Jere Hardy Allen, an internationally known figurative painter who has been called the Mississippi Rembrandt, was born on 15 August 1944 in Selma, Alabama. Early on, inspired by landscapes and wildlife paintings made by his great-grandmother, Annie Bell Rives Hardy, he decided he, too, wanted to be an artist and began drawing constantly. He was often a challenge to his teachers, including one who scolded him in front of his classmates for drawing a nude during school—in fifth grade. Undaunted, Allen kept drawing and completed high school, and after working at a television station in Montgomery, Alabama, and joining the US Marine Corps Reserve, he decided to attend the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. He received his bachelor’s of fine arts from Ringling in 1970, earned a master’s of fine arts from the University of Tennessee in 1972, and became an instructor at Carson-Newman College before joining the art faculty at the University of Mississippi in 1975. He taught painting and drawing there until his retirement in 2000 and continues to work tirelessly on his own creations and to maintain an active exhibition schedule. His wife, Joe Ann, a ceramicist and a master gardener, and their son, Jeffrey, a painter of still lifes, share Allen’s Oxford studio.
Allen paints primarily in oil, using dramatic, electric colors and most often creating figures against backgrounds of black or red. His canvases, which range in size from 6 inches by 4 inches to 144 inches by 125 inches, tend to be large because, he says, “I prefer to react to the people in my paintings who are in a scale that approximates my own.” His works are often inspired by myths and symbols but also represent political and social realities. Some compositions include animals, which Allen describes as psychopomps, mythical spiritual guides to the human figures in the paintings.
“Allen paints in the tradition of the nineteenth-century portrait artist, but with an expressionistic flair,” observes art historian Peter J. Baldaia, who comments on “the evocative and haunting elegance” of Allen’s work and notes that “his paintings present what the artist calls ‘notions,’ images that rise up from his subconscious and are usually explored in a series of a dozen or more works.” Art historian Patti Carr Black describes Allen’s work as “coolly sensual, presenting the figure more as a universal symbol than as a narrative device.” In 2007 Allen started painting with layers and layers of white, and his exhibitions of new works in 2008 and 2011 surprised admirers by showing figures appearing on white rather than black or red backgrounds.
Allen received a Group Studies Abroad Fulbright Grant to Costa Rica in 1979 as well as the 1993 Visual Art Award of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. In 2003 his work, along with that of Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Wolf Kahn, and others, toured Southeast Asia as part of the Washington-based Meridian International Center’s exhibition Outward Bound: American Art at the Brink of the Twenty-First Century. Allen’s paintings have also been shown in forty states and in Canada and Europe. His work is in permanent collections at the Meridian Museum of Art, the Fine Arts Museum of the South in Mobile, the Huntsville Museum of Art in Alabama, the Tennessee Art League in Nashville, the Coos Art Museum in Oregon, the Robert I. Kahn Gallery in Houston, and others.
- Peter J. Baldaia, in Resource Library Magazine (2000)
- Patty Carr Black, Art in Mississippi, 1720–1980 (1998)
- Charlotte Flemes, Jere Allen: Bilder aus Amerika (1989)
- Lawrence Wells, in Art and Antiques (November 1999)