The Naughton Gallery at Queen's
Lanyon Building
Queen's University

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Silo 2, 1991

St Claire Allen (1941-2012)
Life in a Landscape

A well-known artist outside of Northern Ireland, St Claire Allen’s work has not received the attention it deserves in her native country. Born in Antrim, Allen became a teacher in London before her first solo show at The New Gallery, Belfast, in 1969. Further training followed at Morley College and Sir John Cass School of Art, and in 1976 she gave up teaching to become a full-time artist. Allen founded an acclaimed etching studio in West London and in 1981 she was elected a Fellow of the Printmakers' Council. She exhibited widely nationally and internationally and in 1990 she was awarded First Prize at the Salon International, Tregastel, Brittany.

Allen’s representation of landscape changed radically following the illness and subsequent death of her mother in 1990. Returning to Belfast, Allen reimagined her relationship with her native Lagan Valley, drawing on archaeological, geological and agricultural forms to explore the internal landscape of anatomy and disease. Her paintings reflect her growing preoccupations with gender, sexuality, motherhood and isolation but remain firmly embedded in the landscape tradition.

The restless, fragmented imagery in her paintings suggests a sense of urgency, change and onward momentum, while the recurring motifs of crucible, vessel or cocoon and light breaking through darkness explore the physical experiences of birth, life and death. In later years, suffering her own health problems, Allen’s paintings became progressively visceral. She worked increasingly from imagination, making abstracted sculptures to compose still lifes from which she extrapolated her drawings and paintings.

This exhibition comprises a generous donation of St Claire Allen’s work to Queen’s by her husband, Max Green, and daughters, Miriam Benmiloud and Helen Mackie. We also acknowledge the kind support of St Claire’s sister, Dame Ingrid Allen.

Exhibition continues until 2 April