The 'magical,' abstract art of Frank Louis Allen

British-born Frank Louis Allen is a northeast Indiana artist whose work has been shown in Washington, DC, New York, and galleries across the Midwest. Despite having a degenerative eye condition and being on the Autistic Spectrum, he has not allowed either condition to get in his way. In fact, sometimes they're an asset to his art style.  Frank Louis Allen uses lines and layers to create his abstract pieces.

Something magical happens when Allen takes a marker to paper, his fans will tell you.

His coloring book series available on Amazon has garnered a following, engaging readers (and participants) in a non-traditional way. In general, his work often transforms everyday objects into complex recognizable forms, while other times his pieces flow into purely abstract forms.

Input Fort Wayne sat down with the artist to learn more about his art, his creative process, and how he navigates challenges daily to create his work. 

IFW: Tell us about the local arts scene. Have you found it to be accepting?

FLA: When I was in England, I took my art to a lot of galleries, and they didn't really give it a second look. But as soon as I came here, the first gallery I walked in, they signed me up the same day. So, everyone’s been really receptive here.  

IFW: How would you describe your style?

FLA: It is … sort of comic book inspired, but at the same time, it's very abstract. It’s just things that pop out of the lines ... layers and layers of things.

IFW: You have made coloring books of your artwork. What inspired you to do that?

FLA: People have been saying for years you should put (your drawings) in a coloring book. It was just an organic thing…. It made sense. People can treat it like a collection of art, as well. They don't have to think of it as a coloring book.

IFW: How does having a visual impairment and being on the autistic spectrum inform your art?

Frank Louis Allen's work has been featured in local galleries. FLA: The only way I could do it is to let go and let whatever comes out come out because of the anxiety. So that way being on the (autism) spectrum sort of plays into that. It’s the reason I've found it so hard to do conventional art, but it’s pushed me into a direction where (the art) is quite original and quite my own.

As for the eyesight ... even if I draw something pretty realistic like an animal … I will focus on a really small area, and I just keep drawing, and I won’t look at the whole until I finish and it’s in proportion. So because of my eyesight (I have no peripheral vision), I tend to focus on a teeny area and not look at the whole. So it all works together. 
IFW: Have you had to overcome a stigma regarding your abilities? If so, what does that look like?

FLA: People don't seem to think about it twice. But I think there's a perception that a lot of autistic people are famous because they’re really good at something.

I know a lot of autistic people get depressed because they haven’t found what they’re good at. And they see these people saying, “autism makes you a genius or whatever.” And until I started drawing about seven years ago, I didn't have anything that I sort of felt good about, that I did. And I always knew I wanted to draw, but I was always anxious about it. 

IFW: What other challenges have you faced in making art?

FLA: I tried to do graphic design professionally. I did it for a few weeks with this company out of college, and it just made me feel so ill all the time. I just was just constantly worried what the other person had in their head, and that worry actually stops me from working.

If I don’t have to worry about what the other person is expecting, I can do the project in an hour, when someone else might take a week to do it. But when someone asks me to do (a project) like a CV cover or something, literally, I can take months of worrying. And then I sit down for an hour (and do it) … and they're happy with it

IFW: What advice would you give someone else who's feeling paralyzed about their art?

FLA: I'd get them to sit down and draw with me.

When I have an exhibition, I always roll out a big sheet of paper and have lots of Sharpies®, and it’s amazing. I tell people this story: That there’s no rules; you’re just drawing lines.

I do see the positive results people go away with. (For example), people that I’ve met through doing that (exercise), they were too paralyzed to do art, and then they go away and start doing art (again).

IFW: So what are your ultimate goals with your art? 

FLA: I’ve got some crazy, long-shot goals. Like, I would like to do a New Yorker cover. But that’s like dream stuff. Not really likely. 

But I want to carry on with the coloring books. The guy who employed me to do the illustrations (for Of Zots and Zoodles), he let me totally loose to interpret how I wanted. It’s quite an abstract concept because (the book is about the universe with multiple time frames, empirical and dark materials, constants in gravity and light), and nobody really knows what (the universe) is.

Now (the author) wants me to do another book, and he's already written it. I'm all set to do that and with this book, I’ll have five books on Amazon, which is crazy. 

But with CreateSpace (a platform which allows people to independently publish and distribute books, music or films in physical or digital formats), I can send in the media for the new coloring book, and they have it approved within 24 hours, and then it’s on Amazon. So, people can order it from Amazon, and they print it.

It’s so easy to be a published author now. If you’ve got it put together in a PDF, it can be a matter of hours before you have it out to the world. 

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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