Bright Colors

The printmaker Trevor Allen claimed that there were two major influences upon his work: traditional Japanese printmakers like Kunisada and Utamaro, and the childhood world of the Dandy and Beano and Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin. What the images in both prints and comics have in common is a strong outer line and vivid areas of colour. From this improbable combination Allen produced during his career a great number of intelligent, well-made, and extremely striking works of art.

Allen was born in Portsmouth in 1939, as Trevor Abbott. His mother left his father, a seaman, and remarried. He adopted his stepfather’s surname, Allen, and only became close to his paternal relations late in life, changing his name to Trevor Allen Abbott a few years before his death. The new family moved several times before coming to London, where Allen was sent to the junior school of art in Camberwell: he claimed afterwards that all he had picked up from the school was a knowledge of old roses and some art history.

After national service in the Royal Anglian Regiment – spent partly in Libya – he studied from 1960 to 1964 at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. During these years he worked with Michael Rothenstein at his studio in Great Bardfield, Essex, where there was a significant artistic community. He was also a studio printer with Editions Alecto, a pioneering print publisher which had been set up in a former factory for non-alcoholic communion wine in Kelso Place in Kensington. Later he worked with the Academician Philip Sutton on his Tahitian blocks.

In 1964 Allen set up a print studio for himself in Balham. By now he had begun teaching at various colleges of art, including Brighton, Ravensbourne in Kent, Bradford and Ipswich, but from 1971 onwards taught full-time at Goldsmiths College in south London. After a year-long sabbatical from 1985 to 1986, during which he made work for a one-man exhibition at the Thumb Gallery, he resumed teaching part-time until his retirement in 1996. Allen was a fine teacher, able to bring out students’ individuality and help them with their original ideas.

Allen wrote of his own work: “Relief printing is the best means I have found to express my ideas.” He enjoyed the processes of the development of a print, and most of all the cutting of the block and the final colour printing. During his classes he carried out experiments with his students in caustic soda etching onto linoleum. His imagery was highly varied and semi-abstract; his late, experimental screen-prints of flowers – so inspired by the clarity of Japanese print and childhood books – are perhaps his most beautiful.

Allen had several one-man exhibitions: at the London Graphic Arts Associates in Bond Street in London and the Serpentine Gallery in London (1969); the Thumb Gallery (1979, 1982, 1986); Fakenham Arts Festival and Belstead House, Ipswich (1991). The many group exhibitions in which he participated included the Print Biennales at Fredrikstad in Norway and Krakow in Poland; the International Print Exhibition in Milan; the Brighton Festival; the ICA Gallery; and an exhibition, Three Decades of Artists from the London Art Schools, at the Royal Academy.

Some very mildly risqué etchings sent to the US were briefly impounded by the authorities because they had the misfortune to travel at the same time as some more shocking pictures by John Lennon. Examples of Allen’s work can be found in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Detroit Institute of Art, the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, Sheffield City Art Gallery, Northampton Art Gallery and Goldsmiths College, as well as in a number of education authorities. In 1965 Allen was elected to the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers. He also contributed to a book, The Complete Printmaker, and to a BBC series Artists in Print in 1981.

Allen spent hours drawing every day. In contrast to his deeply felt, vivid prints, into which he seemed to pour his all sensitivity, he was a moody and intensely shy and private man, who could, as his wife once put it, “get lost if he turned around”. On his retirement he and his wife moved from Suffolk to Somerset.

Simon Fenwick


Education Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts.

Assisted Michael Rothenstein in an experimental printmaking course at Ipswich School of Art. Invited to start and develop relief printing at Brighton College of Art. Lecturer at Brighton College of Art and Ravensbourne Colleges of art and Camberwell and Brighton 1960-65 
Awards National Diploma of Design, UK


Collections Numerous private and public collections mainly in UK and USA

Additional Information:

Born: 1939
Birthplace: Portsmouth, England
Died: 2008