The most important lessons artist Langston Allston learned weren’t at school. Sure, he attended college for a few years, but he honed his artistic point of view by traveling the country and creating work.
Allston’s vibrant murals appeared in the Chicago area with the rise of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement representing the voice of the people. The role of the public artist is to reflect their community, and Langston does that with every brush stroke.
We’ll look at the inspiration behind Langston Allston’s unique perspective and style and why it resonates with contemporary audiences. With a new solo show opening at the All Star Press gallery in Chicago, this New Orleans-based artist is on the rise.
Let’s check it out!
The Story of Langston Allston
Born a few hours south of Chicago in Champaign, Illinois, Langston Allston started out painting garages and the sides of buildings. For a small-town kid, the desire to create led to public work right away.
Because there wasn’t a local graffiti scene, Allston’s murals weren’t seen as vandalism. Instead, the budding artist found acceptance and appreciation for his paintings.
This inspired him to pursue higher education for a few years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before he dropped out. Sometimes dropping out of college means the end of a dream, but for Allston, it meant rebirth.
For this street artist, the hallowed halls of higher education disconnected him from his muse. He picked up and began the life of a traveling artist before settling in the vibrant art scene of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Each summer, Allston makes a pilgrimage to Chicago to enrich the city that sparked his love of public art. In 2021, he painted so many murals around town that he simply lost count.
But his art is more than just an aesthetic exercise. In response to the protests following the murder of George Floyd, he painted the story of resistance. Instead of focusing on violence, he focused on compassion, empathy, and love.
His style isn’t typical of a graffiti artist. Langston uses studio techniques to bring powerful imagery to life. In 2020, the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans named him their artist in residence, and he began developing a new perspective.
Like any artist, Allston thrives on new inspiration, one that sometimes leads him in new directions.
What Inspires Langston Allston’s Art?
Langston Allston’s public and studio paintings explore topics of injustice, inequality, and shared struggles within his community. Within these themes, he focuses his lens on the possibility of change rather than wallowing in misery.
He finds inspiration in the people and places around him, which comes through clearly in his work. Langston’s use of color, line, and shape gives his paintings an identifiable but unique quality. Allston frequently uses bold colors and geometric shapes in his work.
Most of his work features BIPOC characters with large eyes that evoke a sense of empathy in viewers. You can feel their struggle and resolve deep in your body.
What Mediums Does Langston Allston Work With?
Allston started out painting on garages, walls, and the sides of buildings. Now he creates pieces in the studio and outside for his mural projects.
More recently, Langston started making large-scale work informed by architecture. He uses deeply saturated colors in his paintings and explores the different skin tones in the African diaspora.
His work references painters like Gustav Klimt, comic book artists, Depression-era photography, and other muralists like Diego Rivera. At once dynamic and personal, Langston Allston’s new work bridges the public and private worlds of his audience.
What is Langston Allston’s New Solo Show?
When People Could Fly II, Allston’s new solo show at All Star Press, continues exploring unique themes and forms of expression.
In the original exhibition, he created a panorama that spanned the length of the Slate Gallery in Chicago. The primarily black and white ink drawing chronicled the history of the BLM protests and the history of police brutality. Full-color popouts in the picture explored more intimate moments, almost like comic book pages.
In part two, Allston focuses his creativity on solo canvases that share themes and styles. He explores mythology through portraits and figure drawing. Stylistically he’s still using markers and ink, but the form is new.
The All Star Press gallery, located at 2775 N Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, regularly runs artist exhibits. In addition to displaying artwork, they’re also a retail space and print shop.
What Are Some of Langston Allston’s Other Art Pieces?
Extremely prolific, Allston’s work lives throughout Chicago, New Orleans, and a few other cities around the country. These are a few of our favorite pieces.
Dark Matter Coffee Mural
Outside Dark Matter Coffee in Chicago, Allston’s painting captures our imagination. Using his signature color blocks and style, the piece features two large figures in an embrace.
The female figure, with stars in her hair, clings to the back of the male figure with a look of trust and love on her face. Both figures glance forward to a brighter future, potentially one with caffeine.
St. George of Lydda, Palestine
In the grand tradition of medieval painters, Langston Allston takes on Saint George and the Dragon through a new lens. Instead of the lily-white hero of legend, St. George takes on a darker hue.
Stylistically the piece echoes other Allston work, but the colors are more muted. St. George, dressed in traditional African garb, rides his steed with confident power. You can’t miss the political undertones of the piece; the name is enough to suggest oppression and rebirth.
Has Langston Written Any Books?
As an illustrator, Allston’s work appears in two books.
In Everything Must Go, he collaborated with poet Kevin Coval and explored the death of the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago. Prior to gentrification, the area had a rich history as a Black enclave, and Coval’s poems explore that history.
Langston Allston’s illustrations celebrate the pre-gentrification stories and mourn the loss of that time.
Milwaukee Avenue, a chapbook of sorts featuring a long poem by Coval, was the first collaboration between poet and artist. The illustrations are more like the first When People Could Fly and feature black and white line drawings. Allston sensitively captures the spirit of Coval’s poem in his art.
Reaching Beyond Boundaries
Successful artists are able to capture the spirit of a moment with creativity and clarity. Langston Allston’s murals and canvases translate the most challenging moments in recent history into hopeful meditations.
His use of color blocks and saturated colors are at once modern and timeless. Allston’s art reaches beyond traditional boundaries and straddles the world of street and studio art with poise.
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans.
We’ll also be offering pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow us to discover the where and when!