Commencing this gallery’s fall season was a captivating new body of work by Linda Mieko Allen, a North Adams, Massachusetts-based painter long intrigued by natural phenomena. Evident in the 10 works on view (all 2009 or ’10) is her technical mastery in applying acrylic, ink and graphite in thin layers on aluminum panel, which she finishes with wax for a flat, matte surface. Allen’s self-developed process yields images that are almost wholly abstract, yet strongly suggestive of landscapes one could imagine existing on a distant planet or in the remote depths of the sea.
The show’s title, “Atmospherics,” can refer in a literary sense to mood or, more scientifically, to radio-wave interference caused by electrical events like lightning. Allen appears to welcome the word’s multiple meanings, as her images are both fantastical and seemingly empirical. In Atmospherics XVI (3 feet square), striated formations hang like stalactites in the upper half of the panel, the gradient gray tones accumulating in a bulky mass. The point of view and scale are indeterminable, but the illusion is of deep crevices cutting between these craggy clusters, disrupted by small flat areas of solid colors, mainly chartreuse, mustard and sienna. These spots, along with the peaks and valleys, strongly evoke topographic maps. Concentric rings, like those found on a radar screen, emanate outward and off the edge of the panel, and are interspersed with dark portholes emitting thin horizontal lines as if connecting to dimensions beyond.
Rocklike formations recur in almost every work in the show, and they paradoxically read as both solid and diaphanous. Allen executes these shapes by dripping ink and acrylic paint onto plastic sheets, then manipulating the liquid as it dries. Next she peels the thin layers from the plastic and transfers them onto aluminum panels to serve as the basis of her compositions. Initially exuding a bold physicality, her forms seem to delicately morph: upon closer inspection, stone becomes smoke. Allen’s imagery possesses the sensuality of traditional Chinese landscape painting and the alien harshness of a satellite photograph of the moon.
In several works, a line or series of parallel lines (positioned horizontally in some, vertically in others) divides the composition—creating the impression of mirror images. The rejection of a consistent spatial framework allows up to become down, and inward outward, inducing a sense of vertigo. The spherical mass at the center of Atmospherics XIII (Revolver) resembles basic matter bursting into being or racing toward extinction. As when a star explodes, the annihilation of one world releases another.
Photo: Linda Mieko Allen: Atmospherics XVI, 2010, acrylic, ink, graphite, aluminum powder and wax on alumalite panel, 36 inches square; at Nancy Hoffman.