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Cover image courtesy Larry Allen
Courtesy the artist

Saturday’s opening will be as much a surprise party/family reunion as a retrospective. The featured artist has not been told that his paintings, drawings, and prints will be on display. Two years ago, 65-year-old Dayton, Ohio, native Larry Allen was diagnosed with cancer that has since spread throughout his body and raised the possibility that he may have a year at most to live. The purpose of Larry Allen, a Retrospective is to boost his spirits while giving him his first — and relatives would say a long overdue — gallery exhibit.

“It will be a very emotional evening,” said Lisa Allen, Larry’s wife of nearly 20 years and mother to artist Jay Wilkinson, the show’s organizer.

The one-day exhibit at Dang Good Candy will feature around 20 artworks ranging from prints to drawings and paintings that represent Allen’s decades-long career as an artist.

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“The show will represent a timeline of his life,” Wilkinson said. The photorealistic painter who co-founded the nonprofit Art Tooth, which may be best known for biennial pArty bus tours, and now heads the downtown studio/gallery credits his stepfather for showing him that a career in the arts could be viable.

“He was influential in my life because he gave me a foundational core of being a skillful artist,” Wilkinson said, referring to impromptu drawing lessons between stepdad and son. “I do think that has become an important tool of mine. Larry was supportive in his understanding of the art world. Knowing him made that world feel tangible. I don’t think I would be where I am without him.”

Early Years

Larry, his wife recalled, was always a good listener. Lisa said she met him shortly after he transferred to L.D. Bell High School in the mid-1970s.

“He was the one I could tell my secrets to,” Lisa recalled. “We were friends but never dated in high school.”

Coming from a military family, Larry expected abrupt moves, but in Hurst, he found a close group of lifelong friends that included famed blues musician Buddy Whittington.

Larry Allen spent his young adult years working as an illustrator to support three children from his first marriage before marrying Lisa Allen and adopting her three children.
Courtesy the artist

Long-haired and athletically built, Larry could reliably be called upon to build stage props for school productions when needed. After graduating in 1975, he earned an associate’s degree before working at General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin) as an illustrator of weapons and ejection seat systems. He continued work as an illustrator for the Army after enlisting in 1981. Under Gen. Bernard Rogers, Larry drew military plans that detailed troop movements in Europe during the Cold War. While serving overseas, he met his first wife, with whom he had three children. In 1986, Larry resettled in Fort Worth and began working as an illustrator for the Kimbell Art Museum and Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

Larry and Lisa reconnected as friends just months after Lisa gave birth to Wilkinson. From 1989 to 1994, Larry worked for a local signage company before moving to Pensacola, Florida, with his family in the mid-1990s for a few years before divorcing his first wife and moving his children back to Fort Worth. Lisa, who had three children of her own, also divorced around that time.

“Larry invited me to play darts and have margaritas,” Lisa remembered. “We would always get in the back door at Buddy Whittington concerts. We just hung out as friends.”

It was Lisa who broke the news that she had romantic feelings for Larry, who responded that he had always had a crush on her but was afraid to tell her. The two waited six years before marrying in 2004.

“We were like the Brady Bunch,” Lisa said with a laugh. “We tried to make them all work under one house. Larry had custody of his kids. Slowly, those kids moved on or decided to move with the other parent. Over time, we put four through college. The other two went to some college. We did our best to help them, so they wouldn’t have student debt.”

From 1997 to 2018, Larry worked for AT&T. His time spent drawing and painting waned as he focused on supporting six children. During those years, Larry gave Wilkinson practical tips on painting and drawing.

“He would show me different techniques,” Wilkinson said. “There is a painting in the show of a girl laying on a beach towel. He explained how to create a fabric pattern and repeat it. Even if it is off, the pattern will create the softness of the towel. I learned that you just had to mimic the texture.”

Larry Allen’s creative output spanned paintings, drawings, and, as shown here, colored pencil works.
Courtesy the artist

When Art ‘Works at Its Best’

Larry’s 2020 cancer diagnosis was followed by promising immunotherapy treatments that left him and his wife optimistic that he might be cured. By late 2021, the tumors began growing back and Larry began undergoing chemotherapy. The procedures have drastically reduced his energy, but he sounded upbeat during a brief phone interview under the pretext that Saturday’s show featured works by Wilkinson.

“Jay started off as a natural, as far as his art goes,” Larry said. “He developed pretty quickly. His style is more grandiose.”

When asked if he sees himself as an artistic mentor to Wilkinson, Larry was hesitant to take that title at first.

“I don’t know that I’m a mentor,” Larry replied. “If I am, I’m honored. When you see his portraits, I think they’re impressive. He is a great artist. I think he will be even greater as he goes on. I’m really proud of Jay.”

Lisa said longtime friends and relatives of Larry’s are coming from all over to attend Saturday’s event. Many of his acquaintances had no idea he has advanced cancer. Larry is the kind of person who doesn’t want to burden others with that kind of news, she said.

Larry, she added, had ambitious goals of opening a gallery or studio post-retirement.

Courtesy the artist

“He did finish one piece of art this year,” she said. “His granddaughter scribbled on the drawing of a pride of lions by adding grass. He fondly says it is their collaborative piece.”

Wilkinson said organizing a show for his stepfather felt like one way to add a semblance of control over a disease that modern medicine often fails to cure.

“The thing he is suffering from is uncontrollable,” Wilkinson said. “This is a way for me to create a project that honors what he gave to me — that early encouragement. Without that, I don’t think I’d be me. I’m happy to have had enough success to give this to him. This is when that world of art works at its best.”

Courtesy the artist
Larry Allen, a Retrospective
6-9pm Sat at Dang Good Candy, 404 Houston St, FW. Free. 817-235-2030.
Courtesy the artist

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