Simplicity Versus Detail on the One Year Anniversary of the Book

Danny Allen's photo-realistic painting acryllic painting of a Mandrill, painted on a scrap of discarded Masonite. It's about the side of a light-switch faceplate. Acrylic on board. Collection of the Allen family. It looks like it says 1971.

Danny Allen’s photo-realistic acrylic painting of a Mandrill, was done on a scrap of discarded Masonite found on a construction site. It’s about the size of a light-switch faceplate. Acrylic on board. Collection of the Allen family. It appears to be dated 1971.

My book is entering its final phase of production. I have written and mailed off mind-numbing checks from my mortgage account, all while I wait for the KickStarter page to close and payout. There are four more days left while the KickStarter page is still live and accepting pledges: The marked-up galleys have been modified and are winging their way down to me for a final once over with my editor. As a result, I’m taking stock of things–lots of things–not just Dan’s art and life, but my own as well. Dan’s book is now written, and I’ve done my very best.

When I first met Danny, I was attending college at RIT studying to become a painter and illustrator. I was awestricken by Danny’s natural ability. He was self-taught–unspoiled by formal education and it was humbling. His talent set my own course on a different path. Danny introduced me to the idea of striving for perfection. He also taught me to enjoy creating art, teaching me that the act of the work was the joy that went into it. Art instructors often forget to instill that in students–perhaps because they, themselves don’t realize the importance of balancing hard work with the sheer pleasure of working. After I met Dan, I stopped painting and drawing and began building scale models. I started to carve miniature furniture, partly because I loved doing it, and admittedly I wanted to do something different from Dan, so as to not invite comparison. I wanted to impress him and meet with his approval. Dan’s approval was incredibly important to me. It wasn’t until decades after he died, that I began to paint and draw again. Now I paint with a more “painterly” hand bearing in mind that I’m older and vision impaired. But while my eyesight was in acceptably good condition, Dan’s influence set me on a direction I cherish in retrospect.

These two chairs i've carved, side by sidetake up roughly the same amount of space as Dan's painting of the Mandrill above. Collection of WTW. The chair to the viewer's right is 1974, carved while Dan was still alive. The chair to the left is 1987, after I'd had two sets of eye surgery on each eye.

These two chairs I’ve carved, side by side take up roughly the same amount of space as Dan’s painting of The Mandrill pictured at the top of the page. In our own way, Dan and I were both miniaturists.  The chair to the viewer’s right is is a Chippendale, signed WTW and dated 1974–carved while Dan was still alive. The chair to the left is Sheraton, signed WTW and dated 1987–built well after I’d had two sets of retinal surgeries on both eyes. Collection of WTW.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dan did paintings on pieces of scrap Masonite he found on the street–cast into the trash with piles of rubbish left behind by workmen restoring old houses. His painting, The Mandrill is roughly the size of a light-switch faceplate. Who knows what those odd scraps were left over from. But one of those scraps is now in a museum collection (Sunny Ducks). I built my miniature furniture carved from scraps of cherry. Small artwork has a dynamic all it’s own. Dan and I were both miniaturists of a sort. Danny urged me to try and push my limits to carve tiny things that looked exactly like the full scale originals. Doing so became part of the challenge, and I listened, because anyone who could take scraps of Masonite and turn them into jewels was clearly way ahead of his time.

Dan taught me not to be lazy about my art, and to put everything I had into every project and enjoy it as a labor of love. One thing Danny could do (which is a natural talent I do not possess), was his ability to plant a brush loaded with ink, confidentially on a piece of paper, and make quick and subtle movements with his hands as if the brush would talk. Out of nowhere an image would appear. I call that an “Asian” hand. Not everyone can do artwork of that sort, but Dan could. He admired the arts of Asia, and it often came out in his own work. Not everyone can simply load a brush–smack it against a surface–drag the brush one way or another–and have a recognizable image emerge. Danny was uniquely gifted.

Today marks the one year anniversary since I began writing An Early Work Late in Life. A special thanks is in order to Sarah Gerin for igniting this project. So Thank you, Sarah.

While it may be cutting it awfully close, the book will hopefully be available in advance approximately three weeks from today exclusively at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery at 500 University Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607. Dan’s painting, Sunny Ducks will be featured in an exhibit at the MAG titled It Came From the Vault–opening to the general public, Sunday, March 17th, 2013.

Dan Allen, a very fluid ink sketch that only took moments, but it's not the sort of thing just anyone can do. 1973, collection of WTW.

Dan Allen, a fluid ink sketch that took only moments, but it’s not the sort of thing just any artist can do. 1973, collection of WTW.

2 thoughts on “Simplicity Versus Detail on the One Year Anniversary of the Book

    • Hi Margie – I just found this comment from you – I apologize for not posting it sooner. If the type were any smaller on this blog it would be invisible to me. Ahhh, to have young eyes again. I’m looking forward to meeting you in person in May.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s