Born Charleville, Queensland, Australia 1951
As a pupil at Stuartholme Convent, Brisbane, (1965–69), Allen studied art under Betty Churcher (later the Director of the National Gallery of Australia, 1990–97). Churcher’s encouragement had a lasting impact on the young student, who continued her art studies at the Brisbane Technical College.
Allen’s painting style is boldly expressionistic, using heavy brushstrokes and a strongly coloured palette. Domestic life, family and the fundamental conditions of humanity are the core of her subject matter. Her experiences as artist, wife, teacher, and mother to four girls in rural Queensland are recreated on the canvas, portraying the tension between creative energy and the tedium of daily responsibilites.
The exploration of sexual themes within her work gained Allen notoriety. In 1984 she began a series of paintings which were based around her obsession with the actor Sam Neill, including Rosie’s bedroom scene No. 2. Allen’s art dealer Ray Hughes organised a meeting between the two on the set of Neill’s film Umbrella Women in 1986, and the bedroom scenes became the inspiration for a body of work.
Allen experienced commercial success, exhibiting with Ray Hughes Gallery, Brisbane from 1973. Her work was included in Perspecta, Art Gallery of New South Wales (1985) and the following year she won the Archibald Prize for the controversial painting of her father-in-law, Dr John Shera. She has exhibited throughout Australia and overseas, and is represented in most major Australian public collections and at the National Art Gallery, New Zealand and Museum of Modern Art, New York.