I met Scott Allen at Cups in Fondren to talk about his upcoming opening at Southern Breeze gallery on June 25. He greeted me with a friendly smile, and we sat outside to enjoy the warmth of a typical summer afternoon in Jackson. Allen, 27, grew up in South Jackson and graduated from Terry High School. He has been drawing and painting since childhood, and he became interested in photography as a teen. He holds a degree in graphic design from the University of Southern Mississippi. Allen spoke humbly yet excitedly about the upcoming show and the pieces he will be presenting.
Allen must have known what my first question would be, because he immediately showed me some photographs that illustrated the very unique process he uses to create his pieces. "It's basically a four-color printer head that moves across a mat, which pretty much lets you run any type of substrate through, like metal or canvas," he tells me. Using this "digital flatbed printer," he scans a digital photograph onto canvas, then paints on top of that using both oil and acrylic paints. He then runs it back through the machine, and the images line up. He says it is about a four-step process, adding layers as needed.
I asked him how he decided to use this unique process for creating images: "I was already doing photography, painting and drawing, so I was basically looking for a way to … incorporate all those elements together." Allen says that combining photography and painting involves the human hand, makes it more personal and "loosens it up."
"Sometimes I come up with an idea and I go out and find what I'm looking for," he says. Other times, he just sees something that he thinks would make a good painting: "Recently, I took a trip to the Delta and just pulled over when I saw something." Such was the case with "Rolling Store," an image of an old bus from the 1950s that carried groceries to people in a town near Carthage. Allen saw the old bus, stopped to take a picture, and a woman who lived there stopped to tell him the story behind it. It seems there is a story behind each of his works.
Allen says he usually starts the paint process by developing a color scheme from the photograph itself. His new pieces feature what he calls the "Southern color palette." "I like Southern folk art, which is usually bright, primary [colors]," he says. These colors work well to bring warmth and life to objects that in reality have been abandoned for years. "Hawkins Field," a picture of part of the old Hawkins Field terminal building, looks more like an old home—the warmth and colors transform the piece to make it more inviting.
Allen comes by his artistic talent honestly: "My dad—he painted when he was younger, but with the times being different, he sorta worked the daily grind … but he always did creative things. He used to take antique Coca-Cola coolers—the big kind with a pull-up lid on top—and convert them into couches. He would also take old gas pumps, gut the insides out and put clocks inside the faces so you could put one in agame room." Allen's father, Larry Allen, now owns Flashbacks coffee shop in Byram. Allen's grandmother was also artistic. She painted and dabbled in photography, but unfortunately he never got to meet her—she died in a car accident when his father was just a teenager. However, Allen senses a strong connection between her artistic talents, his father's, and his own.
One of Allen's current favorite pieces is "actually an antique bicycle that my dad had; it's kind of rusted apart and it's in his backyard now—I called it 'Hannah's Garden,' because I have a little sister named Hannah who is 2-1/2-years-old." It's his favorite because, he says, "I grew up around so many nostalgic objects and antiques like old bicycles and scooters, so I guess it has some sentimental meaning."
The hardest thing about Allen's job is discovering an image, he says. "Figuring out what you want to do [is most difficult]. … Once I find an image that I want, it goes pretty easy from there: It's just tracking down the right photo." He says there is not as much creativity in the technical part—that comes with the painting. The easiest part? "I guess it's easy because I love to do it."