david edward allen
texts & documentation


Beyond the maze, shadows were drifting across the brume of the heath, and then, one by one, the stars came out from the depths of space. Night, the astonishing, the stranger to all that is human, over the mountain-tops mournful and gleaming draws on. It was as though I stood at the topmost point of the earth, where the glittering winter sky is forever unchanging; as though the heath were rigid with frost, and adders, vipers and lizards of transparent ice lay slumbering in their hollows in the sand.

W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

A series of works whose darkness absorb the gaze. Only nuances are recognisable, even then just barely; at the same time, it is on all of them possible to perceive a horizon. The automatic classification machine says “landscape”—landscape in twilight, in diffuse light, in disappearing light. But time and again, the endeavour to freeze the image—to decrypt it—comes to nothing. The figurative elements pass across into the abstract, the abstraction condensing in the next moment into something familiar. It is a permanent process of readjustment; of re-looking. Something is held in limbo; there is a demand for a participatory gaze. The colours—which change depending on the light to which they are subject—are part of this. The artist prefers cold, not-too-bright light, as it enhances the desired effect: sensitisation of the senses.

He paints using oils, applied thinly to produce the minimum possible haptics—and to avoid the eye fixing on the surface. Thus, the painting process is condensed into just a few days. It is as if the concentration required for the work process has been inscribed into the paintings. They are stirring and silent at once. Jungaale in particular is dominated by an ominous mood, one both potent and threatening. It is an attempt to translate—in the face of uncontrollable nature—the experience of exposure and discomfort into a painting. “There is a strong sensation of otherness and the unknown in nature, of which we are often afraid. Animals, plants, trees, and even landscapes can possess this sensation of wilderness. And maybe what I am trying to do is to find a way to relate to that unknown and approach some of those fears.”

Allen’s work might be best described as “post-Anthropocene,” given its questioning—and at times reversal—of the dominance of human beings over nature. Having grown up in the English countryside, the artist is interested in the exact moments of reversal in which the dominated and the enclosed becomes unsettled. This likewise explains his fascination with autotomy—the ability of animals like lizards to shed individual limbs in dangerous situations. An act that can help sustain life, but also threaten it. Eels share these transformational, shape-shifting abilities. From larvae they develop into glass eels, before living as rock eels in freshwater then moving to saltwater as silver eels. As enigmatic as they are fascinating, it is no coincidence that Allen uses the names of eels to title his works; creature’s whose births and deaths deep in the dark abyss of the Sargasso Sea remain an unknown mystery to us.

Do you also have the sense at some moments, that the images could just reach out and bite?

- Anna-Lena Wenzel