Review: At Blum & Poe, a ‘Cosmic Garden’ of ghostly beauty

In her entrancing second show at Blum & Poe, L.A. painter Theodora Allen continues to visualize the space of dreams and visions. Her two new bodies of work evoke a state of altered consciousness: Physical reality feels muted, spiritual awareness elevated.

"The Cosmic Garden" paintings represent spaces apart from the material world. Allen sets up each composition as a view through an arched window. The opening allows visual access to what lies beyond, but the framing separates here from there, the tangible world we occupy from the one imagined. Flowering plants rise along the threshold, and vines climb its edges. In each painting, a gleaming moon, ringed planet or sun in eclipse floats in the distance.

Theodora Allen’s “The Cosmic Garden V,” 2017, oil on linen, 67 inches by 51 inches (Blum & Poe)

Allen paints in near-monochrome violet and gray, the pigment whisper-thin, the underlying linen weave aerating the surface with glimmers of white. Every aspect of the work — the disjunctive scale of its subjects, the spatial illogic and the crisp, ghostly forms — reinforces the hallucinatory quality.

The other series of paintings in the show hangs separately and imbues its gallery with the meditative air of a sanctuary. Each of these intimate canvases looks similarly faded yet luminous, painted in an elemental palette of pale blood, sky and stone. Each also bears a frame-within-the frame, a slender rectangular band usually interlocked with another, circular or diamond-shaped. Centered within the geometric setting are images of one or more candles, radiating squint-worthy light. Allen here sheds the anchor of physicality altogether, conjuring spaces entirely emblematic. If "The Cosmic Garden" paintings are kin to the distilled, spiritual landscapes of Agnes Pelton and Henrietta Shore, these more closely recall the Theosophical abstractions of Kandinsky.

Theodora Allen’s “The Diamond,” 2017, oil on linen, 16 inches by 12 inches (Blum & Poe)

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Several meanings of "Vigil," the show's title, apply. All focus and light, concentrations of attention, these are paintings to keep watch by. If not expressly devotional, they nevertheless embody and invite acts of devotion. They are, in keeping with another sense of the term vigil, a kind of peaceful demonstration. Their cause? A quiet, interior stillness, perhaps. A primal state of wakefulness.

Blum & Poe, 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Through Aug. 19; closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 836-2062,

Theodora Allen’s “The Cosmic Garden I,” 2016, oil on linen, 78 inches by 60 inches (Blum & Poe)

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