Sterling Allen: Seen Clean Found Made

Sterling Allen Sculpture

Studio Collage (detail). Courtesy artist.

The history of Sterling Allen’s art making begins in an unlikely place- a theme park. All throughout high school he was a caricature artist at a theme park in San Antonio, Texas where he grew up. His experiences there deeply influenced the way that he draws and translates visual imagery. He continued on to receive his BFA in Studio Art at UT Austin, during which time he worked in photography labs. This became another important another set of experiences that impacted his relationship with composition and the image. Named one of “10 Austinites to Watch” in 2011 by Tribeza Magazine, Allen has proven to be just that. As an individual and in collaboration with Okay Mountain, he has shown work and projects in venues across the United States and participated in many residencies including the Artpace International Artist-In-Residence Program. Allen recently completed his MFA in Sculpture from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.

Sterling Allen Sculpture

Fulcrum. Courtesy artist.

Your work includes photography, drawing, object making and object finding, among other things. How do these different ways of seeing and making affect your work?

Sterling Allen: I like to think about everything carrying equal weight as an image of sorts to be used and manipulated. An object may be found in one location, but can be reconfigured as a material in a sculpture or prop in a photograph. That photograph can then be the beginning of a new sculpture or drawing and on and on. I’m interested in the ways in which perception of objects/colors, etc. change depending on their given contexts and methods of presentation.

Talk a little bit about the collective you are a part of, Okay Mountain, and its impact on the Austin scene and beyond.

SA: OKMT started in 2006 as a gallery run by artists. We did not set out to show our work in the space or make projects together. However, around 2008 we were given the opportunity to make an exhibition as the OKMT staff, which led to more projects and a more formal collaboration as artists. Having a gallery space was an extremely fruitful albeit exhausting project for us. We invited individuals from places all over the world and facilitated their participation in Austin’s art community. Exhibitions and projects organized by the collective over the years have given me the opportunity to travel and experience other communities. I am most proud of the exposure we were able to lend exhibiting artists and the friendships that were forged via these exhibitions.

How long have you been a part of the Austin art scene? How has your involvement changed over time?

SA: I have been in Austin for 15 years and have been actively participating for the majority of that time. Our town is known for its music, so the visual arts occupy an interesting place. Austin is a really great place to live, though cost of living is making things tougher. That said, it is still a place where you can rent a building and give something a shot. I’ve exhibited here, organized many shows at OKMT as well as collaborated with other venues on programming exhibitions and performances. Having a young daughter has changed how much of that I am able to do these days, but I still try to stay abreast to what is happening.

Sterling Allen Sculpture

Rocks. Courtesy artist.

Over the last ten years, what changes have you noticed within the arts in Austin and what trends do you see continuing?

SA: Honestly, not much has really changed within the art community, which I see as somewhat of a problem given the amount of change happening within our city at large. We have very few commercial galleries and a handful of museum type spaces. The main issue is that artists and small galleries will continue to have an increasingly difficult time surviving here unless we can find a way to support ourselves doing our work. One of the ways I can see this happening is people spending money directly on artists and small arts organizations. People flock to this city for its culture, yet those creating a lot of that culture can often barely afford to pay rent. Not everyone can be an art collector, but there are many ways to support emerging artists, art spaces and publications. Skip the box office poster or Crate & Barrel inkjet print and buy a drawing from someone.

To see more of Allen’s work, visit

By Gracelee Lawrence

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