Nationally renowned fiber artist offers suspended sights to see at Steamboat gallery
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Hanging 30 vertical feet in the air, sinuous lines of twine evoke a sense of something familiar, yet unknown.
“I like that space in between, where a new visual dialogue can take place,” said Joel S. Allen, renowned installation artist and sculptor. “Each piece is unique by plan, and I hope that it is evident in my attempt to give life through form, color and implied movement.”
Although he’s based in Steamboat Springs, his work is not typically found in Colorado. His work includes acrylic wall art, photography, land art and installations of fiber like twine as well as freestanding wire sculptures.
But now, residents and visitors can see a few of Allen’s pieces on display from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Red West Contemporary Gallery, 1125 Lincoln Ave.
The Steamboat resident who moved here full time in 2012 said he had no experience with art until he was almost 40.
“One art class changed the course and intention of my life,” Allen said. “Having no personal history with art, I felt a certain freedom with materials and techniques to try anything and everything. Almost all of my techniques and processes are self-developed out of a necessity to be a better craftsperson.”
Inspiration for his intricate fiber sculptures — made with hand-wrapped fiber, pill bottles, wine corks, acrylic sheeting, copper, tubing and rubber caps, suspended from hand-forged copper hooks — he said comes from his deep fascination for exploring the possibilities of moving materials with his hands.
“I’ve always thought of art as a conversation,” Allen said. “For my part, I love the act of making, and I hope that passion is perceived as an engaging experience for the viewer.”
Allen draws on his eclectic background of skills with experiences in construction, drilling, construction materials inspection, bartending, crystal growing, iridium welding, night club management, newspaper advertising and teaching.
Allen’s current hand-wrapped fiber work recalls the care and precision he associates with his childhood love of fishing in eastern Washington and Montana. “It wasn’t merely about the act of catching for me. Even as a kid, I was focused on preparation, process and execution. My tackle box was something to behold.”
Recently, Allen’s fiber installation, “Hooked on Svelte,” was selected and purchased for the national, and soon to be international, traveling exhibit, “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now.”
Last year, “Hooked on Svelte” was selected as Fiber Installation of 2016 in an international juried competition in Fiber Art Now magazine. In 2014, an installation of his eight fiber sculptures was also purchased for permanent display in the downtown Los Angeles offices of the Coachella Music and Art Festival.
Looking ahead to 2019, an installation of 10 fiber sculptures has been commissioned by the U.S. Department of State’s Art in Embassies program for their permanent collection to be displayed in the new U.S. Consulate in Matamoros, Mexico. Each of the 10 pieces is nearly 12 feet in length and contain nearly 4 miles of hand-wrapped fiber.
His precision wrapping process can take weeks or months, depending on the scale of the work, which he applies one wrap, one layer at a time. He also applies this same process-driven approach to working with any materials, including steel wire, cardboard, acrylic, paper pulp or river rock.
“I love to work, which is probably why I always choose to work in such labor-intensive processes,” he said. “Tapering techniques I’ve developed to create smooth profile lines and transitions sculpts the shapes.”
“I don’t really consider myself a patient person,” Allen said. “The work takes what the work needs, leaving time to find a record within the materials. I blame any talent or skills I’ve obtained on my almost sadistic tenacity and stubbornness.”
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