Born in Worcester, Richard Allen trained firstly as an agricultural engineer. After National Service, he attended Worcester Art School, going on to Bath Academy of Art in 1957. Howard Hodgkin and Martin Froy were major influences while a student at Bath. Allen also drew inspiration from the abstract collage work of Adrian Heath and Gwyther Irvin. Their teaching methods led directly to his development as a mature abstract artist, recognised by his first public commission - a mural-scale mosaic for Chippenham College - undertaken whilst still a student at Bath.Read More
After leaving Bath, Allen won a scholarship to study the historic mosaics at Ravenna, although he found more inspiration in industrial Milan, in particular in its building site hoardings. Returning to London, he married a fellow student from Bath, Eve Laurens and began teaching at art schools alongside Bridget Riley and Allen Jones.
Allen's mature work moved through a series of important phases. Early Pop poster collages drew directly from his stay in Italy, and by the mid-1960s he had developed his own form of Op (Optical) Art, showing with Michael Kidner and Bridget Riley. Experimentation with moiré (interference) effects followed, and his interest in pure abstraction led naturally to his joining the Matrix Group - an experimental movement linked to European Constructivism. Adopting the philosophy and methods of a systemic form of painting, he showed in the influential Matrix and Systems exhibitions in 1971 and 1972.
Allen explained: 'system as it exists in my work evolved slowly over a period of formal experiment and was due primarily to an innate necessity to work creatively within a personally acceptable range of formal limitations'.
In 1975 his achievements to date were recognised with a solo exhibition at the ICA, London, he showed a series of innovative monochrome paintings, made using his own technique which allowed him to paint with a charcoal suspension. By the end of the 1970s, Allen had gained an international reputation with exhibitions in Europe, Japan and the USA. Allen's work continued to develop throughout the 1980s and 1990s, mostly focussing on graphics and a final series of 'White Paintings'. He died in 1999, having suffered from Motor Neurone Disease.
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Text courtesy Offer Waterman.
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