November 23-December 13
Public Reception: Saturday, November 23, 1pm-3pm

No Vacancy showcases an ambitious series of paintings Allan Beckley began in 1999. Based on personal photographs of his travels across Canada and the United States, Allan has produced a painstakingly crafted series of high realist acrylic paintings depicting historical neon signage. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes derelict, sometimes even tragic, Allan’s selection of imagery gives us a rare and comprehensive view of the so-called vernacular design of North American, post-war culture as he documents its momentum toward extinction. Allan’s clarity of detail pays homage to neon signage as an unmistakable and lasting influence on contemporary lifestyle, architecture and design.

With local directions and camera in hand, Allan and his wife, Joan, searched for significant examples of the “tube benders” art, primarily in the American south-west. “No Vacancy is a series of acrylic paintings that flood our memories of a bygone era and of the meetings I had with many of the old characters who recalled the halcyon years of neon,” says Allan whose work has been shown in major exhibitions across Canada and the United States. “From many diverse locations and schools of design, we get to see neon signs that influenced architecture, lifestyles and an art form that is quickly disappearing. This exhibition gives us a chance to see fascinating designs and locations we might otherwise have missed.”

Allan has always sketched images for as long as he can remember. His first attempts at art were pencil drawings on the smooth, pure white cardboard inserts from his father’s commercially laundered white dress shirts. In high school, he craved professional instruction and changed from a general arts school to one of Canada’s best fine art education programs at H.B. Bell in London where he was introduced to acrylics and high realism painting techniques. After high school, Allan was accepted to attend the Ontario College of Art from more than 1,500 applications.

To help pay his way through school, Allan played electric bass in a large rhythm and blues band at all the major Toronto hotspots from Yorkville to Yonge Street. When the band was offered to be a road band for a new recording artist, Allan had a decision to make – going on the road as a musician or pursue a career as an artist. The mid to late 1960s saw great turmoil at the Ontario College of Art as student organized a sit-down protest to rally against the cookie cutter approach to student instruction. Two years later, Allan left the college and went to work as a contract sales designer for a Danish furniture outlet in London. All the while, he continued to paint.

Allan works from research photographs taken at each location. While onsite, he photographs as much detail as he can and from many angles to take back to the studio to compose the structure of the painting. “I’m habitually trained to use the rule of thirds whenever possible and recognize the interplay of light, shadow and reflection on and object,” says Allan who often uses an eight-foot-long ruler to draw the perspective lines to create the original drawing. Most often, these rulers are pieces of vinyl molding sometimes nailed at one end to an adjacent door frame. To create the curved surfaces, he uses a myriad of French curve rules as well as flexible rulers with malleable interior cores.

Allan begins the application of colour to the canvas by applying an opaque base coat to a particular area, always working back to front. To create tonal variation, he applies cross hatch or dry brush techniques, usually using a fine #3 nylon brush. After completion, the painting is brushed with a top-coat of Liquitex Soluvar, an acrylic based spirit varnish to protect the surface. On average, each painting takes about five weeks from start to finish as Allan works on only one piece at a time.

Accompanying each painting in No Vacancy, Allen includes a brief history about the significance of the neon sign. Some of the signs were suggested by the Neon Museum in Las Vegas as historically necessary, some were caught in the act of near destruction and some were undiscovered gems he found when travelling along abandoned stretches of Route 66. Although the painting subjects may be thousands of miles apart, they all share a bond or commonality in what they communicate.

“I hope the viewers will begin to appreciate the tube benders artistry in the paintings,” states Allan. “I expect most attendees will be fascinated by the impact that neon has played such an important role in shaping design trends, social mores and cultural movements for a hundred years. I’m recording a brief glimpse of our own history.”   

A public reception for No Vacancy will be held on Saturday, November 23 from 1pm to 3pm at the Chapel Gallery. The exhibition continues at the Chapel Gallery until December 13.

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