Previous Exhibition

Rich Allen —
Spirits in Alliance

Aug 3 – Aug 13, 2023

About the Artist      

In 2021, an 'artist in residence' opportunity, which accompanied Rich's Fleeting World exhibition at Side Gallery, created a compelling need for Rich to explore the circle and all this holistic symbol represents. In addition, at that time, Rich had several conversations with fellow artisans from diverse disciplines of practice. These conversations led to the idea of undertaking explorations with collaborators, a vehicle to challenge and test current thinking and move right out of his comfort zone. This journey evolved into the exhibition Spirits in Alliance.

Rich Allen  
Sophia Andreas
Nicole Cox Yeates
Glen Harvey 
Grev Patterson  
Julie Sutherland
Erik Williamson
Katy Woods 

We are delighted to celebrate the opening of Rich Allen's latest exhibition, Spirits in Alliance. Join us Thursday, 3 August, from 6.00 pm for opening night drinks. 

On Saturday, 5 August, at 10.30 am, Rich and fellow artisans will join curator Laura Brinin in the gallery to chat about this collaborative body of work.

Artwork Notes

Spirits in Alliance Essay by Jess mcNicol

Rich Allen’s artwork is stamped with symmetrical monogram insignia that belongs at the bottom of an Art Nouveau manifesto. His illustrative practice carefully creates systematically beautiful forms that are elegant in all the ways we usually reserve for sleek design. But there’s a vast expanse beneath the surface of each meticulously plotted line, and precise, practiced asymmetry hints at an enormity of purpose, and Allen is incredibly singular in his purpose.

Author and journalist Michael Gladwell famously established that it takes 10,000 hours to make a master, and for a long time now (somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 hours precisely), Allen has put this theory to the test. After withdrawing from commercial design at 60, Allen approached the next chapter of life with a singular goal – to return to his roots as a visual artist and complete his hours to become a master. Simple.

What we see in his work is an expression of this journey in precise simplicity. His illustrations have a practised economy that captures the essence of grace and movement. I suspect it is no coincidence that his imagery seems informed by Nouveau and Sumi-e characteristics. These are aesthetics informed by sophistication and philosophy.

Allen has been purposeful throughout his self-imposed apprenticeship, chronicling his hours methodically, and his journey from Apprentice to Master (Artisan) sits before us in a beautiful hand-plotted graph, signalling rises, plateaus, and what he points out as ‘brief spells of progress’ — slight upward inflections in the gracefully curved line. It reminds me of sheet music, this approach to practice, and Allen explains that he quantifies this data reflectively, re-composing time spent into three sonatas – The Apprentice (Order), The Journeyman (Flow), and The Artisan (Surrender). Each movement represents a devotion to purpose expressed as a progression of aesthetic ideology; even the simplified terms Allen uses as signifiers of his journey are key defining features of his practice.

“There is no end. Attaining mastery is impossible,” Allen grins, shaking his head.

“To get to this knowledge, you must forge your practice to try and achieve mastery – then the goal post moves, and you can see that there is no destination, but it’s your process of falling in love with the pursuit – that is the realisation of mastery.”

While Allen worked through the process to form his personal philosophy, Gladwell’s theory has been criticised for good reasons. One of the most significant is that the number of hours is mainly arbitrary and that quality of purpose in practice is more critical to achieving true refinement of skill. Another is that simply putting in time without feedback, review, or relevant peer discourse, does not improve practice. You can not achieve mastery in isolation.

This brings me to a crucial juncture in the road to mastery that leads directly to the driving principle behind Spirits in Alliance, Allen’s second show in the Side Gallery space, and one that falls during his third movement or sonata where The Artisan embraces surrender.

That’s where this distinctive group show begins. Through the realisation that there is no set point of mastery and through the death of the ego, the notion of surrender allows you to engage in influence and collaboration more readily.

Spirits in Alliance is a meditation on influence and collaboration from seven Artists and Craftspeople who are skilled in their media areas and approach their art with a kindred purpose. As proficient makers in their own right, each artist has taken elements of Allen’s visual language and explored and refined colour palettes, geometry, and expressions of movement and beauty in the discourse of their discipline.

Muse, Katy Woods, who features in Allen’s figurative works, will perform in the gallery, a natural extension of the static elegance we see as a motif in his illustration. This motif is extended for Spirits across digital print, moving images, and even woodwork, in collaboration with Grev Patterson, Erik Williamson and Glen Harvey.

Nicole Cox Yeates and Julie Sutherland express Allen’s refined line and precisely plotted pattern as silken textiles and intricately beaded sculpture. Sophia Andreas bridges influence and divergent media, depicting Allen’s light geometry in glass and lead lighting.

Spirits in Alliance is an exciting embodiment of the processes that inform chords of influence in craftsmanship and artistry. Though the works in the show share a common visual lineage, their diversity offers an insight into the often unexplored avenues artists offer in true collaboration. Spirits in Alliance serves as a graceful lesson that to seek mastery is, in truth, to surrender to the love of the practice.

About the Artist

Rich Allen

Rich Allen describes himself as “a London-Brit by birth, and an Australian by choice!” 

He studied painting and drawing between 1968 and 1973, and is an honours graduate from the Central St Martins School of Art, in London. 

Following six years teaching art and coaching sport at high school level in The Bahamas, Rich migrated to Brisbane in 1982, and on arrival opened a graphic design practice specialising in corporate identity [a service he describes as making business strategy visible through design and defines as one of “differentiation by design”]. Following a great deal of soul searching, fuelled by a desire for personal re-invention, Rich returned to his fine art origins on a full-time basis, in late 2009.

Working with the single-minded theme of ‘intimism’ [capturing quiet/fleeting moments], and driven by process, Rich’s approach is organised and measured, with all his time accurately recorded. In April 2021, he accrued 20000 hours of practice [comprising two scopes of 10000 hours, one carrying the moniker ‘apprentice’ and the other ‘journeyman’]. He has calculated and charted the various dates during which he believes “brief spells of progress” have been achieved, and is currently engaged in a third scope as ‘artisan’. He has given this 10000-hour target the title: “Surrender to Uncertainty”. 

Rich states: “I believe that my work is simply about a disciplined pursuit towards some sort of mastery.” He adds: “Mastery is best expressed through this definition by Aikido master George Leonard. It reads: ‘MASTERY: the mysterious process during which what is at first difficult, becomes progressively easier and more pleasurable through practice. Embracing and enjoying plateaus of pure practice is paramount to my processes of working.”

In more recent years, Rich has developed a presentation: “talking in whispers”, which he has given to a number of professional entities, including the Australian Institute of Architects’ continuing development programme throughout 2019. This illustrated talk is divided into a number of segments, verbalizing and visualizing his journey from its outset.

About the Curator

Laura Brinin

Laura Brinin is a curator of contemporary art, currently facilitating the vibrant program at Side Gallery in the heart of Red Hill, Brisbane. With an unwavering passion for nurturing connections with emerging and established creatives, Laura is dedicated to fostering artistic growth through avenues such as social media, branding, and identity development.

Laura has exhibited her own work both in Australia and overseas, as well as working as an independent freelance curator across Brisbane for over ten years. In her downtime, you can find her reading, travelling, or stalking dogs.