murrayALLEN (1930 - 2010)
Murray Allen passed away on Monday (December 20, 2010). I received the e-mail informing me yesterday morning. I didn’t know Murray well, so I can’t give you many details on his life, but wow did I ever appreciate his character. I met him in his home to view his work. He said, “I’m the kind of guy who thinks a man should have a cat” and he shared his house by the stadium with a few. They prowled around his many work spaces. I wish I had more photos of him and his house – the whole house was a working studio. Well organized in some places with hundreds of spice jars containing the knick knacks and broken pieces that he used in his work. Then there were the linked up desks in his dining room, filled with evidence of collection and reconstruction. They were like life rafts strung together in a post-apocalyptic flooding of our world built entirely out of what floated up from the alleyways. He said that at 80 he was working against time to finish all the pieces. He told me he was losing his sight as he showed me the self-portraits titled Lamentation for a Macular Degenerate 1 & 2. I saw him around town a few times after that; at an art show or sweating out the heat with the rest of us at Art Walk. Like I said, I didn’t know him well, but he was always genuine and he was a great artist.
The following quote is about Murray Allen’s work in the show titled KA-POW!. It was held at Profiles Gallery. The article appeared in Vue and was written by Mary Christa O’Keefe.
“Murray Allen’s found object mash-ups seem created by visitors to our world, artifact assemblages of human culture circa 21st Century. His creations bear a Victorian stylistic similarity to curio cabinets, including the juxtaposition of the natural with the theosophic. Joseph Cornell, shorn of the burden of inarticulate desires, could relate to Allen.
“His pieces are tellingly inaccurate in their assumptions, like the metallic ripples in “The Big Burp” circling vintage constellation maps and Pac-Man, suggesting a universe forever expanding and gobbled up. Clocks, circuitry, rulers, gears, keys, game pieces, planes and animal life are the currency of Allen’s realms—things from order, jumbled in chaos, misrepresenting order. His unreal interpretations, represented in the disposable junk of pop culture, show a world losing its grip on causality.”
Next is an interview with Murray that appeared with his work in issue #6 of Notebook Magazine.
Interview by Rhian Ireland
You definitely work from found objects, so where or how do you find your objects?
I have a house full of junk. Garage sales, flea markets, thrift shops, secondhand stores, dollarstores, streets and alleys, garbage dumpsters, trash dumps on vacant lots, in the river valley and ravines, and along country roads. I find stuff everywhere I go. I am always on the lookout. I filter my own household trash and so the pile grows. My friends and family filter their unwanted junk through me.
How significant is that to a piece’s final meaning, for you?
A well known American assemblagist, James Michael Starr, when asked where he got his ideas, replied that his ideas were triggered by the materials he used, and as long as he had plenty of junk he would be OK. The pieces grow by themselves! I have much material to choose from when developing the content of any given work. (Also, see question 4 below.)
Do you ever use repetition intentionally? Why or why not?
Yes! Definitely. Along with rhythm, balance, movement and other elements. Getting them all, (not necessarily ALL in the same piece) together into a coherent whole. It is very elusive.
Do your sculptures have an opinion on consumerism?
I use the things and materials that others throw away. It is recycling of a sort, often recycling of recycled materials. I am as materialistic as anybody but I am deeply concerned about what production and consumption of goods is doing to the planet. And baffled about what can be done about it. I buy some of my supplies at Canadian Tire and Home Depot and I dislike going there because I see consumerism at its worst; everything for the ‘good’ life; only it won’t be so good if we go on like this. The world is crammed with junk and this observation is implicit in my work as a whole. From time to time, I make my concern explicit with environmental themes in individual works.
I rarely have a firm idea to begin with. It can be tough not knowing exactly where you are going. I like to put an interesting item on my wall or worktable and watch ‘what happens’. Through trial and error I add things that are both aesthetically appropriate, and that spark associations that give meaning to the work. At least for me. I am delighted when others see it differently than me.
Do you have a stamp collection?
No. Too fussy, and time consuming. Name anything else, I collect it (them). Antique tools, old padlocks, old bottles, corroded iron, Many types of just plain junk. No stamps. Some, when I was a kid. Along with match book covers, Daily Mail cigarette cards, tiny boxes, buttons all of it now is long gone, I wish I had that stuff now. I have always been a packrat; that materialist in me. Or a magpie? I love the gathering part of this endeavour.
Where do you work on your pieces?
At home. My home is my studio, my studio my home. It is very crowded. My 6 cats love it though with all this stuff to play with and climb on.
Would you ever work larger or is the small size important?
Oh, you bet! I have ideas for many, much larger works. But I don’t have room here. I cannot afford a larger place. I dream, as Joan Miro said, of a large studio. It would be a high ceiling loft with wall space and great work tables, and shelves and... The larger works will have to wait for a while.
Murray Allen (1930 - 2010)