Born in Liverpool, Allen Maddox arrived in Napier as a teenager. He studied at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts in Christchurch under Rudi Gopas until 1968. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Maddox pursued a purist form of abstract expressionism, although this is still too narrow a category to adequately describe his work.
Around 1975-6 he adopted his instantly recognisable “X” motif, which forms the fundamental building block of many of his works. This mark may have begun as an act which negated an error, the crossing out of whatever wasn’t going right in a given painting. Eventually, these Xs pleased the artist enough to be worth retaining in their own right, and grew to fill the whole canvas or assembled themselves into grids. The fugue of Xs reasserted themselves as the dominant feature of his painting again in the 1990s, this time in far looser compositions. With repetition, they gained emphasis and authority. They can be read simply as a basic geographic form, although others have suggested they allude to the Greek letter chi (the initial letter of Christ) and thus to Maddox’s religious faith. X the unknown. X the signature of the illiterate on a contract. X marks the spot. More than likely, however, X blots out and defiles the pristine void of the painting’s surface.