Art review: Tom Allen at Richard Telles

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Tom Allen has toned it down substantially since his first show at Richard Telles in 2002. He’s still on a quest for a place among the great Romanticists, but seems in less of a rush to deliver the grand emotional wallop. New paintings, in his fifth show at the gallery, feel substantially more earnest and less calculated, though they don’t deliver the moody goods any more consistently.

Four canvases in the “Summerlands” series have promise but fall short of transporting. Their title pays homage to Andrew Jackson Davis, a 19th century spiritualist convinced that an afterlife takes place in an inhabitable zone in space. In each painting, Allen renders a single weathered hunk of wood against a vague, undifferentiated landscape. The trees have expired but still twist and squirm with life, dense packages of captive energy. Certain parts look fleshy, suggesting a limb or ear, but if Allen resists an Arcimboldo-like literality, he also skimps on symbolism, repeating the formulaic, bland background and underplaying the animate — animistic, even — potential of the wood.


Allen is a skilled painter. His technical prowess and love of dark mystery marry best in “Landscape With Two Candles,” the setting for some kind of ritual that may or may not involve live actors. The candles burn atop tree stumps whose snaking roots intermingle and spread across a shoreline of smooth stones. Streaks of orange gleam in the crevices of the silvery brown wood, as if emanating from an internal, mystical source. Nancy Jackson has traveled this ground and made much of it. Constance Mallinson’s recent work touched down here too. Allen is on the brink of calling this rich, mythic territory home.

– Leah Ollman

Richard Telles Fine Art, 7380 Beverly Blvd., (323) 965-5578, through Nov. 27. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Images: Summerlands (top) and Landscape With Two Candles. Courtesy of Richard Telles Fine Art.