beginnings IN moss-side MANCHESTER
Allan was born into Moss-side, Manchester, UK, which was then a poor and declining industrial environment that was tree-less and whose rivers were highly polluted - a remnant of Manchester's Industrial Revolution. Later in childhood he moved to Old Trafford close to the Manchester United Football Club where he was to become a life-long member of that tribe. He visited the coast of North Wales on vacations every summer. This allowed him to dream of an alternative environment.
Between the ages of 13 - 16 he was a member of a mountaineering club where he learned camping craft, rock-climbing, mountaineering and caving. Allan spent all his weekends and school breaks climbing in the Peak District and Lake District in England, Snowdonia Range in Wales and the North Arran Hills on the Isle of Arran in Scotland. These experiences, including encounters with ancient standing stones and stone circles were highly formative and long-lasting influences. They instilled in him an understanding of the primacy of nature as opposed to the primacy of humans. He therefore understood the need for respect for nature.
His general education was extremely poor. By the time he had reached mid-adolescence he'd rejected most formal teaching. However, he moved to Grammar School, aged 16, using considerable guile to disguise his lack of interest or attainment at school. He undertook an A-level in Art & Architecture giving him a grounding in Classical Architecture and had an 8' x 8' painting hung in the school foyer and etchings published in the school magazine. At this stage he had also been painting privately at home.
After Grammar School he attended Rochdale College of Art to undertake a foundation course in Fine Art. He had to employ the same guile for the same reasons to gain his place. His art teacher, Tom Hastings, who he had high regard for, told him that Rochdale College had one of the best Foundation courses in England at the time and one of the best principals in Leopold Solomon. However, Allan rejected all attempts to teach him art but did receive a grounding in Modern Art history.
a world trip
By the age of 20 he had his own studio but by 22 he had decided he needed an alternative education to counter-balance his negative schooling. He decided on undertaking a world trip that would eventually take him to 20 countries on 5 continents. Some of the high-lights were crossing the Southern Iranian desert into Baluchistan, an extremely dangerous journey due to the area being controlled by rebel militia. He travelled down the length of Southern India and onto Sri Lanka. While travelling through the State of Kerala, he witnessed extreme poverty, disease and death on the streets with groups of abandoned children and infants roaming the towns begging. He says this experience has always put his life into perspective ever since. In contrast he described travelling in the Nilgiri Hills as serene and beautiful. He eventually travelled from Malaya to Australia passing the volcanic islands of Krakatoa in the Sundra Strait. Allan spent a year working in Western Australia at the Lucy Creath childrens' home working with children and young people with severe disabilities and terminal illness. He then crossed the Nullabor Plain overland and eventually flew to Peru via Fiji and Tahiti. He lived in Cusco near Machu Pichu for a while and then travelled on through the Andes, which he describes as severe and occasionally foreboding, at other times breath-taking, crossing Lake Titicaca on his way in to Bolivia. He ultimately travelled to Canada via Mexico and lived in Quebec for a period. He later journeyed further through Canada and took the 3000 mile trip from the East through the Great Lakes, the Prairies and the Rocky Mountains. He says the most out-standing and influential experience of the whole trip was meeting Australian Aboriginal peoples. They put him in touch with a sense of himself he was hitherto completely unaware of. This early aboriginal influence has been a potent developmental driver and has over time, facilitated his interest in indigenous peoples and their cultures and provided him with a deeper understanding of their ecological mindsets.
Allan has held many different jobs including taxi driver, chef, carpenter and psychotherapist. He trained in Humanistic Psychotherapy which included 'Expressive Arts' and 'Psychodrama'. He also studied Social Work & Social Policy at the University of Manchester and post-graduate Psychoanalytic Studies of Children at the University of Leeds.
While working as a therapist in very poor areas of East Manchester and North Wales he developed his expertise in inter-generational trauma within children and families. Other areas of skill included Child Protection, Play Therapy, Community Murals, Silk Screen Printing, Circle Work and Therapeutic Play Schemes.
an inner imperative to paint
After a significant death in his life he decided to undertake a painting to address, what he describes as, the mythological forces pressing upon his mind. The painting was done in an art naif style and was named 'Return To The Garden'. He had long known he would assume the role of 'Artist' and describes the experience of completing this painting as 'painting his way out of one life and into another'.
paintings: the graves of uchaf series
Since the age of 22, Allan had been waiting for the inner imperative to bring him fully back to praticing art. At this point in his life he was living in a remote farm-house on the edge of the Cloaenog Forest in North Wales overlooking the Clwydian Hills. It soon became clear that it was nature that would provide the foundations for his artwork. His preoccupation with death, at that time, combined with his sense of being drawn into nature to bring about a series of paintings that are now called 'The Graves of Uchaf Series'. He had chosen to paint on square panels because they symbolised infinite space. He also had an understanding of mandalas and their symbolic implications.These early paintings were accomplished mainly through using floats, various tools and rubbings. These experimental ways of applying paint set the tone for future work. He used his developed psychic ability acquired in his psycho-therapeutic development from such things as a deeper understanding of 'play' to explore unconscious strata and also to begin to attune himself to nature as a painter.
