Steamboat Springs, Colorado-based artist Joel Allen works with tightly wound twine to create hanging sculptures that bristle with an accumulation of objects: wire, prescription pill bottles, wine corks, surgical tubing. They bear the aspect of furry cocoons, perhaps, or organic chandeliers, and they are curiously inviting. You want to touch them, even hug them. They seem friendly, somehow.
Allen himself is soft spoken and minimalist in his conversation. When talking about his artistic process, his emphasis is heavily on the work itself, on his enjoyment of the physical act of making, and the meditative quality of that process. In speaking with him I sense he prefers that inner silence to a lot of outward chatter about himself or his work. He seems to be a man whose concepts are not reachable through words, but are born of something else—something silent, tactile, time-based– like the long, long line of twine that he uses to create his sculptures. I talked with him shortly before State of the Art opened.
Have you always made art? No, I didn’t even go to college until I was 35. I was working at a newspaper and decided there’s got to be more. And so I went to school. I was going to go for geology. I just accidentally took an art class because nothing else fit into my schedule, and I never looked back—from one art class. It just seemed like everything that I’d ever done—all the components of creativity and the way I thought—just came together in art.
What draws you to these forms? I like the process, making all the parts. It reminds me of when I was a kid and I was fishing. I would make up all these lures and extra leaders for fishing, when I was ten years old. I just like that feeling of preparing and making all these parts. I lay them out perfectly in rows. I know I need a thousand of these, so I have to cut a thousand pieces of copper, a thousand pill bottles. It’s all laid out, and then I have to sit and do the hand tying for each piece. It’s always about “how can I use a line to create these sculptures.” It’s all made from line. There’s a line that goes through every piece, there’s a line that’s wrapped on every piece. It’s just a line. I’ve always thoughtthree-dimensionally so to build something with that line is kind of fun.
To me these works have a very welcoming aspect. Yet with the tightly wrapped twine and all that stuff bristling off of them, they could have a very different character. They could have seemed aggressive or forbidding. Do they have personalities to you? Yeah, they do have characters. I’m playing around with these opposite ends of things: an elegance, yet a quirky, fun side to them, so you’re not sure which way to go: Is it elegant? Is it graceful? Is it humorous? I’m also playing around with scale and height and the way that there’s a static nature to them, but they seem to be full of movement at times. I’m always spinning them, looking at them, moving them around, so to me they have tutus and they’re spinning dancers. I like that feeling, that roughness to them. And yet they’re kind of dainty, I think.