The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum hosted William Allen as its artist-in-residence until Friday, Sept. 21.
The intent of the artist-in-residence program, which started two years ago, is to enable the community, K-12 and university students to interact with and learn from different artists. Local high schools participated in sessions led by Allen to create 3D sculptures from wire and other collected materials.
“I was really impressed by how easily they took to it,” Allen said. “I didn’t have to show them too much.”
Allen graduated with a biology degree, assuming he would pursue medicine, as both of his parents were working professionals.
After graduating, he realized that he lacked the drive and floundered until he took a welding class on a whim. He soon began making large animal sculptures and took these to art fairs, which accrued a meager income.
“I was living a creative life,” Allen said. “At least in some way, I was.”
Allen’s animal sculptures are made from welded steel and galvanized in tanks of molten zinc to preserve and protect them from the outdoors. Green after the galvanization, the animals are incredibly lifelike and have served as Allen’s main source of income since the 1970s. His work has been shown in galleries and is still commissioned regularly.
In the mid-1990s, Allen realized he wanted to explore a greater world of art, and his work steadily transitioned from the realistic portrayals of animals to more fluid, dreamlike and abstract sculptures.
Allen’s newer sculptures were still made of steel, his preferred look to the green galvanized work, but he also included plaster, epoxy and peat moss. Unfortunately, not galvanizing these large sculptures limits them to being indoor artwork.
“I prefer raw steel,” Allen said. “But it’s impractical to have them sitting in my studio for years.”
Allen began exploring 2D artwork around 2002 to help him process his mother’s sickness and death. His first painting was on a wooden door in his studio.
“I was sick of welding and working in this medium,” Allen said. “Then, I saw this door in my studio, picked up paint and realized I could express myself so easily. It was very cathartic.”
The paintings started out as black and white ghostly, abstract human figures that remind one of being underwater. Initially, the paintings revealed palpable grief, but as time went on Allen began adding color to his work.
At first, the paintings would only include one color in addition to the black and white, but as the colors increased, the black and white dissipated.
Fine arts sophomore Alexia Hall enjoyed the transition in Allen’s work.
“I thought it was interesting how he moved from something normal to dramatic,” Hall said. “It was easy to see his growth.”
Allen’s most recent work includes freestanding and hanging sculptures, as well as 3D paintings. The works are made from bone, wood, twine, steel and plastic that he often collects at Lake Michigan and are painted in varying bright colors.
Ever since his movement away from the initial animal sculptures, although he still makes those for a living, Allen’s intention has never been to sell for a profit. Instead, he will give away his artwork.
Fine arts senior Ben Quinno was encouraged by Allen’s desire to create art as a means of emotional articulation.
“Painting was a way of expressing himself,” Quinno said. “It was about passion and expression rather than selling, which speaks volumes of his creative process.”
Allen was able to express what caused his art to change. However, when asked about his inspiration to create in the first place, Allen smiled, shrugged and admitted he wasn’t sure.
“It’s one of those mysteries about art,” Allen said. “It’s a lot of fun. I don’t consider it work at all, and I just keep creating more and more the older I get.”