Revues & Studio Notes

MADISON'S DESCENT and THE WAY TO DAVIS

Page Allen, a painter and writer blessed with mythic spirit, has given us a magical and transporting book. Her paintings—which serve as illustrations to the story, but which are rhapsodic delights in themselves, and radiantly reproduced here in these over-sized pages—are gorgeous to look at (they’re as tactile and delectable as the imagery in a Wong Kar-wai film) and they manage the neat trick of being intensely physical and meditatively mystical at the same time. The story—which is the tale of human existence, or at least the first nine months or so, told from the inside out (or from the outside in, since inner and outer space seem to interpenetrate here)—is tender, funny, mysterious, primal, and brimming with folk wisdom. It does what all good myth-making should do, creating an alternative world, one that is bewitchingly strange but is in its own way coherent and intact, and that guides us, along instructive, illuminating, meandering pathways, back to the world we know. The production of the book is splendid and generous—coffee-table-sized, although it will not stay on display there. It will find its way quickly onto couches, into cozy reading nooks, and into the bedrooms of children, where it will become a good-night staple, to be read aloud, gazed and wondered at, and read again and again.
Robert Hahn, Poet

 

Page, I'm thrilled to have the two books you sent--they are spectacular and gorgeous.  I could tell from the few small reproductions of your paintings (the ones I've seen) that you have a mythic mind and spirit, and both are given free rein in these elegant, absorbing, transporting, magical books.  The prose and the paintings manage to be intensely physical and meditatively mystical at the same time--no small feat.  The journeys enacted are strange, tender, funny, mysterious, primitive (consciously), and brimming with folk wisdom.  They do what all good myth-making should do:  create another world which is coherent and intact itself, and yet which brims with instructive and illuminating links back to the world we know.  You are well-served in the production of the books, I would say.  I hope they are finding and will find the audience they envision. Thanks for the gift of them.   I'm delighted and grateful.
Robert Hahn, poet

 

Let’s jump the track here. Boldly going into literary reviewer, Frank West Territory, we have to tell you of a brilliant piece of business which combines a magical book and great music. Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin is one of Ireland’s great composers and musical gifts to the world. He is also the Founding Director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in Limerick. He founded the school in 1994, and it has since blossomed. We should write an entire column about it and will. Fab. Well, he has written a suite of tunes around a wonderful book by a woman named, Page Allen. It is called, Madison’s Descent. This is tough. It is a book for children. Wait. It is a book for all of us. It is a lovely way to explain to a child the answer to the age old toddler’s question, “Where do I come from?” Wait. It is a beautiful book explaining where we all come from and where we are going. It is new agey. Wait. I know. When I first saw it, (and before I read it) two thoughts occurred simultaneously. This art is lovely. (Author, Page Allen did it.) This is New Age crap. Bzzz. Wrong. WRONG. It is wonderful in every way. Were my daughter of the age, I would read this to her every night. It is a magical view of Madison’s travel through the heavens, stars and universe before arriving here. Well, that is my favorite part of the book. It reads beautifully, but it should be read aloud to get the mystery and wonder of it. Assuming you are a parent, or know one of a child of the right age, this is a gem. Google it. Amazon it. Find it. Get it.

The neat part is that Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin agrees and has written lovely music, themed on Madison’s Descent. It HAS been recorded, but is not yet commercially available. It should be. Page sent us a copy of the album. Gorgeous. You ARE going to be able to hear at least a few of the tunes this summer and fall in Ireland at The Carrick on Shannon Festival in July, and the NCH in Dublin on Sep 4. You heard it here first. The album is going to be special. Very. The book IS available now.  This book is descended through the stars for your family. It is lovely. You know it is. When was the last time you saw us write about a book? Allen meets Ó Súilleabháin. Magic.
Bill Margeson, LiveIreland radio

PAINTING

Here is work that is accessible without being simple. I find a kindred spirit in her comment that the are no shortcuts to quality. That there must be, as she writes, "a center of interest that pulls it all together, balancing a force that pulls it all apart". Allen never lets you rest. And who would want to rest? Her spread is wide. Her journals and sketchbooks are filled with acute observations and wonder. Moving from Vermeer's moment that captures and then freezes time, she leaps forward 300 years in that same world and ponders on why it was that the Nazis forbid the artists to paint. A good point. Clearly there is more here than meets the eye. For one thing the expression of the human potential was something the Nazis did not want.

    Edward T. Hall, Owings-Dewey catalogue, 1995
Edward T. Hall is an internationally known anthropologist and author, specializing in intercultural communication
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- The accomplished art of Page Allen, a spiritual descendant of Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and other early American modernists, blends visual epiphany with archetypal psychology. Working intuitively and unselfconsciously in oil, watercolor and monotype, she transforms visual clichés to reveal her psyche and spiritual longings. Her work, like those of her mentors, is stunning.
    Sally Eauclaire, ARTnews, March 1994

Page Allen's art is firmly centered in the tradition of ... early American modernists. Since pompous exagerrations of scale- in art, inspiritual aspiration, and in the way that nature is regarded- are now characteristic of our culture, she has chosen her ancestors with particular care. Her art provides a useful, as well as an inspiring, model of how we might respond to the natural world. While her work is certainly rhapsodic, for example, it never seems to depend upon overselling or exaggeration. There is an undercurrent of melancholy that gives measure to her rhapsody.

Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens writes for Vanity Fair, New York Magazine and is the author, with Annalyn Swan, of De Kooning, a Biography.

 

Studio Notes
- I must have been thinking of O Keeffe, because I drove up to Ghost Ranch one day. Like many, I simply looked around and began to walk. Finally I sat down to eat my lunch and discovered that my hard-boiled egg was less than hard. Dismayed, I stared at the soft yolk- and then at the earth pigments all around me. Slowly I began to mix them in my palm- ochre, violet, dark red- and the golden yolk. Slowly I smeared the paste on my face. Seeking an initiation that would join me to this place and even transform me, this seemed a clumsy gesture, and yet it was eloquent. Marking my face committed me in the most basic way to the sight and insight of becoming an artist. It also joined me to the land with a touch as tender and as primitive as making love.
 
When I returned to New York, my work changed. I drew on sheets of paper that seemed to me like rock surfaces, or like skins stretched on my loft walls. I was more aware of the power in making a mark. I drew with pastels that remembered their earth pigment nature. The shapes I drew were organic and geologic, as though I were exploring valleys, dry river beds, hills, feeling the imagined topography under my smudged fingers.
Page Allen, We Came to Santa Fe, Pennywhistle Press, 2008

 

- Even now, when man's place within nature is so compromised and dishonorable, and nature itself so damaged, I feel fortunate that life and desire have led me to a place where beauty persists, splendid and effortless, and where my imagination can meet it without equivocation.
Page Allen, The Eiteljorg Invitational 2, New Art of the West; The Artist's Response to Nature, catalogue, 1991