Theodora Allen Vigil

Andrew Berardini can’t help drifiting off into Still-lifes for the ever-after...

By Andrew Berardini

Theodora Allen, 'The Cosmic Garden II' (2016). Image: © Theodora Allen, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo Theodora Allen, 'The Cosmic Garden I' (2016). Image: © Theodora Allen, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo Theodora Allen, 'The Triad' (2017). Image: © Theodora Allen, Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo


Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, 24 June – 19 August

These paintings are so dreamy, they’re almost kitsch. Gossamer spiritualist encounters in veiled twilight zones and astral tides. Wildflowers and psychotropic plants sprouting unkempt around arced portals that open onto cosmic vistas, full moons and eclipsed suns, spectral rings wrapping a Saturn so close you could almost finger its gaseous bod. The plants weed untended in this drifting spaceship, lilting with life in a perpetual evening. The light’s like a bruise that just won’t heal, its tenderness permanent. A stringless guitar leans its curvy body against a post as the plants’ curled leaves unfurl around and under the curve of the archway and the gentle spherical bend of celestial bodies just beyond. Still-lifes for the ever-after and never-was, where all is softness, and the only right angles you might find clad the soundless fretboard of the abandoned instrument and the grounding corners of those archways.

stare long enough into them and you can almost smell some narcotic incense

These are the kind of windows some errant Romeo might sing a few lovelorn sonnets against, that poets at the end of the empires wax about as they lull the last readers into fantasies of what was lost, metaphysical windows borrowed from some sunset de Chirico. In her series (of two in the show, all works 2017) The Cosmic Garden, Los Angeles’s own Theodora Allen only just brushed oil paint pictures on smokeless, soundless linens. But stare long enough into them and you can almost smell some narcotic incense and the gentle thrum of a mysterious and hypnotic sound: the spaceship’s engine, a witch’s enchantment or maybe just the hum of the mystic’s first and last prayer, which according to some summoned the universe. Oooohhhhhmmmm…

In the next sentence, I might as well ask you to join a cult.

In the room over hang a series of paintings titled The Candle, an otherworldly tarot deck of luminous candles framed with esoteric shapes. Do they cite some philosophy of the New Age, the Rosicrucians or the Theosophists, Swedenborg or Blavatsky? There are no such specific references, but the paintings allude to and shadow the occultic and spiritual, clearly made in a California where nearly everyone checks their horoscope and keeps a few crystals on hand, practises yoga and at least flirts with vegetarianism. A mystical Romanticism lives on in the Golden State, but thankfully I and it and Theodora Allen don’t take any of our moonage daydreams too seriously. Even so, Allen’s paintings don’t feel like the bright hopeful hues at the dawning of the Aquarian Age, but the twilit tones of something closing. Both a space capsule and a time capsule, one last love letter to the cosmos at the end. 

From the October 2017 issue of ArtReview