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Rosemary Allen


From 2006 to 2012 I devoted myself to photographing, rendering, and painting the construction workers in my Oakland studio neighborhood. My studio is located in the old produce section where warehouses are being converted into condominiums. As I watched the construction workers leave each day, they appeared to be satisfied with their work. I envied their methodical jobs: Clock in, take orders, build something, get paid, go home. I pondered the idea of departing from my abstract painting, to do something that methodical in my art work. I decided to photograph these men each day at the same time, when they were leaving work to go home, so I could paint them.

I likened each step in the process to constructing a building, each part contributing to the whole. I chose to paint in a gestural manner, not as a photorealist would, letting my artist’s hand be evident as the witness and scribe. I have left as much of the process showing as possible: the drawings, the ruler edges, and the ruled squares. I’ve intentionally left the pieces unfinished, leaving first stages in the development visible as you might see in a construction site.

My intention was to complete a series of these workers on canvas, keeping them heroic in size, as with historical paintings. I saw these men making history, now changing the demographics of California. Because they are willing to do the necessary manual labor, they have become the backbone of our city and state. They have an investment in this place now that not many of us other Californians can say we have. I hope with this work to raise awareness of these noble men around us.

From the San Francisco Chronicle under the title:
Enrique Chagoya showing at Galeria de la Raza
Kenneth Baker
Saturday, August 21, 2010

...But the surprise standout here is a quartet of portraits by Rosemary Allen. Temporarily abandoning her abstract work, Allen has made a series of photo-based portraits of construction workers employed in the neighborhood of her studio. "Construction Worker V" (2009) is typical in presenting its subject, nearly life-size, as an ordinary hero, laden with tools that symbolize a clutch of skills.

With just a whiff of irony, Allen's portraits evoke socialist realism, offsetting it with reminiscences of Thomas Eakins and Thomas Anschutz. Her canvases come underpainted with orange, which imparts a warmth suited to their late-day light and to her feeling for their subjects.
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