“We should all ask ourselves what the meaning of life is,” Allen told me. “There are as many answers to that question as there are people. For me, the meaning of life is showing people what I do at the House of Balls.”
Minneapolis artist Allen Christian was born and raised in north Minneapolis. His father was a postman who moonlighted for Brinks and hauled rubbish on the side. His mother worked for now defunct Ma Bell. They worked hard to support Allen and his eight brothers and sisters, so Allen learned to work hard too.
Photo Credit: Max Haynes
“I liked art and drawing as a kid, but I always leaned more toward the hands-on work in shop class,” Allen reminisced. “I enjoyed crafting, building tables and lamps, making sawdust. That kind of work drew me to the Seabees after school, where I built buildings, bridges, and airstrips for the Navy. I even built a bowling alley, once. That had to have had some significance for my later work. It just had to.”
Allen’s service would take him to Sicily, Spain, and Iceland. These old places changed his perspective on what art meant. He no longer saw it as something to be made, sold, and put on a shelf in order to pretty things up around the house. He realized that the ancient marvels of Europe were their creators’ ways of perpetuating their cultures, and by extension themselves. That made Allen love art.
Creating art because you want to love it rather than sell it isn’t the most lucrative approach to the practice. Allen’s materials have always been limited to whatever he can find for free, or at least very close to it. This is beneficial. “Working with found materials means I get to learn about our society by studying its detritus,” explained Allen. “I understand what we value by looking at what we do not.”
“By studying a found object or breaking down a machine into its component parts, it’s as though I’ve got a collaborator I’ll never meet. I respect other creators’ visions, and their work influences mine by determining how I can incorporate it into a sculpture.”
“People relate to my art because they enjoy identifying its components — a colander here, a mixing bowl there, the shock absorber from a 1991 Subaru Brat in the middle.”
Allen only just recently retired from his electrician job, so now he can really get to work at the House of Balls, his workshop and studio. Located on a dead end at 1504 S 7th St and surrounded by city lights and the bees’ hum of highways, it is Allen’s Xanadu.
The House of Balls takes its name from Allen’s most popular pieces, bowling balls that he has coaxed into human forms. He describes the process of making these statuettes as revelatory, because bowling balls might contain any number of materials. For that reason each one is doubly unique: They are faces and shapes which Allen will have only sculpted once, and they’re made according to Brunswick’s designs du jour.
These faces greet House of Balls’ visitors upon arrival, as do others etched into pans, hubcaps, and whichever other refuse Allen has laid his hands on. An enormous polar bear pieced together from pipes and rags stands guard in the parking lot. Giant Woman, standing 24 feet tall and made from wire bits, towers over all of creation. Allen needed a scissor lift to make her.
Its outside sets the scene for House of Balls’ miraculous contents. Alluring female forms assembled from piano parts, glowing robots with spinning skulls in their hearts, angels with wings woven from antique badminton birdies, politicians unflatteringly carved out of kitchenware, faces and bodies welded from old machines, washers, and tubes, and far more create a hypnotic, indescribable scene.
Per his meaning of life, Allen welcomes anyone who would like to see what he does Monday through Saturday from noon until 4:00 pm. He loves art, but wishes to emphasize that he has far from monopolized it. “Art is a muscle,” said Allen. “It needs to be exercised to become strong. The only difference between an artist and anyone else is time and practice.”
May we all become artists one day.
By David Scheller