Allen Stringfellow was born in Champaign, Illinois. The son of a nightclub singer and a jazz guitarist, he was raised around entertainers in Chicago. As a teenager, he started designing costumes for his father’s performer friends. Along the way, he painted religious murals for local churches.
He studied at the University of Illinois, and the Art Institute of Milwaukee in Wisconsin. During the W.P.A., he taught silk-screening to other artists. At the time, he met the artist William S. Carter; and became part of the Southside Community Art Center, an arts program affiliated with the W.P.A. that was dedicated by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1940’s. The Center”s central figure was master artist and teacher George Neal. Acclaimed artists Charles White, William S. Carter, and photographer Gordon Parks were among the Center’s students. The Southside Community Art Center became famous for exhibitions by such artists as Archibald Motley, William McKnight Farrow, and William Edouard Scott.
After rounding out his training, Stringfellow held a number of jobs related to his craft. His main occupation for many years was his gallery, the Walls of Art. While selling his own work, Mr. Stringfellow promoted major black artists with the decorators who outfitted the best homes in the Chicago area.
He went on to become the General Manager for Armand Lee & Company, one of Chicago’s foremost custom framers and restorers of fine art. While there, working with many of the most prestigious designers in the country, he earned a reputation for creating innovative framing solutions. The artist repaired damaged Japanese calligraphy on paper by replacing torn missing pieces. This kind of work sparked his interest in creating works on paper and collage.
Mr. Stringfellow was greatly inspired by the master artists Romare Bearden, William S. Carter, and Jacob Lawrence.
Although he has worked in all media, Stringfellow works primarily in collage. He uses vibrant colors and has a predilection for reds. The gospel theme appears frequently, enlivened by a flutter of choir robes and women in stylish hats. The fresh-air baptismal, drawn from a bygone era, is a tradition that is recalled in a dazzling collage entitled “Red Umbrella Down By the Waterside.” “That’s one of my signature piece,” says the 74 year old artist, “there was a version of it in almost every show.”
Children, musicians, and dancers, are also included in his repertoire of work. Whether at the ball or on a lawn, he imbues his work with undeniable fun. His subjects are exuberant, and sometimes flamboyant, but there are no stars; they are all real people.
Over the years, his work has grown in subject as well as in depth. More and more his view of reality is drafted in very modern frameworks of patterns and groupings that are abstract at times
and surreal in others. Translucent shapes suggest sunlight, opaque flourishes for clouds and multicolored facets become skirts, parts of blouses and jackets recall African patterns and modern
urban culture. Scenes of daily life are also favored subjects of his work as well as people gathered at picnics, parties, teas and formals.
Stringfellow has turned to a subject that the Impressionist painters of Europe celebrated, the middle class. But this time, it is the black middle class. A work on that theme entitled “ Tea Party On the Lawn,” is an elegant collage about an older woman he remembers from his youth who never allowed herself to be denied comforts despite the Depression. Another painting, “Links Crimson Ball,” is a portrayal of a gala by the “Links,” a “service” group of upper Middle Class Black women with Chapters nationwide. Made with brilliant red tones, it glows with conviviality, grace and comfort.
Among some of his better known private collectors are Oprah Winfrey, the Playboy Club International, The Max Robinson Collection,Whitney Houston, the Honorable Percy E. Sutton, Dr. Walter Evans, and Les Payne.
His public collections include the Chicago Art Institute, the University of Illinois, the Chicago Historical Society, DuSable Museum, Chicago Museum of Science & Industry, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York City.
Mr. Stringfellow completed a commission for a children’s book for the Putnam Book Company. He was interviewed and celebrated in a four minute news feature for Super Station WGN-TV immediately following the Superbowl in 1993, and one of his works was prominently displayed in the movie “Blankman,” produced in 1994.
In the month of January, 1995 a major exhibition of his work was mounted at the Harrison Museum of African American Culture in Roanoke, Virginia. Stringfellow’s work was included in an exhibition mounted by the Chicago Historical Society that opened in April, 1995. The Historical Society has also been interviewing Stringfellow to add to their collection of biographical information. Also, selections of Stringfellow’s works were used in the national advertising campaign for the National Black Fine Arts Show in New York City in 1997 and 1998.
In 1998, Stringfellow had his first major exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, “The Performing Arts in the Visual Arts.” Currently, Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois has a retrospective of Stringfellow’s work.
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