Becoming One With The Ink: Oxford artist paints to understand


Jere Allen in front of one of his current projects. Photo by Margaret Culver.

Maggie Culver
Oxford Stories

Driving down south Lamar in Oxford, you may have never noticed a little dirt road that leads to a studio in the woods. While the structure might not look like much from the outside, it houses beautiful paintings by Oxford local Jere Allen.

His paintings are more than just abstract thoughts. They are an attempt to share emotions with the world.

“The images, and symbols, and compositions, which stem from personal, social, political realities, are often a foil to assist in the realization of feelings,” he said.

Allen was born in Selma, Alabama in 1944. He grew up surrounded by art. From a young age, his mother gave him and his brother things to paint in their free time. Little did his mother know that by introducing this hobby, she sparked a passion that her son would continue the rest of his life.

Allen graduated from the Ringling College of Art and Design, a private college in Sarasota, Florida, and the University of Tennessee, where he received a BFA and MFA. He decided to use his talent to enrich young people who shared the same passion.

Allen moved to Oxford in 1981 and spent the next 28 years teaching art at the University of Mississippi. He has won many awards, including the 1993 Visual Art Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters and Individual Arts Commission, and the MIA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

Allen’s preferred medium is painting and drawing. His work has been shown in 38 states. His pieces have been featured in galleries in Washington D.C., Miami, Austin, Beverly Hills, and many other places. While Allen enjoys expanding his business, he frequently exhibits work at Southside Gallery in Oxford, where many of his pieces reside.

Since ending his teaching career, Allen has spent the last 11 years in his studio painting and spending time with his family, which now includes four generations in Lafayette County. His great-grandchildren have their own designated drawer in his filing cabinet for their doodles. He frequently goes to this cabinet and looks at the doodles for inspiration, or sometimes just for a good laugh.

A project can take Allen anywhere from one week to two months. To Allen, art is much more than mindlessly placing colors on a canvas. His creative process is intentional.

“My paintings employ a reactive method in the search for an elusive notion that has perplexed me for many years,” he said.

While Allen paints a variety of different subjects, it is clear that one of his favorite things to paint is portraits. One of his collectors, Robert Williams, said Allen successfully executes difficult subjects.

“I like that many, if not most, of his work are portraits, often considered the most difficult medium and subject matter that an artist could possibly choose,” Williams said.

He praised Allen for the creative touches he adds to his pieces to make them more than just a portrait.

“Each painting is very unique,” he said “I have never walked by one of his paintings without stopping and really studying or felt such appreciation for its beauty.”

Allen said one of his biggest influences is his late brother. Walter Allen was also an artist, but claimed to have stopped painting for the last few years of his life. However, when Allen and his family members arrived to clean out his home, they discovered he had been painting all along. Allen said Walter is his will to be an artist.

In addition to his brother, Allen has been influenced by artists Frank Rampolla, Fiore Custode and Kyle Rislow. These three men, his mentors, all played a role in Allen’s creative learning process.

Custode, Allen’s elementary art teacher, was especially encouraging to Allen at a young age and inspired him to teach others his passion. Allen is currently working on a piece in honor of his three mentors. It is an abstract portrait of the three men standing alongside each other.

Being an art teacher for 28 years, Allen has taken a special interest in steering young artists on the path to success. The advice he gives all young painters is never stop painting.

“Even when you don’t know what to paint, paint anyway,” he said.

Allen said he’s seen too many people take “breaks” and never finish. He has dedicated his entire life to art and does not want to stop when it ends. When his time comes, he said he wants to be remembered in a way that reflects his life.

He has requested that his family cremate him and turn his ashes into ink. He has carved several block print self-portraits he would like printed with the ink.

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