Q+Art: Painter Helen Allois Mines Art History to Create an Alternate Universe
Like a funhouse mirror, Helen Allois’ work distorts what feels comforting and familiar. The German-born artist paints refined yet whimsical scenes where anthropomorphic creatures stare back at viewers with bemused expressions. Now living and working in Malibu, California, Allois brings an Old-World sensibility to her uneasy dreamscapes by incorporating chiaroscuro, faux-naturalistic elements, and decorative flourishes.
As a trained illustrator, Allois pays special attention to linework and narrative. We sense there’s a larger story simmering just under the surface of her subjects’ lavish surroundings, but a clear interpretation eludes us. Instead, we’re pulled in by the opulent interiors and mannered poses, then repelled by strange, humanistic faces that hover over the uncanny valley. Dark, alien eyes stare back into ours, at once familiar, fascinating, and delightfully bizarre.
Part of the works’ familiarity arises from the human-like boars and furry rodents who indulge in lighthearted entertainment and elegant eroticism. Allois borrows her aesthetic from 18th century Rococo, a style that flourished in France and evolved from the theatrical tendencies of Italian and French Baroque art. With an abundance of pastel colors, graceful lines, and frivolous iconography, Rococo luxuriated in blending fantasy with reality—even if that reality was filled with expensive clothing and aristocratic environments. From asymmetrical compositions to ornate details, Allois’ work bathes viewers in scenes they’ve seen dozens of times: flirtatious courtesans reclining among flowers, flying cherubs armed with bow and arrow.
Rococo was often criticized for its frivolity and lack of depth beyond secular high fashion. Here, Allois revisits our past, pulling recognizable characters and scenarios from the rubble of history, to envision an alternate universe. Her works mine the human psyche for universal tropes, while injecting a shot of surrealism into the mix. This blend of past and present creates a depth of meaning beyond the trivial concerns of the French aristocracy, and invites us to look at ourselves through a glass, darkly.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Helen Allois discusses the theory of light and dark, the profound beauty of Classical music, and practicing total freedom of expression and imagination.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Helen Allois: My art bible is "Collecting Contemporary Art" by Adam Lindemann, published by Taschen.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
HA: William Turner. He is an absolutely unique person as an artist, and at the same time as a businessman. I am so impressed by his evolution as an artist and by his ability to absorb and try new things in his paintings, like Goethe's theory of light and darkness.
What are you trying to express with your art?
HA: I invite you to fly into my dream. I want to take you inside, deep inside. And we are taking the outside with us; we are taking it all with us… all the faces, all the mirrors, all the reflections. And when we let it out into the real world, it will feel familiar, but it won’t be.
What person has most influenced your work?
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
HA: Hiking until almost dead.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
HA: Imagination and passion for art.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
HA: I have two: "What one can see in sunlight is always less interesting than what happens behind a pane of glass,” from Charles Baudelaire; and “Those who believe in magic will find it.”
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
HA: More support for figurative art.
What are you listening to in the studio right now?
HA: "Sibelius, Symphony No.7” under Colin Davis. Classical music inspires me; I usually listen to Debussy, Ligeti, and Mozart.
How do you think the coronavirus pandemic will impact the art world in the long term?
HA: Auction houses, NFT and art internet platforms will become more significant for selling art.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
HA: Practicing total freedom of imagination while sharpening my technique in a recent series, Charlotte's Dream.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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