Local artist is the toast of downtown with ‘CHEERS!’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 13, 2016

DETROIT — One of the most enduring stereotypes about artists is that they’re depressed, and their work comes out of the darkness in their lives. That couldn’t be less true of Linda Allen.

“Most of what I make is colorful and happy,” said the Grosse Pointe City artist, whose first Detroit solo show — titled “CHEERS!” — is on display through Jan. 28 at the Boll Family YMCA in downtown Detroit. “I seek out the beauty.”

The roughly 40 pieces in “CHEERS!” showcase Allen’s eclecticism, from drawings and watercolor to assemblage, 3-D work using found objects, and pieces made with cut fabric and enamel paint. Allen’s latest creations are mandalas made out of recycled postcards that she cuts into different shapes and patterns and forms in circles; the back side usually features another design, and the finished mandalas are connected to each other by string and suspended from the ceiling to give them movement.

Seth Amadei, the arts production manager at the Boll Family YMCA, said he receives about 50 submissions from artists annually and selects 12 for shows. Allen’s work immediately stood out.

“Linda’s stuff is amazing,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say she’s well-respected in the arts community.”

Born in Eastpointe, Allen grew up primarily in Mount Clemens, although the family spent a couple of years apiece in St. Louis, Missouri, and Middletown, New Jersey. She and her fraternal twin sister are the oldest, followed by a younger brother and baby sister. Allen is the only artist in the family, but she said her great- uncle was a draftsperson who “could draw wonderfully,” and both of her grandmothers were gifted seamstresses — one even made delicate outfits for Barbie dolls.

“I was always interested in art and physical education,” said Allen, a lifelong athlete who continues to enjoy activities such as swimming, skiing and cycling. 

She said she played many sports as a student, but after taking an art class in high school, “that sealed the deal” for her future career path.

“Then, I took everything (in art) I could take,” Allen said. “I loved it.”

When other kids were socializing during lunch hours and study halls, she said she was making art.

Allen studied art at several colleges and universities, eventually earning a Bachelor of Science degree in interior design with a fine arts background from Wayne State University. When she graduated in 1983, teaching jobs were scarce, so Allen opted for an interior design degree as a matter of practicality. She worked in commercial design for about 15 years. 

That background has served her well as an artist, enhancing her already keen sense of color and giving balance to her often abstract pieces.

Allen said she uses “a lot of lines” in her work.

“I think it’s how I look at things,” she explained. “There’s a lot of structure, and I utilize the line as a design element.”

Her mentor, the legendary Detroit artist Charles McGee — the inaugural Kresge Eminent Artist — said Allen’s “willingness to experiment … is the hallmark of a great artist.”

McGee, who has known Allen since roughly 1984, described her as “experimental, with a solid foundation of academic processes, and a person that’s willing to take chances on established principles. She changes ideas easily. She’s really a live wire as far as ideas (and) as far as her work ethic. And (she’s) a beautiful person.” 

In the time he’s known her, McGee said, Allen’s skills have grown by “leaps and bounds,” and she explores new concepts and techniques all the time.

“I work intuitively,” Allen said. “As I’m working, I’ll just let it happen. … I let (the work) speak to me.”

She’s won numerous awards for her pieces — including first place in the 2015 “Sapphire” show at the Anton Art Center in Mount Clemens and second place at the 2015 Grosse Pointe Art Center show “Signs and Symbols” — and has been selected for dozens of juried shows across the state. Allen also had a previous solo exhibition in 2014 that was organized by the Gaylord Area Council for the Arts.

Lori Zurvalec, of Grosse Pointe City, like Allen a member of the art critique group Pointe Studio Ten, believes her friend brings great skill to her work.

“Linda Allen’s work has a vibrant, powerful energy; strong composition; bold use of line, color and texture,” Zurvalec said by email. “Linda’s sense of design is one of her strengths as an artist, along with her playful use of found materials in her collage and assemblage works.”

Since Allen’s show opened Dec. 9, Amadei said the response by visitors “has been great.” Several works have already sold. 

The gallery in the YMCA — located in the building’s lobby — is a way of bringing art to people who might not typically go to see it in a gallery. Allen’s work, in particular, has struck a chord with YMCA members and visitors alike.

“I think Linda’s show is special,” Amadei said. “(Her) work is accessible to people.”

Allen said art inspires and can stimulate dialogue.

“I’m trying to share that with others,” she said. “Life would be boring without art.”

The same spirit that Allen brings to her work is evident in her lively personality. Her stylistic range is astonishing, and she continues to surprise audiences.

“I want to do more of everything (in art),” she said. “I’m looking forward to what I can do next.”

The Boll Family YMCA is located at 1401 Broadway St. in Detroit. “CHEERS!” will be on display through Jan. 28, and is on view during regular YMCA hours. For more information, visit www.ymcadetroit.org.