What would we carry with us if faced with a need to leave and no time to prepare? That is the dilemma that inspires local artist Martina Johnson-Allen’s current art exhibition, “Interiors”. The show runs until June 8 at the Allens Lane Art Center, 601 West Allens Lane (ALAC) in Mt. Airy. A closing reception for the artist was held Saturday evening in ALAC’s Carolyn Fiedler-Alber Gallery.
Johnson-Allen said her mixed-media art is “concerned about what people keep within.” Transitional governments, natural disasters and other forces of upheaval often create situations where people must take only what they can while on the move. “Interiors” is a collection of small scale three dimensional assemblages which explore ideas of what can fit inside limited space: a sense of history, a fragment of memory, a talisman which begets a shrine or place of healing, and colorful emotions which can barely be contained. The artist creates intimate and intricately detailed interiors – the majority only eight inches tall – by using fibers, paper, vibrant acrylic paint and found objects.
Johnson-Allen said her box constructions examine “how we humans use space” by creating an illusion of walking into Eternity. She wants viewers to travel inside and occupy each piece. Johnson-Allen said she draws inspiration from an interest in geometry, collage and the Yorùbá goddess, Oshun.
“I like the challenge of structure,” Johnson-Allen stated.
The artist is the recipient of two Guggenheim awards, and has had her work exhibited in many museums shows and galleries such as the Sande Webster Gallery in Philadelphia, the Paul Robeson Gallery at Penn State University, as well as in Dijbouti Africa as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies program.
The “Interiors” exhibit is the most recent in ALAC’s programming shift to that of mid-career and established artists. A.M. Weaver, Chair of the Gallery Committee at Allens Lane Art Center, explained that the move comes from the center’s desire to be taken more seriously in Philadelphia’s art community and also as part of a plan to establish a satellite gallery for young and emerging artists in partnership with the Settlement Music School.
ALAC began hosting the cocktail receptions in December as fundraising events to support its continued mission of offering gallery exhibitions which are free to the public.
A host of luminaries from Philadelphia’s art world came out to both celebrate Johnson-Allen’s newest exhibit and share some conversation and cocktails with the artist. Notable guests included Richard J. Watson, the curator of the African-America Museum in Philadelphia, Allan Edmunds, the executive director for Brandywine Workshop, plus artists Moe Brooker and Barbara Bullock.
Moe Brooker remarked that he was struck by Johnson-Allen’s use of color and organization of form. Booker said he felt a strong desire to walk inside each piece. “I’m very curious to see where they go,” he commented.