Odorifous: Thomas Allen

Sometime last year I had just a hint of an idea that involved taking my designs and photographing them to give it a little dimensional feel. I think the idea came when I was maxing out my photoshop skills to make client photos respectable for their print pieces. I come up with about a dozen new ideas each day though, so this one like most others came and went and was buried in my mental rolltop where all the clutter is stored.

Around that same time Ward Jenkins posted a few photos on Facebook of one of his favorite artists – Tom Allen.

I got pretty dang excited right off the bat, because Tom had already been doing something similar to that one particular vision for years now… only better.

At first glance Tom’s work—cutting up and photographing old paperbacks and pulp fiction—seems like one of those mediums we creative types discover and follow immediately with a forehead-slapping “why didn’t I do that??”

But when you really take the time to see what he does exactly.. you realize that you’re not really upset he beat you to the idea, but rather incredibly stoked because he does it so well any of the rest of our attempts to do the same would have seemed a parody in comparison.

When I then discovered Tom is a fellow Michigander I got especially excited though. I absolutely flip whenever I find other individuals in Michigan doing incredibly creative things because I believe that this is the spirit that’s going to bring Michigan up out of the ashes.

What I love most about Tom’s work isn’t that it’s just so lovely and the images he uses are so wonderfully kitschy, but rather the fact that he’s using source material that is so utterly common and familiar.

How many times have I walked past the stack of 10˘ paperbacks at my local library or huge hoards of them at estate sales and never even batted an eye? Yet somehow Tom saw the beauty in these vintage illustrations and had the creative vision to bring them back to life.

It’s the very thing that we hope is about to happen in our Great Lakes State.

Tell us one of your favorite odors.


What is it about that particular smell?

The slightest whiff catapults me back to my childhood. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because my mom would always cut and place huge bouquets of them in the house.

Other favorites: School paste, A&D Ointment, the original scent of Jergen’s lotion and balsam needles. Yeah, I’m a freak!

My least favorite smell: roses
My grandma died when I was 10 and that smell reminds me of the three days I spent in the funeral home. One sniff and I become depressed immediately.

What experience makes you feel alive?

Backpacking. I trekked 31 miles across Isle Royale with a friend a few years ago and felt free and unshackled from the rigors and stress of daily life.

What fears do you have?

Having my career tank. That and open water at night.

What have you learned about yourself over the past year?

That as much as I enjoy helping people out when they ask, that I am just one person and can only do so much. That said, I’ve learned that saying, “No” isn’t a bad thing.

Are you working on anything cool right now?

A 16-print commission for a hospital (that’s all I can say right now) and widgets for a major website launch (again, I have to be tightlipped). I’m also teaching a one-week photography workshop at Penland School of Crafts (NC) the first week in November. This will be my 5th time there. It’s a place of pure magic.

Do you find your creative work a spiritual experience? In what way?

No. However, it does give me free license to make personal commentary about perceived stereotypes while injecting humor at the same time.

I’m a lover of myth and I’ve found, over the years, that I revisit the story of Sirens again-and-again. It’s the whole notion being rendered weak in the presence of beautiful sound that fascinates me.

What tunes have you been hooked on lately?

Hmmm. That’s tough-especially since I just signed on to Spotify. Now everything is at my fingertips-literally: type in an artist and listen.

However, I will say that I usually turn to more melancholy music in the fall. I’ve been listening to Cocteau Twins quite a bit along with This Mortal Coil. My favorite track, hands down, is from IT’LL END IN TEARS — a cover of Tim Buckley’s SONG TO THE SIREN. Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins) has the most enchanting voice. She is my siren.

Lisa Gerrard and Explosions in the Sky are also in heavy rotation.

More Thomas Allen

Become Tom’s friend on Facebook. (but only if you enjoy a regular dose of cynicism re: Michigan’s sorry government leaders)

Visit his website

Thomas Allen at the G. Gibson Gallery and Foley Gallery