Richard Allen 1933-1999

Richard Allen was an Abstract artist of the 20th century who worked across painting, graphic and technological media.


Allen was born in Worcester in 1933. Influenced by his father, he attended Shropshire Institute of Agriculture where he studied for a National Diploma. From there he became aware of what he considered his “irrational” yet unshakeable interest in art, since the College shared buildings with Worcester School of Art. Upon the advice of his window-cleaner Bob, Allen decided to apply to the School. Whilst in Worcester he attended Geoffrey Whiting’s pottery course. Allen took national service in 1952 during the Korean War, serving as an engineer.


He returned to Worcester in 1954 to study for his A levels and NDD, after which he attended Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, in 1957. He embraced Bath's unconventional teaching of that time and developed a keen interest in abstract painting. In 1959, his last year at Bath, he was commissioned to make a 15 x 9 foot abstract mosaic for a Wiltshire college, in which the first signs of Allen's grid construction, and blocks of colour within a grid, are seen to appear. In 1960 he won an Italian Government Scholarship in Art to study in Ravenna. After only three months in Ravenna, working on restoration of Byzantine mosaics, he moved to the more lively city of Milan in which he worked with large-scale mosaic production. These commercialised mosaics informed his later works, and Allen considers his time in Milan to be one of fruitful cultural interaction.


He married fellow Bath Academy of Art student Eve Laurens the next year, and began teaching part time. He taught at Croydon College of Art for eight years, during which time he began working on his Op Art paintings and was awarded the title of Commonwealth Scholar in Art and Architecture. The scholarship gave him the opportunity to study in the Indian Institute for Advanced Studies in Shimla for a year, during which he was able to travel India extensively.  


During his time in London Allen worked alongside such figures as Bridget Riley and Bruce McLean, their commitment to artistic professionalism informing his own identity as an artist. Allen started experimenting with line, colour, optical effects and the relationship between art and science. His Op Art works relied upon Interferometry, allowing him to lay grid lines over paintings to create visual manipulations. In 1967 he had his first solo exhibition at the University of Sussex. In 1971 he was invited by Malcolm Hughes to join the Matrix group of artists, whose exhibition opened at the Arnolfini Gallery that year which led to a further exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery the following year. The Matrix group was concerned with Systematic painting, which worked to create images that consciously reveal their own methods of construction. This led to his involvement with the Systems movement in music, with performances often accompanying the openings of System exhibitions. Concern with systems informed Allen’s work throughout his life.


In 1972 Allen returned to graphic works, namely making large-scale charcoal pieces on canvas. His work at this time was still very much based on the grid and cross. His work was included in the Hayward gallery British painting Exhibition in the mid 1970s, and was also displayed in a solo exhibition at the London Institute of Contemporary Arts. Allen moved to Jersey in 1977, where he continued working with charcoal and exhibiting internationally. The minimalist exhibition ‘Fundamental Painting’ in Amsterdam, 1975, inspired Allen to put together a similar English exhibition. His position on the Committee of the Art Information Registry/Air and Space, enabled him to work on this. The exhibition was held in the Air Gallery in Charing Cross and led to his curation of Fundamental Painting exhibitions in Holland, Belgium, France and Italy.


In 1991 he returned to England and began working on his "white paintings", having not worked with colour for twenty years, which were to be his last works. Shortly after his wife Eve died in 1997 he was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease. Allen began working with specially adapted computer software but the rapid onset of the disease prevented him from making any progress. Richard Allen died in 1999.