James Allen is a talented and prolific artist whose drawings of steam trains and subway cars are highly sought after by curators and collectors. But he is also a survivor. Allen has survived abuse, homelessness, and mental illness. “Trains are fast and powerful,” he says, “As a kid I rode the trains everywhere, and I still love the sound of the El.” But apart from the romance of the machine, Allen’s trains are vehicles for escape, often weaving through forbidding imaginary cityscapes, and they hint at the difficulties he seeks to overcome through his art. His work has been shown at Judy Saslow Gallery in Chicago, at the New York Outsider Art Fair, and in the international exhibition “Eloge du Dessin” (“In Praise of Drawing”) at Halle Saint Pierre in Paris, France. Allen’s May, 2008 voyage to Europe inspired the drawings for his solo exhibition “Paris Sketches” at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Project Onward Gallery, and for his work in the group show “Transport” at Galerie Herenplaats, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
“My artwork is based both on reality and on imaginary elements, and I combine the two in my drawings. Being a Chicago native, I am inspired by the CTA “L” with its rich history and evolution as a transit system. It moves millions daily including me also. My work is based on experiences and research and the love of trains, but also it transcends into another world of my own: Liberty City. I periodically visit this world on paper showing futuristic landscapes of skyscrapers and trains that are designed by me.”