Roberta Allen
Roberta Allen

Roberta Allen received a Tree of Life Individual Artist Grant in 2017 for Some Facts About Fear.


Roberta Allen, a New York based artist, who began as a painter, has created drawings, collages, artist books, photo/text works, installations and digital prints. Since 1967, she has had twenty-nine solo exhibitions, including four at John Weber Gallery (New York, NY). Solo shows also include galleries in Amsterdam, Milan, Dusseldorf, Brussels, Munich, and Rome, among others, She has also had two solo shows at P.S.1 MoMA (L.I.C., NY); and solo museum shows at the Kunstforum, Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus (Munich); and The Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (Australia). Recent solo shows include Minus Space (Brooklyn, NY) and the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library (La Jolla, CA). She has participated in over 100 group shows worldwide. Catalogues, articles and many reviews have appeared in such places as Artforum, Arts, and Hyperallergic. Awards include an Artist-in-Residence Fellowship, Art Gallery of Western Australia (Perth). Collections include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Museo del Novecento, and The Cooper Hewitt Museum.​

Project Description   

Originally, Some Facts About Fear was an image/text work on paper, consisting of twenty-odd parts that I created in 1980. In that work, I continued to explore how text informs or changes our perception of images: an exploration I began in 1970-71 that continues to this day. In 2006, Some Facts About Fear was destroyed by a flood in my studio. I have regretted the loss of that work ever since. In 1981, I self-published a small edition xerox book of the same name that included a limited number of line drawings with text. Copies are scarce but the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library has included it in the catalogue raisonne in-progress of my multiple edition artist books from 1975-81. I am the seventh artist chosen for this honor, along with such notables as Ed Ruscha and Bruce Nauman. The Athenaeum’s interest in my early work was a catalyst to my re-entering the art world, from which I had taken a long hiatus while continuing to make art in the studio and writing a number of books, including story collections, a novel and a memoir.

Some Facts About Fear was originally inspired by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. He distinguished fear, which has an external object from anxiety, which has an internal object. I had not considered the difference before reading his book Fear And Trembling. In other words, fear is triggered by a real external danger such as a fire whereas anxiety is triggered by thoughts of a fire. In the fear drawings, instead of defining fear as a response, I define fear, which is subjective, as an objective state that lives outside the viewer. This interplay of image and text is not intended to illustrate. My intention is that this work will encourage introspection and offer some relief: objective views of subjective states create more than a hint of humor. I play with possibility. These works have evolved out of my long-standing interest, not only in language, but in psychology, consciousness and Kierkegaard: he played with words and presented contradictions. He believed that contradictions and paradoxes are inherent in the human condition.

My desire to make art has never been stronger, so I have decided to remedy my loss of Some Facts About Fear and recreate a much larger, more expansive, and in depth wall work that will include fifty or so drawings with text. It seems appropriate at this moment in time to show this work in my one-person gallery exhibition at Minus Space in Brooklyn this fall. Some Facts About Fear is also a good introduction to my conceptual work of the last forty-seven years. 

With the help of a technical professional, I will design and produce an artist book of all the fear drawings in 2/3 the size of the originals in a limited offset edition of 200-250. This artist book will function as a catalogue as well: I will ask two art critics to contribute essays about this work that will reflect my past work as well. Along with my gallery’s efforts to promote the book, I will hire a part-time assistant to help me market the book using social media and by contacting museums, artist book collections, collectors, critics, curators, galleries and other art professionals, both here and in the international art world. 

I hope my exhibition and this artist book/catalogue will stimulate renewed interest in my work—present and past—both at home and internationally. This grant will help me create new opportunities to exhibit and make my work more widely known and understood, while allowing me to experiment with media and materials in my continuing exploration of how text interacts with images or objects to create unexpected meanings.