I first discovered the work of Thomas Allen when he was featured in a book about artists who specialized in sculpting paper forms. I was immediately knocked out by his clever use of the pulp novel medium and the witty and inventive juxtapositions he utilized from their old illustrated covers. Sometimes he cuts and manipultes just the cover image; other times he uses the entire paperback book as a sculptural object. Every one of his images is packed with subtle humour and he displays a skillful eye for taking an illustration and re-using it to create new meaning. Allen plays with these stock-in-trade pulp icons of the down-at-heel private eye, the femme fetale, and the hard-nosed thug and reappropriates them for his own ends, creating new stories or adding layers of hidden meaning within them. In effect he rescues these battered and forgotten trash novels found in thrift stores and revives their old, weathered two-dimensional cover pictures to create beautiful three-dimensional vignettes that have the power to move, delight and entertain in equal measures. Like careworn old detectives brought out of retirement to solve that one last case.
This gorgeous book contains Allen's own photographs of his sculpted scenes, and there is just as much artistry in his photographer's eye as there is in his skillful, creative hands. He plays with depth of field, focussing on one element of the collaged vignette whilst leaving a background figure blurred, adding to the menace and mystery of a scene, giving the images even more meaning or extra intent. He's like a mini Howard Hawks or John Huston directing one cinematic scene, positioning the camera and lighting in exactly the right places to capture the full effect of the sequence being played out, fixing that one perfect frame of film. This is one of the very best art books I have seen for a long time, every page is a delight.