Running Through the Wilderness, Paintings 30 x 40

Discovering the Painterly Versatility of Allan Raider

Few artists have a style that adopts itself equally well to figurative and abstract compositions as that of Allan Raider, whose creative talent was recognized early, when he was presented with the St. Gaudens art medal by President Lyndon Johnson while he was still in high school. After graduation he studied architecture and fine arts at Cooper Union, and then moved on to a successful career as a leading designer of apparel and accessories for the next 40 years.

But all the while he was being nominated for Coty awards and his designs were being displayed in the windows of Bloomingdales, over the years Raider was exhibiting and selling his paintings in designer showrooms. Only now that he has left the fashion industry, however, has he been able to spend all of his time “creating the images that I see in my head.”

His oil on canvas “Who’s Looking at Who” juxtaposes a large expressively distorted head on the left side of the composition with a stylized plant on the right with an intricate array of interwoven abstract shapes. For all its expressiveness, the style of painting is not Expressionist. Rather, its brilliant primary and secondary hues are meticulously rendered in a manner reminiscent of late period Matisse.

The same qualities come across splendidly in “Raider’s David,” a personal take on Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture. Although the figure’s ideal proportions are perfectly captured in a creamy green-shadowed tones that suggest stone, it is surrounded by sensually flowing abstract forms of a chromatic intensity suggesting psychedelic painting of the 1960s.

In another painting that Raider calls “Photosynthesis,” elements of landscapes –– a hill with a clay-red road running through it, one large winter tree in the foreground, and four smaller ones in the distance –– are combined with fiery abstract shapes that fill the sky like comets. Among them, one green area suggests a grassy knoll (perhaps being held in abeyance) in the heavens until its proper season arrives. The pregnant metaphysical quality of this composition is conveyed by more frenzied brushwork, akin to van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” than that in the two previous works.

Even looser expressionistic strokes, their vigor suggesting the movement implied by the title, can be seen in the composition Raider calls “Running Through the Wilderness.” Indeed, here the composition all but dissolves into the especially frenzied species of Abstract Expressionism sometimes referred to as “action painting.” At the same time, however, there is a figurative feeling to the fleshy pink, almost de Kooning-esque buildup of pigment that dominates the painting. And the co-mingled streaks of blue and white in the upper half of the composition suggest beams of moonlight streaming down from a night sky.

Then there is another gestural abstract composition by Raider entitled “Motion in Darkness,” which projects an almost apocalyptic quality, with its swirling forms laid down in thick, tactile oil impasto. Texture plays a more leading role here than in many of Raider’s other paintings and color is more variegated, with reds, purples, and blues intermingled with energetic slashes of white and yellow conveying the mood of an emotional whirlpool.

In a composition called “Pensive,” the artist returns to his more meticulous manner, placing a large head in profile at the center of the canvas, along with vibrantly colorful organic abstract forms that meld with its features in an ingenious in an formal design.

That Allan Raider, for all his formal artistic education, considers himself “self taught” perhaps accounts for the personal manner in which he arrives at aesthetic solutions by moving freely between the abstract and the figurative. –– Wilson Wong

Allan Raider, Agora Gallery 530
West 25th Street, October 4 – 24, 2013 1, 2013
Reception: Thursday, October 10, 6 – 8pm

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