ethereal and drifting passages interspersed with intense, poignant moments of clarity.
You only recently started to incorporate figures into your work. Is this something you’ll stick with or do you think you’ll go back to landscapes with human-made elements, yet not inhabited?
For years I resisted including the figure because I wanted the paintings to be more experiential than voyeuristic. But since then I have realized that the inclusion of the figure can often times help the viewer imagine how their own body would fit into and move about in a space like I have created in a painting. I think it is more experiential for me without the figure because I am intimately familiar with the space, but for many viewers I think the figure can be quite helpful. So there are some paintings that will need them and some won’t.
As an assistant art professor, what do you try and impart on your students?
I always try to make sure I’m not training artists to paint like me. I want my students to explore their own personal history, their passions, and fears and to think about what excites them and interests them. I try to help them come up with the best possible way for them to express those things. I’m trying to get them to think critically about themselves, the world and their own work so that their own curiosity and love of learning will compel them to make interesting work.
Any other exciting things coming up that we should watch out for?
This is my 3rd solo show already this year so I’m taking a break from exhibiting for a little while to go back and do a lot of experimenting in my studio. It will be great to figure out some new ideas I’ve been thinking about for a while without deadlines pressuring me to finish. I have a few secrets planned so if anyone is interested they can come to my website to find out what’s going on in a few months.
Ricky Allman’s work will be on display at the David B Smith Gallery in Denver, Colorado until July 3.
More on Ricky Allman at www.rickyallman.com