Theodora Allen’s Brand New Heartache, a selection of paintings mourning the death of Gram Parsons, are on display at Michael Jon Gallery until April 14th, 2012.


Can you introduce yourself? Where did you grow up? Go to school?

My name is Theodora Allen, and I’m a native of Los Angeles, California. I grew up in Studio City, a stretch of valley between Burbank and Hollywood. Home to a variety of film industry back lots and sound stages, this area of the valley also had a bustling country music scene at one point. My father worked as a production designer for 20 years, and my grandfather had worked as an illustrator for Walt Disney.  Thus, an education in imagined histories. I went to the arts high school in east LA, and did a year at the Chelsea School in London directly following. I got my undergraduate degree at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California (‘09), and I’m currently working towards an MFA in the UCLA painting program (‘14).

These paintings are very nostalgic, especially considering that you were -12 when Gram Parsons bit the dust. Country music, painting, and even mourning are fundamentally nostalgic acts. How does this emotion affect you, both as an artist and as a person?

The term nostalgia is rarely used in a positive light when describing artwork. It’s a phrase that I often have to reassess, as the notion of what qualifies as nostalgia has become increasingly diluted. Recently I revisited On Longing, a collection of essays by Susan Stewart. She describes the nostalgia of a souvenir object as being a sort of “failed magic”: “Because the souvenir is destined to be forgotten, it’s tragedy lies in the death of memory”. My experience of a painting, or a song, rarely redirects me to a memory of it at its inception (-12), but rather, the now of it, as it exists for me. I don’t think that it is necessary to experience something in real historical time, for it to be a real moment on your own terms, in your own life. Magic is every time the object in question can be experienced as new, and not as a surrogate. Not to entirely refute the sense of nostalgia that is present in these paintings… I just don’t think that it has the final word.

Mourning is both the grief felt over one’s passage and a period of time in which it is socially accepted/required to grieve in an external manner. For example, wearing black. However, it’s usually a temporary response to death’s permanence. In the digital era, mourning can theoretically last forever. Do you think there is a difference between not forgetting to put roses on someone’s grave and, say, maintaining a facebook profile of a deceased friend?

You have outlined two very different displays of bereavement: public mourning versus private mourning. I think that it can play out either way, neither one necessarily undermines the other, but, yes, I do see a clear cut difference. The facebook memorial is one that is shared with a community, on a social platform. To put flowers on a grave, or visit a death site, is to honor an individual, as well as console yourself and reflect on your own mortality. It’s a personal, and cathartic experience that happens to be tied to an ancient tradition.

As paintings of album covers which in turn were used to illustrate the music, your work (while simply beautiful) also interrogates painting’s limits in a very academic source. Given mourning’s performative element, the musical core of this body of work, and the photographic qualities of the album covers, where do you see painting fitting in?

Although the content of the paintings for Brand New Heartache were drawn from a musical history, I’d say that the role of painting, in this instance, is more closely linked to the tradition of still life painting, the memento mori, and the relationship between mourning and picture making/collecting.

Can you make me a Youtube classic rock mixtape?

Gram Parsons, $1000 Wedding:

The Rolling Stones, Dead Flowers:

Buck Owens, Together Again:

Emmylou Harris, Boulder to Birmingham:

George Jones, Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?: