L.A. Louver is pleased to present an exhibition by visual artist, musician and playwright Terry Allen. The exhibition asserts the central role of drawing and working on paper, as the continuum through which Allen’s ideas take shape, and features works that span the length of his multifarious career. With nearly 100 drawings dating from the ’60s to the present, the show extends throughout the gallery’s first and second floor spaces, and also includes sculptural objects, video installations and audio from his various albums and radio plays – demonstrating the tremendous breadth of Allen’s life and work as told through stories, pictures and songs.
Eschewing terminologies and aesthetic boundaries, Terry Allen seamlessly wields music, visuals and performance into a singular language of expression. By examining the artist’s drawing practice, we thereby gain entry into his vast imaginative orbit. Early examples include works from Cowboy and the Stranger (1969), where Allen began to explore the parallels of sound and imagery, with drawings and songs made in parity. Probing the space between “looking” and “listening,” this bilateral approach was firmly established with the recording of his seminal album Juarez (1975), and a complement of phantasmagorical works on paper (1969-75) that match the tone, tenor and mystery of their musical counterpart. Collectively, they described the travels and travails of two couples across the Western United States and its southern border, whose paths converged in a violent clash. It was from this series that Allen enlightened to the possibilities of narrative-driven works. “I realized what I really wanted to do was tell stories.”
Allen obliquely referenced his own personal histories in Ring (1976-80), marital strife played out in a wrestling match, and Anterabbit/Bleeder (1981-83), a hemophiliac evangelist/gambler loosely based on a childhood friend. These stories led to scripted performances with actors, including his wife Jo Harvey Allen, assuming the character roles, as well as drawings and objects made as accoutrements or material evidence of the stories at play. Mixed-media drawings from his expansive body of work Youth in Asia (1983-93) addressed the betrayals and aftermath of the Vietnam War through the lived accounts of those he knew -- incidents Allen further synthesized into sculptures, poetry, installations, a music album Amerasia and a radio play Torso Hell. Equally ambitious in scope, Dugout (1999-2006) gathered the familial stories of “truths, half-truths, half-lies, lies” as told by his father, a retired major league baseball player, and mother, a professional barrel house piano player. In addition to select drawings and excerpts of the radio play from that series, the exhibition includes the large wall construction Ancient (2000-01) – a staged tableau of objects and images lyrically arranged like a tangible memory. A deeply personal reflection on memories, the video installation MemWars (2016) demystifies the origins of his songs through stories recounted by Allen and Jo Harvey, and is accompanied by a spate of related drawings that layer images with collaged texts.
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