Polar bears clinging to ice cubes floating in a sea of Coca Cola. A snow leopard with a bright red bar code on its ear. An elephant imprisoned behind a white picket fence. A black rhino covered in graffiti.
Chris Allen's environmental paintings and drawings challenge his viewers to think about how human behavior affects the natural world. He describes his large images, mostly done in acrylics and measured in feet, not inches, as focusing "on the relationship between human existence and ecological crises, inspired by worsening natural disasters and disappearing species."
An exhibit of Allen's paintings opens this Friday at The Cirque in downtown Paonia.
A 2014 graduate of Hotchkiss High School, Allen got serious about art as a teenager.
In addition to school art shows, in 2014 he had exhibits at Doghouse Coffee in Delta and the Church of Art in Hotchkiss. His local works include the mural on the Hotchkiss Subway and the Hotchkiss Bulldog mascot on the town shop on Grand Avenue.
Even in high school, Allen was drawing and showing sketches of sports figures and family members and lifelike images of giraffes, panda bears, parrots and other endangered wildlife, which he sold to support his education.
"Initially I wanted to do a series about endangered species, but after a few paintings I moved on to other things," he said. "Over time, as I read articles about oceans lined with garbage and animals covered with oil from spills, I was inspired to capture the emotion I felt towards these events."
HHS art teacher Jamie Roeber "deserves a lot of credit for sparking my interest and really challenging me as an artist," said Allen. His interest was strong enough that he chose to attend CU Denver to study painting and drawing over going to Colorado School of Mines. Parents Steve Allen and Sunshine Knight were very supportive, he said. So was his girlfriend, now wife, Chelsea.
Last year he earned a bachelor's degree in fine art with an emphasis on painting and drawing from the University of Colorado Denver.
"I feel like I kind of owed it to the North Fork community to come back and do a show," said Allen. When Cirque owner Amy DeLuca reached out to him, he said yes.
Allen is currently employed at Fidelity Investments while earning his investment advisor's license, and continues to focus on his art. Most recently he was included in an annual juried show at the Emmanuel Gallery in Denver. He's thinking big. One of his latest works is an 8' by 10' acrylic of a discarded pack of Marlboros.
At CU, his professors, Quintin Gonzalez, Lanny Devuono and Vivian George "really opened up my mind to fine art and challenged me even further." Without all of the support, he says, he would not be where he is today.
Allen also creates drawings and limited-run signed prints of endangered wildlife, with a portion of each sale going to the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy. More information, images of his work, and his blog can be found at www.chrisallenart.com.