Art Maker: Marilyn Allen, painter

  • “Stone-Bone,” oil painting by Marilyn Allen. Image courtesy Marilyn Allen

  • “Crossing with Figures,” oil painting by Marilyn Allen. Image courtesy of Marilyn Allen

  • Allen works on her oil painting “End of the Season” in her studio Image courtesy of Marilyn Allen

  • Marilyn Allen’s new paintings are based on a visit she made to the Aran islands off the west coast of Ireland. Image courtesy of Marilyn Allen

Published: 12/6/2018 5:08:29 PM

Painter Marilyn Allen recalls loving to draw at a very young age. But the Brattleboro, VT artist also remembers her second grade teacher dismissing her attempt to paint Cinderella and her coach: “I was devastated.” She later turned to music and poetry for artistic sustenance. 

But Allen, who has just opened an exhibit at Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery, says after moving to Vermont in the 1990s, she took up a paintbrush. “From the beginning I have looked forward to my time in the studio as an essential path to joy,” she says. “Art has changed how I see and relate to so much around me.” She’s also created outreach programs in Brattleboro open to anyone who wants to explore painting.

Hampshire Life: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Marilyn Allen: My new group of paintings is rooted in memories of walking in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, in part to celebrate my daughter’s fortieth birthday. The simplicity of absorbing a place through your footsteps made the immediate space of sky, ocean and stone an exuberant challenge.

In my work inspired by Vermont’s landscape, the structure of trees — especially broken ones — is rooted in verticality. Without trees and with very few green growing things, the challenge of these new paintings became creating space and light that is inseparable from this world of stone.

HL: What do you draw inspiration from? Do you ever have any “Eureka!” moments?

MA: I draw inspiration from being in a place that creates strong feelings evoked by looking. Sometimes the feelings are clearly defined; more often emotions crystallize when I am walking around the studio. Once I start painting, frustration can lead to abandoning control and pushing paint around ... however, I may take a color I do not use often, such as pink, and suddenly the energy changes, and I am off in a new and interesting direction.


HL: How do you know when your work is finished?

MA: What I have learned from studying paintings I love is that sometimes it is much better to stop before you feel it is finished. A section of blank canvas can lure you into the mysterious world of a painting.

HL: Have you ever had a “mistake — a project that seemed to be going south — turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

MA: It is my usual path to paint in layers. Rarely does a painting happen on the blank canvas or paper. The ground of the painting can be viewed as a mistake; more often it is the place where exploration begins without a destination in mind.

HL: Name two artists you admire or who have influenced your work. What about their art appeals to you?

MA: Agnes Martin’s abstractions draw me into her space with a kind of a joy that is difficult to define. When I saw the retrospective of her work at the Guggenheim, there was barely a sound although the museum was very crowded.

A contemporary painter, Stanley Lewis, paints the world he sees, and it is a dense and gorgeous place. His vision is rich, and sometimes it appears to be chaotic. Then you see where he is taking you and everything falls into place.


HL: What's the most recent exhibition/concert/book reading/other event by another artist or group that you've attended and enjoyed?

MA: At a reading in Putney, Vermont, a poet read a piece that I could see as painting: The lush color, darkness and light, and sensitivity to suffering were powerful. I was compelled afterward to paint what I remembered, though it didn’t work out well. Still, it was a worthwhile adventure; I may return to it in time.

— Steve Pfarrer

Marilyn Allen’s “Walking into Painting” opens Thursday, Dec. 6 at the Oxbow Gallery in Northampton. An artist’s reception takes place Dec. 14 from 5-8 p.m. as part of Arts Night Out. Allen’s website is



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