the unconscious landscapes series
The next important series of work was painted while living on the Conwy Estuary in North Wales after a 2 year period living in Roussillon in Southern France. The powerful influence of the estuary environment had a profound effect on his development. He found himself developing a deep attunement to nature and the ancient presence of place. He was connecting to neolithic remnants and beginning to develop a consciousness that allowed psychic connection to core aboriginal identity. This enabled him to perform a dynamic balancing act between deep origins and the present within an ecological mindset. This meant that his 'painting brain' was developing more plasticity and lead to the opening up of possibilities hitherto out of reach.These paintings that became known as 'Unconscious Landscapes' show the ever-changing parallels of the estuary and are structured with geometric layouts and apertures. Allan describes these paintings as 'Parellels' and 'Henges'.
the idris wall series
At the end of a 6 year period living on the estuary a new series emerged. The stand-out feature of these paintings was the appearance of large planes, first described as 'Megaliths' and later, when he moved to Scotland as 'Walls'. They are known as the 'Idris Wall Series' and are essentially large ascending apertures in infinite primordial space. They were inspired by the high cliff walls of Cadair Idris - a mountain at the Southern end of the Snowdonia Range. The larger of these paintings were completed in South East Scotland and have a powerful religious presence. By 2013 Allan had moved to Scotland and put on a debut showing of his work at The Holy Biscuit Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne. He hung 36 paintings in 2 large spaces. The exhibition ran for two months and was very well received by public and art professionals alike. He was also interviewed by a journalist from the principal newspaper of the region and was given a two page editorial.
the songlands series
After a year in Scotland Allan moved to Canada for two years and had studios first in Kingston on Lake Ontario and then in North Hatley, Quebec on Lake Massawippi. Because of the level of his practice, when he arrived in Canada Allan was able to make a remarkable attunement to the primal essence of the nature and the ancient presence of humans. This facilitated a drawing out of its invisible powers. He exhibited work in a juried exhibition at Queen's Duncan McArthur Gallery in Kingston.
The layout of these Canadian paintings used both parallel planes and apertures. Very significantly the 'Megalith/Wall' apertures became 'story-telling' planes that allowed him to paint what he describes as 'after-images' of his experiences in nature. This work is known as 'The Songland Series'. These paintings enabled him to make an intimate connection with the aboriginal heritage of that land which triggered a huge shift in his ecological consciousness that now forms the core foundation for the conceptualisation of his ongoing work.
the whale-back series
Allan arrived back in Scotland in 2015 and has established a studio on the River Tweed in the Scottish Borderlands. He began his attunement to his new working environment through an encounter with some significant trees that led to a focus on the old Caledonian Wild-Wood that once covered this area after the last Glacial Maximum. This lead to a shift in consciousness that brought his attention to a great 'Whale-back' being - swimming in the landscape it inhabits. After this period of re-attunement he is continuing his remarkable development with a series of paintings called 'The Whale-back Series'. The name is taken from the whale-back profile of the 400 million year old volcano now known as The Cheviot Hill and seen from the land where he built his new studio. The 'Whale-back' is the dominating yet elusive feature of the local landscape and has provided a focal point for Allan's psychic attunement to the place and has consequently become highly significant in the development of this work. This being with its ever-changing form and colour is providing a psychic entry point - a cleft in the visible world that is allowing a psycho-archaeological exploration of the multi-layered and ancient collective unconscious of the place. Allan is producing 'image-stories' that connect us back to our original ecological mind-set and engender respect and a sensuous connection within nature. These paintings provide a connection directly into the present and allow us to see our place in nature with very different eyes.
the artist as contributor
Allan sees his role as contributor to the healthy ecological and psychic development of our species, within the context of us being an integral part of nature amongst all the other-than-human beings living in this world i.e animals, mountains, rivers and sky. His 'image-stories' are providing ecological intelligence that connects directly with the most pressing issue of our present moment as custodians of this earth. He sees the stories emerging from both individual and series of works as having relevance to our need to make significant adjustments to how we treat the world and therefore to how we live and educate our young.
Allan is currently preparing a show that includes work from different series of paintings. This will allow him to present a coherent story of development and illuminate the findings of his psycho-archaeological explorations. His work is available to be shown, locally, nationally and internationally.
allan started his world trip at the age of 22 and visited 20 countries on 5 continents over a 3 year period.
Created by Katrine Rustad on 30th March 2018 from notes taken from conversations with Allan between 2012-2018.
All photography is attributed to Katrine Rustad.