Photo by Michael ParkerEddieAllen'sartundergoesaJekyll-to-Hydetransformation as you watch. You first see an antique, black-and-white photograph of some stiffly posed, long-forgotten dude, but as you turn to leave, his repressed, sour expression slowly gives way to an animal fierceness. Fangs sprout, ears stretch into demonic points, and horns erupt from his forehead. On other long-exposed sheets of flash paper, spinster aunties become hungry harpies, sweet little girls turn into bloody-mouthed vampires, and prim patriarchs shape-shift into horny devils.
Allen does much the same thing when you meet him—getting more fascinatingly weird the closer you look. If you find him at his day job, managing the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach, you'd never imagine such horrors lurked beneath his affable exterior. But when he's not managing the movie house or working as a musician, comedian and aspiring actor, Allen morphs into a renaissance weirdo, someone who never really got over visiting Disneyland as a kid. He lets the imps, harpies and vampires out to play.
Allen's story begins and ends at the Bay; he's worked there since 1991, when he was 22. But arguably his most formative years—1998 to 2002—were spent working at an ad agency; this was when Allen first hit on the idea of retouching vintage portraits to give them the ghoulish edge he remembered from the changing paintings in Disney's Haunted Mansion.
He played around with Adobe Photoshop at the ad agency until finding his muse in an antiques shop: a framed portrait of a scowling old lady. Most of us would have walked on by, but Allen saw something more, some unknown evil in the old broad that was waiting to break free. He bought the portrait, took it home and remade somebody's grandma into a monster. A gallery of grotesqueries followed, and since returning to work at the Bay, he's periodically hung them in the lobby—mostly to coincide with a scary movie screening. It's just what you need when you stagger out of TheShining:Granny Gertrude jumping out at you with blood trickling down her chin.
Like any good sorcerer, Allen is reluctant to reveal the details of his retouching tricks, describing the process vaguely as a complex, multistage variation on those cheesy transforming portraits of Jesus or Elvis you see for sale in thrift stores. He takes on commissions occasionally, but the process is so laborious that he prefers to create originals. Turning ordinary people into supernatural children of the night is expensive, tedious work, he says. His portraits still sell for $50 on his website—but that's partly because Allen operates in an artistic vacuum.
He's sold portraits to clients from Hollywood to Singapore, and his celebrity fans include Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, yet Allen has somehow avoided the whole lowbrow art/Juxtapoz magazine scene. When I tell him there's a whole art movement out there that might be thrilled to claim him, he's pleasantly surprised.
But then, you don't have much time to cultivate a scene when you're as busy as Allen. When he's not at the theater, he's creating and selling his artwork, playing classic rock in area coffeehouses, or playing all the characters in homemade CrankYankers-styleaudiotapes he hopes to sell someday. And all of this is merely a warm-up for his true ambition. What he really wants to do, he says, is act—despite the fact that he is in his mid-30s and has yet to begin auditioning. He's too busy transforming other people's photos into works of art.
EDDIE ALLEN'S ARTWORK IS ON DISPLAY THIS WEEK AT THE BAY THEATRE, 340 MAIN ST., SEAL BEACH, (562) 431-9988. IT CAN BE PURCHASED AT WWW.HAUNTEDMEMORIES.COM.
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