By McKENZIE MORGAN, April 2021
Nancy Mayer Allan is a multi-faceted artist exploring the organics behind both happiness and human nature. Inspired by the smallest things in the world around her, she marries different paints, textures, and textiles into her work. An admirer of the Pattern and Decoration movement, Allan effortlessly creates something reminiscent of home and comfort in each of her pieces.
Growing up in West Texas, Allan would spend her childhood days with her mother, who she says was “frustrated creatively,” following along on all of her early artistic projects. Allan would watch as her mother and friends ripped out photographs from Vogue issues and copied Chanel suits and Galanos evening gowns. Being around that process inspired her to break into costume design as a career.
“I did grow up around a lot of people that naturally found creative expression, even if it wasn't professionally trained into them. A lot of these West Texas women were fabulous cooks and they just had it, you know. Sometimes when you don't have a lot of stuff at your disposal you create your own new version of things. I'm as excited to go into a Kmart as I ever was going into Bergdorf Goodman. You begin to look for creativity wherever you are.”
Allan began her professional career working in costume design for Tony and Oscar award-winning directors and producers. Like most of the other things she’s done, Allan fell into costume design by answered prayer when a friend called recruiting her for a costume design position.
“I needed to do something new to express my artistic qualities in some way that I hadn't even really imagined,” she recalls
Years later, Allan still finds herself enamored by fabrics and different mediums in fashion design and finds herself using inspiration from her costume design work in her current creative process.
“I was frankly awed and amazed at the amount of decision making that goes into one garment—how do you do the stitching and where does that button go? Look at all those buttons you have to pick from and look at the ribbons and, you know, it just became a wonderful, expressive process that I still adore.”
Allan never goes into her work with a plan, she tells me. Each piece is conceived from an initial thought or feeling evoked by the world around her. Allan will often find herself walking around places like construction sites and be inspired by even a simple wire laying on the ground and will upcycle these moments and materials into her work.
“It's just listening and being obedient to what I'm listening to and what's directing me that day. Instead of forcing myself into kind of a willful avenue of expression, I just try to let it unfold as naturally as possible.”
Her newest collection of mixed media work, Glimpse Into Infinity, explores the raw objective Allan has for every piece: to create simply based on intuition. The idea for the collection emerged from a simple spilled can of blue house paint on a piece of cardboard, which Allan decided to extrapolate from.
“I just looked at the blue and it was so gorgeous, and I felt like being folded up into it and it felt infinite. Infinity is not something that we’re going for, we’re already living in it. I was fascinated with that subject and how to really express it as a palpable feeling of nowness.”
Allan’s paint-accident-inspired piece, named “Individual Windows Into The Here + Now,” explores the necessity and expression of individuality, ditching traditional paint and canvases for nail polish and poster board.
“What I'm trying to say in some of these [pieces] is that the individual matters. Just like in the science of mathematics, every single number is needed and there are infinite numbers. Well, that's the same for each one of us. We're needed in this community of infinity and we each matter and we're each necessary.”
Allan creates her visceral and intentional pieces through exploration and experimentation, taking each piece as it comes to her naturally. Even though Allan follows her intuition during her process, she tells me she sometimes feels a lack of confidence because of her lack of formal art training. However, she says that she finds a certain kind of freedom in that and explores her ability to push through such resistance.
“The resistance I have in my creative process keeps urging me to grow and persevere because I do have an expectation of good and I feel there will be a satisfactory ending to the process. Resistance isn't always a bad thing, as we've seen in society and it's what helps us grow and build character and I do feel like sometimes people just give up and delete when something’s difficult. I would say that's been an important part of my process, overcoming fear and resistance.”
Allan credits her intrepidness to growing up in such an imaginative environment alongside her mother. Her mother was active in the local art scene, from volunteering at the local college drama department to selling antiques. Allan feels as though too many are frustrated creatively, waiting to break free and forge their own truth in artistic lives.
“I think everybody is creative in their spiritual DNA, and it doesn't have to be expressed just through the fine arts. I feel like the things I am really grateful for in my education as an artist have come through observation, curiosity, travel, watching other artist friends, reading about artists, and even portrayal of artist techniques in the movies. I think what I would love for people to nurture in themselves are these ideas of observation, curiosity, compassion. I think it'll help heal our divisiveness, honestly.”
For more, please visit www.nancymayerallan.com
Follow on Instagram: @nancymayerallanfineart. WM
McKenzie Morgan is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia, PA.view all articles from this author