Allan Innman’s roughly five-foot by six or seven-foot paintings at the MFA Candidate Exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art enfold the viewer in fantastical realms. Deliberately invoking the nostalgia of childhood through toys, Innman elevates these simple beginnings into intricate narrative told in high-key, fluorescent color.
Visually complex to match complex narratives, Sentient Beings depicts astral planes as a Sci-fi matrix, in which a Chinese figurine representing the God of Longevity meets the threatening presence of a flaming head of the Flaming Future Ghost. Everything is painted as if made of incandescent neon or located under otherworldly spotlights rather than sunlight. Rippling movement across the sky, the Flaming Future Ghost’s cloak, and the un-solid floor of the world suggests flux. A stream of blue sweeps into the glowing space. Reflected in the glassy green-lined matrix beneath, the blue bolt warps the space-time fabric of the astral plane. Within this encounter, strange beings navigate worlds whose rules and order we can only guess at. One imagines either the incipient creation or destruction of worlds. That is, in fact, the imperative of these paintings—to imagine.
Another impossible world beckons in Voyage of the Ancient Sea Legs, featuring a seahorse pulling green people housed in stacking ring toys across an underwater desert. Although everything is given to us—rippling green seaweed, pink ties, streams of bubbles, and long receding strips of desert sand, the narrative of the painting only comes alive if we truly enter the scene imaginatively. Where are the green men going? Are they twins? Are they unable to breathe underwater because they are from a different land? Answering such questions detours through complex narrative by way of childhood tropes. Despite the vehicle—a toddler’s stacking ring toy—the painting asks instead for a developed intellect to take the time to play.
Innman draws on world culture for his idiosyncratic tales in paint. Symbols in Sentient Beings such as the God of Longevity and Future Ghost uses ancient symbols of the afterlife in a futuristic setting that recalls magic in the form of crystals as much as contemporary scientific theory of the structure of space-time. In Voyage of the Ancient Sea Legs, the twins are in fact referencing the Ancient Roman twins Castor and Pollux, the desert landscape contemporary sci-fi such as Dune and Stargate. Such knowledge is an adult’s. Yet the artist deliberately returns to the themes of childhood to unlock the creativity and wonder of fresh eyes. In a similar manner, adventures and new worlds unfold before the immersed viewer, suggesting that we are limited in these paintings only by our own imaginations.
More of the artist’s work on his website.