Allyson Glenn exposes our humanity

By Alan Cho

Allyson Glenn’s figurative paintings shelter a stark nakedness impossible to ignore, and not naked in the sense of boobies, boobies and ass. This is a naked that suggests human beings have lost their tenuous grip on dignity, submitting to the spaces they awkwardly occupy. Forlorn people trapped in beds meant for smaller and more efficient versions of themselves, some of them with lovers who’ve forgotten how they’ve come to share these beds. These are not the people and subjects figurative painting usually evokes.

“Figurative painting has a bad reputation, particularly in Calgary, part of which is due to it being seen as conventional,” says Glenn. “But it can involve a considerable amount of risk when you create work that perhaps causes people to be reflective of their own body.”

With a preciseness borne either from being an artist or just nervousness, Glenn spills carrots and sliced cucumbers into a bowl, speaking in hushed tones. It’s the opening night of her exhibit at the Mezzanine Gallery. People mill about the curved hall housing the exhibit and eye the figurative paintings while fabric shifts uncomfortably against their bodies. Glenn’s work is raw and difficult to turn away from, tapping into the clammy underbelly of our brain housing our voyeuristic fetishes.

Hidden narratives exist in her work, like in the striking “A German Tragedy” depicting a cramped apartment cluttered with a distraught women and a dead violinist, his violin still neatly tucked under his chin. Her works tell haunting stories of disconnected people trapped within a isolation inherent in urbanism.

“After graduate studies, I realized the institution of the university is very insular and living in the city centre, I really noticed the social disconnection; how people interact with each other,” Glenn explains. “Social isolation has always been a predominant theme in my work. It’s a very interesting theme in these times, because of technology and the way people live in the 21st century as opposed to the 19th century where people had time to meet one another. In this century, although we’ve advanced technology to have more time, it’s been a detriment. It’s just prompted society to do more.”

And Glenn isn’t alone to think urban decaying thoughts. Obvious, by the reaction of her audience, these intrinsic themes strike a chord with the public.

“People come up to me and begin to recognize me as an artist,” she says.

Her talent will continue to be recognized as long as her work remains as raw and naked as it does in this stunning collection of figurative paintings. Even without the boobies, boobies and ass.

The exhibit runs until the end of September in the Mezzanine Gallery, located in the University Theatre.

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