Tonawanda News

January 28, 2013

North Tonawanda artist blends painting, sculpture you can touch

By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — In only a short handful of months since its opening, Project 308 Gallery is making something of a name for itself as a place where one can really get in touch with a love of art. 

No, really, you can touch the stuff, go ahead. Forget all the rules you learned the first time you visited a museum or art gallery. This stuff is meant to be touched. 

OK, so not every piece of art that ends up on the walls of the North Tonawanda gallery is made for touching, but the space is hosting its second show of paintings to which visitors can get up close, grope, trace with fingertips and smooth over with their hands. “Canvas Sculpture,” a series of painting/sculpture hybrids by North Tonawanda artist Larry Allen, is set to open Friday and will be up through Feb. 22.

It may be the gallery’s second touchable art show — the first was at the gallery’s August debut with a show by Sherri Marranca and Ellen Rogers — but it’s unlike anything many art appreciators have ever seen before, Allen said.

“I want people to be able to say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this ever,’ ” he said. 

“That type of response is going to secure the fact that this is what I should be doing and that I made the right decision” to leave my job and work as an artist full-time, he added. “No matter how long it takes, you have to stick with it.”

Friday’s opening will be the first time Allen’s works have hung on the walls of a gallery, though he said he’s been working hard at his craft since shortly after he graduated from McKinley High School in 1986.

“I’ve always dibbled and dabbled in art ... I always loved it,” he said. “I just recently got serious about it.”

Allen started off painting regular two-dimensional, more realistic portraits. It’s only been in the last year or so that he’s started experimenting with adding texture to his works and using a more abstract style. 

Natalie Brown, curator and owner of the gallery, described Allen’s style as varied with earthy colors and lots of details.

“His style changes from each painting. One might be a woman, one might be a decorative bird ... some is abstract shapes and colors,” she said. “He uses ideas from nature and things around him. They’re very modern ... very stylized.”

Allen said he prefers bright, vivid colors that “emanate a warm feeling.”

“Bright colors tend to show the depth in texture, especially in photos ... texture is very hard to capture in photos,” he said.

He builds up the texture or relief of each painting by laying down thick layers of plaster of Paris mixed with terracotta, fierro and pumice. He colors the paintings using acrylic, and to finish each one off, he gives them a clear coat of clear ceramic glaze for protection. 

“That’s why I invite people to touch them. I just wipe them down with a cloth afterwards to erase the finger prints,” Allen said.

To have a go at adding your fingerprints to the more than 30 artworks that will be on display, visit Project 308 Gallery at 308 Oliver St., North Tonawanda, from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday for the opening reception. Regular gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursday. The show will be up through Feb. 22.

IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Canvas Sculpture," works by Larry Allen • WHEN: Opening reception is 7-10 p.m. Friday; regular gallery hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; show up through Feb. 22. • WHERE: Project 308 Gallery at 308 Oliver St., North Tonawanda • MORE INFORMATION: Call 523-0068.

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.