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Internationally renowned sculptor and painter Tina Allen passed away Tuesday, September 9. Her creations have appeared in some of the most prestigious galleries in the United States and abroad. Tina’s creative expression began at the young age of 5 when she started painting. She was discovered at the age of 10 by William Zorach, who was at that time one of the five greatest living sculptors in the world. Zorach continued to encourage Tina through the years.
One of her most memorable moments was when she presented the sculpture The Icon I—Tribute to the African American Man to Nelson and Winnie Mandela during their visit to Los Angeles on June 29, 1990. Her latest works included the conceptual design for the Statue of Liberty project endorsed by the South African Government.
Sculptor Allen’s work had developed into two distinctive veins. The first is the Historical Body of Representational Sculptures recording the contributions and aspirations of the African Diaspora. For Allen, molding her lifelike figures was “writing our history in bronze.” This need to control the black aesthetic, and to develop a visual landscape that is nurturing and life affirming to people of color, is fundamental in her thinking.
The second personal expression of her work was Symbolic Abstractions, with hints of figurative expressions growing out of the forms.
Allen intentionally emphasizes traditional African features in her works. “When we celebrate our physical looks, we’re sending a message to our children to appreciate our features and respect our potential. Our children must be able to say, greatness comes out of people who look like me.”
Her career took off by leaps and bounds when she won a national contest that awarded her an $85,000 commission in 1986 to create a nine and one-half foot statue of Black labor leader A. Phillip Randolph. This was the first statue of many to follow.
Some of her recent projects were a 12-foot seated Alex Haley Memorial for the Haley’s Square Complex in Knoxville, Tennessee and a 4 story-high pictorial relief for King/Drew Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles, California.
Allen was the daughter of Gordon ‘Specs’ Powell, a well-known drummer and percussionist who was a longtime staff musician with CBS Records. She grew up around music and art greats such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Gary Moore, Earl Gardner, Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Billie Holiday, and Diana Washington. Her uncle Carlton Powell was a sculptor and bass player.
A Los Angeles resident, she spent her early years in the West Indies but lived in New York City and Mobile, Alabama. Allen was a graduate of Visual Arts in New York and the University of South Alabama and continued her advanced studies at Pratt Institute in New York, and the University of Venice, Italy.
Media exposures of her work include television shows such as “227,” “A Different World,” “Generations,” “Hill Street Blues,” BET’s “For Black Men Only,” and a full segment focused on her sculptures on “Entertainment Tonight” and “Ebony Jet Showcase.” She was also a featured artist on the critically acclaimed documentary, “Story Of A People—Expressions in Black.”
Articles about Allen’s works have appeared in Upscale Magazine, Ebony, Essence, American Visions, Dollars & Sense, Art Gallery International, BE Magazine, Jet, National Art Museum & Gallery Guide, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Miami Times, The Metro Chronicle, The Los Angeles Sentinel, The Amsterdam News, and numerous other newspapers throughout the world from Japan to New Delhi.
Allen’s art interests and projects kept her traveling extensively to many corners of the world, including Africa, Europe, and Asia. She had recently returned from a successful showing in Japan where she prepared a series of sculptures immortalizing the Great Boxing Heavyweights for worldwide distribution.