Allen Dennison knew since he was a babe. His hands confirmed the truth – art will forever be in his heart.
The confirmation came when he was 7 or 8 while attending Bynum Elementary School in Georgetown. Ted Reed, a childhood friend, about two or three years older, introduced Dennison to anime.
“His art was a real show,” he said. “He captured the features of superheroes and monsters so vividly. He was in the fifth grade, but his art should have been in college.”
Dennison, who turns 47 Oct. 3, is still as smitten with art as he was as a kid. It will be his forever love, and he hopes to use his talent to uplift, educate, inspire, unite, and help folks in ways creative and transforming.
One day, he wants to open his own studio. He also will pursue his master’s degree in art design so he can teach it on the collegiate level.
All of my paintings have a story, and I know all of the stories.
“I don’t mind working with college students and younger students,’’ he said. “I want to work with the whole gamut. If their work is better than mine, well God bless them. I believe I can learn from anybody, and I believe anybody can learn from me.”
He is adamant about his art changing the world around him. He wants aimless children looking to the streets for recreation to find purpose in art. He will soon do a series of paintings celebrating Gullah culture and the legacy Vermelle “Bunny” Smith Rodrigues, an oral historian and artist based in Georgetown County who worked tirelessly in educating people about the numerous invaluable contributions of Gullah people. She died in December at 77.
“Bunny was a master teacher,’’ Dennison said. “She really taught me a lot about how crucial the Gullah people were to everything in the South. Gullah is really Africa within itself.”
Rewind. As a boy, he instantly realized the power of art.
“Back then, after I saw what Ted did, I knew immediately I wanted to be an artist,” he said. “So, I picked up pens, pencils, and paintbrushes, and I’ve never put them down.”
I will paint until I can see no more. I will paint until I can’t talk anymore. I will do this until I transition because this is my passion.
Dennison is basketball-shooting-guard tall, standing 6 feet, 4 inches, weighing 270 pounds. He has played drums since he was 4. His eyes are sad, but serious and hopeful. He earned a degree in music education and performance with a minor in visual arts from South Carolina State College, now South Carolina State University.
His formal job title is “instructional teacher assistant” at Waccamaw Middle School in Pawleys Island, where he works with special needs students. However, art is the career he has pursued most of his life.
“In the beginning, I did lots of miscellaneous drawings,” he said. “I drew cartoons and comics. One time, I envisioned myself working with Marvel Comics.”
Those visions changed as Dennison grew older and began being moved by beautiful scenes played out in front of his eyes. Many of them took place at his mother’s home, where the love of family and the deepness of faith were exemplified daily.
I believe I can learn from anybody, and I believe anybody can learn from me.
Enter Courtney Young.
She was 2 when Dennison created “Time To Take The Medicine.” The painting depicts Young, with caramel skin, soft-rounded cheeks, and tiny, curly plaits decorated by blue barrettes, stretching her eyes open as her grandmother gently places a spoon to her small pink lips. The piece is in hues of red, white, blue, brown, and black. He works with a variety of mediums, including oil, acrylics, and watercolors.
“It was just an intimate moment between a grandmother and a granddaughter,” he said, while glancing at the painting as it sat on an easel inside of the Local History Room at Georgetown County Library on Cleland Street. “Those are the paintings that people will never get, unless they take it out of my mother’s cold, dead hands.”
His most beloved painting, “John 3:16,” is a graphic depiction of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. To date, he has completed about 200 works of art.
“All of my paintings have a story, and I know all of the stories,” said Dennison, a licensed minister who will be ordained next year. “My best works come when I feel the urge when God tells me, ‘I want you to do this.’ Or when a crisis comes, I do my best.”
Happiness makes its home on his face when the discussion is of anything art.
Yet for a stretch of time, the rocky roads of Dennison’s life, including stormy relationships, caused his art to take a backseat.
That’s why he keeps motivators.
His mother, Linda Dennison Reed, is one of them.
My best works come when I feel the urge when God tells me, ‘I want you to do this.’ Or when a crises comes, I do my best.
“If she sees me getting discouraged, she says, ‘Alright now,’” he said. “She keeps me on point.”
We all know, or least we should know, artists are sensitive people, although some pretend they aren’t.
Authentic art is always birthed from within the soul. Artists excavate through layers of memories and emotions, digging up delights and discomforts they bravely share with the world, knowing the innermost parts of their beings will be judged.
Some decided to end it all or got chained in an addiction, like Vincent Van Gogh and Jean-Michel Basquiat, respectively.
Still others, including Andrew Wyeth, were showered in accolades but yet were scorned by critics believing their so-called genius was overrated.
Yes indeed, artists must skillfully cultivate equal amounts of creativity and courage to pursue their desires to deliver works that will woo you.
Dennison is certainly not oblivious to this ongoing pressure. He just refuses to let it rule him. His focus is firm, and he will not give up his visions.
He is Linus van Pelt, except Dennison’s security blanket is art and nothing but death can remove it from his spirit.
“I will paint until I can see no more,’’ he said. “I will paint until I can’t talk anymore. I will do this until I transition because this is my passion.”
Contact Johanna D. Wilson at JohannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com or to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.
This is the first in a series featuring Grand Strand artists.