British painter working from the 1960s onwards in Abstract, Minimalism, Systems, Geometric, Pop and Op Art, through collages, paintings and prints.
Richard Allen was born in Worcester in 1933. On leaving school Allen studied agricultural engineering until 1952 when National Service took him to the Far East. On his return to England, Allen began studying art in Worcestershire, and in 1957 went on to Bath Academy of Art. Adrian Heath, Sir Howard Hodgkin, Martin Froy, Gwyther Irwin, and Malcolm Hughes were the major influences on Allen at Bath, where he studied both art and art eduction.
After completing his studies, Allen spent the early 1960s teaching at art schools such as Croydon College of Art (alongside Bridget Riley), and developing his own work. By 1964 he was exhibiting his Op Art work alongside contemporaries including Bridget Riley, Peter Sedgley, Michael Kidner, and Jeffrey Steele. Growing recognition of Allen’s work resulted in the University of Sussex staging his first solo exhibition in 1967.
Experimentation in new forms of expression took Allen to exhibit with the Matrix group in 1971, and stage a solo exhibition at the Angela Flowers Gallery in London the same year. The Arts Council’s Systems touring exhibition of 1972/73 included Allen’s work alongside fellow Matrix group members (including Jeffrey Steele, Michael Kidner, Gillian Wise, Malcolm Hughes, and Jean Spencer). In 1975 the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) staged a solo exhibition where Allen showed works featuring his own, unique, approach to the use of charcoal on canvas.
Continued experimentation and development from the 1970s through to the 1990s led to exhibitions across Europe, Japan, and the USA. Alongside his charcoal works Allen experimented with geometric abstraction prints, and a series of ‘White Paintings’ where white was applied in a strict linear structure over a single colour background.
Allen taught art throughout his life and worked as a visiting lecturer in universities and colleges across the England and Wales, including the Royal College of Art and Slade School of Fine Art. Towards the end of the 1990s Allen became ill with Motor Neurone Disease, and the illness led his premature death in 1999. Retrospective exhibitions of Allen’s work have been staged in the years since his death: most notably in 2008 at Offer Waterman Gallery, London and 2011 at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath. In 2016-17 Allen’s untitled six panel Systems painting, owned by the Tate, was chosen as part of their BP Spotlight Display: Systems.
Teaching, Residencies, and Visiting Lectureships
Returned to England from living in Jersey (Channel Islands). After nearly two decades of working without colour he started what was to become the series of “white paintings” which would be his last works. They were exhibited at the RHoK gallery, Brussels in 1996, at the Retrospective Exhibition of his work at the University of Wales School of Art Gallery, Aberystwyth (1998) and at Flowers East in 1999. In 1997 his wife Eve was diagnosed with cancer and died several months later. Soon after he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. Determined to continue working he explored working with specially adapted computer software but was unable to make any progress due to the rapid onset of the disease. He died in February 1999.
In 1977 he moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands. He continued working on charcoal drawings on canvas and paper, and showed mainly in Holland, Belgium, Italy, France, Japan and the USA.
Included in the British Painting ’74 exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.
Returned to drawing, making large scale charcoal works on canvas, washed and fixed with cellulose acetate. These were based on the grid and cross, often using the resist line of his earlier optical work.
Invited by Malcolm Hughes to join Matrix: a group of artists including Michael Kidner, Jeffrey Steele, John Ernest and Jean Spencer. The Matrix Exhibition opened at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol in June 1971 and led to the Sytems Exhibition curated by Nicolas Serota which opened at the Whitechapel gallery in 1972.
One man show with Angela Flowers Gallery, London (July 1971).
Started work on the two colour stripe acrylic paintings, still using moiré and painting on a very large scale. Began to be influenced by US painters such as Noland, Stella, and Newman. The two colour stripe paintings installed at Match Shed, London (1970).
Introduced moiré interferometry to his work, experimenting with line and colour, optical effects and the relationship between art and science. Mediums included resist line drawing and wash over with fast acid dyes. Also worked on Op Art prints at this time. First solo exhibition, University of Sussex.
Commonwealth Scholar (Art and Architecture). Travelled extensively in India.
Started working on the Op Art paintings, exhibiting with Bridget Riley, Michael Kidner, Jeffrey Steele, Frederick Carver and Peter Sedgley at McRoberts & Tunnard Gallery.
Started work at Croydon College of Art, where he was to teach for the next 8 years. Colleagues at Croydon included John Hoyland, Allen Jones, Bridget Riley, Bruce McLean, David Leverett, Barry Fantoni and Michael Simpson.
Married fellow Bath Academy of Art student Eve Laurens. Worked part time painting Lambs Navy Rum figures in a studio with Marc Vaux and Quentin Crisp. Part time teaching. Made the Pop Poster collages as a “homage to Pop Art”.
Won an Italian Government Scholarship in Art to study mosaic in Ravenna. Here he visited the commercial mosaic studios and photographed the building site hoardings which inspired the Pop Art poster collages he went on to make the next year.
Attended Bath Academy of Art aged 24. Enthusiastically embraced the unconventional teaching at Bath at that time. He quickly established a strong disposition towards abstraction as a form of painting. Taught by Adrian Heath, Martin Froy, Anthony Fry, Howard Hodgkin, Malcolm Hughes, Philip Sutton, Gillian Ayres, William Scott, Jack Smith, John Ernest and Robyn Denny. In his last year at Bath he was commissioned to make a 15 x 9 foot abstract mosaic for a college in Wiltshire. The first signs of grids and blocks of colour within a grid construction began to appear in his work at this time.
Worked and also studied part time for A levels and the National Diploma in Design (NDD). Informal attendance at Worcester College of Art where he met Geoffrey Whiting and spent time with him assisting with filling his kiln.
National Service coincided with the Korean War, during which he saw active service as a tank engineer. Travelled in North and South Korea, and Japan.
Influenced by his father’s involvement in agriculture, he attended the Shropshire Institute of Agriculture where he studied for a National Diploma in Agricultural Engineering. The Agricultural College shared a building with Worcester School of Art. Read the Meaning of Art by Sir Herbert Read which helped him to begin to understand the meaning of form, space, movement and line.
Born and grew up in Worcester, UK. Father was involved in farming and horse training and worked for the Ministry of Agriculture. Mother’s family were market gardeners. Went to school in Worcester during the war. No art education at school but did make “desperate attempts” at what he thought was “Modern Art”, influenced by analytical cubist works by Picasso and Gris in art encyclopedias.