Cultured Magazine

February/March 2015

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At 44, Joshua Tree-based sculptor Alma Allen doesn't fit the profile of a debut artist, but his current exhibition at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (on view through February 28) is the first time he's put together a solo show of his work. It's not as though Allen is a newbie, it's just that he's existed outside the art world, creating sculptures and furniture for a base of steady collectors for over 20 years. "O f course, it's nice to finally have a show," he says, sitting down for coffee in Downtown Los Angeles. "I've always felt a part of the art world, but maybe in a parallel path because I'm self-taught, and I've never had to defend myself. My work has mostly been a secret given that it's through word of mouth. But I've always been interested in art—and not just contemporary art, as much ancient art as curren t art." Allen's unconventional path starts in rural Utah, where he grew up in a strict Mormon household. Venturing outside, Allen discovered Native American petroglyphs, which triggered something in him to start whittling objects. He would then leave his creations nearby, believing that the ancient tribes were still hiding out in the mountains. "I would make little arrangements of things, thinking that the Indians were actually still there, that they were too smart to be seen," he recalls. For years, Allen built a reputation as a carving master, first in New York, then in Los Angeles. A few years ago, Allen underwent a major carpal tunnel surgery. He also suffers from stress fractures and tendinitis, which he attributes to modern sculpting machinery—grinders, cutters, pneumatic chisels— that caused vibratio ns that broke down his body. "For 20 years, I was like this," Allen says, making rigid sculpting motions with his hands to simulate the action that caused his injury. "A lot of sculptors that I've met have the same problem." In the end, the injury, though painful, was a blessing in disguise. A collector hounded Allen to make new work, but he demurred, saying he was too injured. But the collector persisted . Finally, Allen set out to look for a fabricator, something he had tried to avoid his whole career. "I had thought that I wouldn't make sculpture anymore, which I was pretty disappointed about," he says. "I didn't like the idea of using fabricators because I like the accidents that happen when you're in the process and changing directions. And if you use a fabricator, that's difficult to do. You're not t here; you can't see it and you can't change things as they're happening. I came across several fabricators in Italy using robots. I wanted a robot so bad." So, Allen had a robot shipped to Joshua Tree, where he assembled it himself. The resulting work led to a meeting with 2014 Whitney Biennial co- curator Michelle Grabner, who invited him into the show. Now, of course, is his debut solo exhibition at Blum & Poe, a gallery full of large-scale sculptures made from marble, walnut and bronze. Allen says that not much has changed, that despite the human scale of his works, the intimacy remains. "I still work in small scale," he says. "I work with clay and wax and handwork at a small scale, and then I use the machines to build them up. It feels a little bit like a giant made them in clay and plopped them down." 88 CULTURED PHOTO COURTESY OF BLUM & POE An installation view of "Alma Allen" at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles The Road Less Traveled Though his path was unconventional, Alma Allen's destination— a debut solo show at Blum & Poe—is right on target. BY MAXWELL WILLIAMS

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