Blum & Poe is pleased to present Syzygy, the gallery's third solo exhibition with Los Angeles-based artist Theodora Allen. This presentation follows the artist's first institutional solo exhibition, Saturnine, which was held at Kunsthal Aarhus, Denmark in 2021. A book launch for the correlating monograph, edited and authored by curator Stephanie Cristello, will be hosted at the gallery in February.
We know we are supposed to make a wish, or capture them, if we see them fall. Hope you may, hope you might. Fast fire imparted with volumes of unspoken scripts (wishes should be made silently) gone in a flash. If our eyes could see desire, its pattern would decorate the sky where it sliced through—like the jagged lattice embedded in ice when it hardens too quickly. The slower water heals from liquid into solid, the more crystalline it becomes.
In the paintings of Los Angeles-based artist Theodora Allen on view in Syzygy, the motif of shooting stars alongside stars in various evolutions—either burning out, exploding, or falling—measure acts of metamorphoses that inhabit spaces of flux. Allen's visual lexicon, comprised of emblematic, esoteric, and personal sources, engages with themes surrounding cycles and regeneration—the making and unmaking of nature. Her paintings come into being through a process of removal; paint lifted off a surface to reveal the white ground beneath, before gradually introducing layers polluted by the addition of colour, value, and opacity—a paradox of creation through deficit. As ciphers for introspection, the symbols of desire composed within Allen's recent paintings reference the extremities of an inward and outward gaze.
The exhibition title, which refers to a term shared across fields of astronomy and psychology, speaks to the alignment of three celestial bodies in conjunction, or the harmony of contradicting forces. In the collection of five works on view, ranging from a large-scale triptych to more intimate distillations, Allen presents reflections and deflections: symbols of infinity interlock with the outline of an hourglass, hearts are transposed and divided by a bow and arrow, a shield is formed from the trails of a comet. The elemental opposites of fire and water, earth and air permeate all. Across the series there are allusions to the first genus of Narcissus flower (N. Poeticus), inspired by the myth of the hunter who remained ensnared in his double. Various permutations within the works—as well as the approach to their installation—are mirrored: they look for, and into, their likeness.
In Ovid's Metamorphoses, Narcissus drowns. In other versions of the tale, he dies of starvation and thirst. In each, narcissi flowers grow in his place along the water's edge—trumpet-like centres of paperwhite petals bending forward toward the pool. In Syzygy (Narcissus), 2021, the tripartite centrepiece of the exhibition, two shooting stars encircle each other against a firmament of glinting indigo—the clockwise movement of the stars, here as diamond portals, is marked by a trail of flames. In the centre panel, a star burns in place. The scale of the canvases gives the impression of a series of doorways, or the panes of a dividing screen; proportions that delineate spaces either meant to be entered or hidden from view. Across deserts and forests, each of the subjects within Allen's stars is a hunter. Illuminated in a silver blue cast—the light of a sky at dusk or dawn, of fire at its hottest point—these seekers point toward an inward prey.
In the artist's series of distillation paintings—compositions that correspond to themes within the exhibition in their most reduced and succinct form—emblems of time and devotion are woven out of intersecting lines to exact an emotional index of geometry. The collection of compositions reads as either a diagram or coat of arms—a shape that evolved from its use as personal protection in battle into a signet of one's origins. Likewise, the Syzygy chapter revisits the artist's foundations of the Shields (2018) series, which featured hallucinogenic plants once used as poisons or medicine, sacraments or drugs (often both) throughout history. The antidote was the toxin, a therapy of curing same with same.
In his Sonnets to Orpheus, Rainer Maria Rilke writes, 'Even the starry union is a fraud. Yet gladly let us trust the valid symbol / for a moment. It is all we need.'1 In times of great uncertainty, certain symbols emerge as something to confide in—like the superstition of spotting a shooting star spreading before the dawn of the industrial era in America, or the heart as the organ of the mind in ancient Rome. In deciphering the signatures (within us) that compose these external signs, there lies the instinctive need for reflection: of the self, of the self in others. We look toward the future regardless of the condition of the present. We find patterns in the past to understand our current moment. We remain on the hunt for shooting stars, those vehicles of desire, emitting their last light, brilliantly falling toward earth's surface before they expire.
Theodora Allen (b. 1985, Los Angeles, CA) lives and works in Los Angeles. Her work has been the subject of recent solo exhibitions including Saturnine, Kunsthal Arhaus, Arhaus, Denmark (2021) and Vigil, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, CA (2017). Her work has been featured in numerous group exhibitions including 5,471 miles, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, CA (2020) and Golden State, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson, AZ (2014). Theodora Allen was chosen for the 2021 Corsicana Artist and Writer Residency in Corsicana, TX and the 2011 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Residency in Skowhegan, ME. She holds an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles, CA and a BFA from the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA.
1 Rilke, Rainer Maria, 'Sonnet XI,' in Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005), 161.
Press release courtesy Blum & Poe.
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