Jim Allen is a highly influential art educator, artist, and innovative thinker attributed with the introduction of post-object art in Australasia. His activities as an artist and university teacher in Auckland, Adelaide, and Sydney from the late 1960s on had great impact.Read More
Born in New Zealand into a cartage contracting family in the Wellington and Masterton area, and after working as a farm manger for a while, Allen went to Wellington Tech for drawing and sculpture classes. During the war, Allen served in North Africa and Italy as a truck driver, motorcycle rider, and then machine gunner.
After the war he studied art in Perugia and Florence, Italy before gaining a Diploma in Fine Arts from the University of Canterbury in 1951. He then studied at the Royal College of Art, London, rapidly caught up with the modernist avantgarde, and returned in New Zealand in 1953 to become involved in art education. He was mentored by Gordon Tovey and Elwyn Richardson of the Department of Education as a field officer for the Northern Māori Project.
A few years later, Allen joined the staff of the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland and became Head of Sculpture (1960—1976). Then in Australia he became Founding Head of School of Art, Sydney College of Arts (1977—1987), which later would become part of the University of Sydney. During this time, he surrounded himself in both cases with innovative teachers like Adrian Hall, who could help students explore new hitherto unimagined creative possibilities.
Many of Jim Allen's artworks that he made in the 1960s and 70s were later recreated several decades later and collected by national institutions.
Key installations include works that the viewer physically entered and that sometimes incorporated sections of enlarged typed text. These artworks explored subtle varieties of tactility and smell, as well as engaging with related works by other artists such as Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark. They include New Zealand Environment No.5 (c.1967), Small Worlds (1969), Tribute to Hone Tuwhare (1969), Arena (1970), and O-AR 1 (1975).
Solo performances by Allen at the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide include On Planting a Native (1976), News (1976), and Poetry for Chainsaws (1976). Group performances with Elam students include Body Articulation/Imprint (1974), Parangole Capes (1974), and Computer Dance (1974).
An example of his interest in video, using cut-up text rather than documenting a performance, is Uncertain Propositions (2011/2014).
Select public commissions include Jaduran Bronze sculpture, Fiji (1975), Aluminium Construction, Metal Import Co. Auckland (1975), Commonwealth Games sculpture, Queen Elizabeth II Park, Christchurch (1974), and a stainless steel sculpture for Expo '70 Osaka (1970).
Allen has received many awards, including an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sydney and from Auckland University of Technology (both 2007) and an Arts Foundation Icon Award Whakamana Hiranga (2015). In 2000 Allen was installed as fifth Fellow, Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools.
Jim Allen has been the subject of many solo and group exhibitions.Solo exhibitions include Jim Allen's News, Ramp Gallery, Hamilton (2016); News, Michael Lett, Auckland (2014); Contact, Michael Lett, Auckland (2013); The Skin of Years, Michael Lett, Auckland (2012); Contact, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, Adam Art Gallery, Wellington and Artspace, Auckland (2010); Jim Allen, Michael Lett, Auckland (2010).
Group exhibitions include Groundswell: Avant-garde Auckland 1971—79, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki (2018); Jim Allen, Dan Arps, Stella Corkery, Michael Lett, Auckland (2016); Letter from Alice May Williams, Michael Lett, Auckland (2012); Points of Contact: Jim Allen, Len Lye, Hélio Oiticica, Adam Art Gallery, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (2011); Action Replay, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth and Artspace, Auckland (1998).
Allen's work is held in public collections including Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki; Chartwell Collection, Auckland; Christchurch City Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū; Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth; Osaka City Library, Japan; University of Otago; Te Papa Tongawera Museum of New Zealand; and Mildura Arts Centre, Australia.
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2022