Artillery: Pick of the Week: Theodora Allen

February 23, 2022

Catherine Yang

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We are supposed to wish upon them when we see them fall. But however sentimentalized shooting stars may be, they are merely rocky debris skimming the atmosphere — all their mythology is manufactured by those of us watching in awe from our Earthly confines. In the five new paintings of Theodora Allen on view in “Syzygy,” utopian and metaphysical ideals meet celestial bodies and ethereal mindscapes in Allen’s timeless, contemporary visual lexicon.

In the centerpiece of the exhibition, the triptych “Syzygy (Narcissus)” (2021), two shooting stars encircle a flaming central star. Aligned diagonally across the panels, this titular work has achieved syzygy, an astronomical phenomenon where celestial bodies configure in a line. It’s also bursting with mythology and Allen offers a grounding touch by portraying scenes from different interpretations of the myth of Narcissus in the center of each star so that they look like diamond portals. Through Allen’s rigorous painting process, the triptych assumes a translucent, ghostly quality, as though the shooting stars are supernatural overseers of human stories and affairs.

Just as Narcissus became enamored with his own reflection, the rest of the exhibition is rife with mirror images and repeated symbols. “Falling Star (Memento Mori)” (2021) is a similar image to the triptych but unlike its counterparts, it shoots straight down rather than toward the orbit of another star, serving as a standalone reminder of mortality. Employing mirrored color palettes, composition styles and motifs throughout the series, Allen engages with themes of regeneration and cyclicality, the creation and destruction of the natural world.

In the trio of smaller scale geometric paintings — “The Amulet,” “Origin” and “Struck” (all 2021) — infinity symbols interlock, the tails of comets link to form shields and an arrow pierces a heart into symmetric halves. Though the symbols are imbued with familiarity and history, the originality with which Allen wields them transports viewers into her otherworldly realm full of imagined landscapes, images and ideas. In Allen’s hands, everyday emblems become meditative and elusive, positing existential questions about whether we are looking inward and outward from ourselves.

The reality of shooting stars may not be as romantic as their lore and astronomy may have disproven their magic, but Theodora Allen beautifully reminds us of how they tether us to our instinctive needs for reflection — of the past, of the future, of ourselves and others.

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