"Bach"   (diptych)
Mixed Media on Panel
84"h x 96"w

Ashley Collins - A featured artist at the Lanning Gallery [Sedona Arizona]
 
Since she began her painting career in the mid-1980s, two things remain constant in Ashley Collins's works: First, that a Collins piece is recognizable in any installation or collection, and, second, that despite her long struggle, or perhaps because of that same struggle, her works impart a peacefulness and resolution, the strength of will and the beauty of simplicity too often drowned out in the repetitive static noise of our daily lives.

Collins was raised, like so many brilliant minds of the last century, in a repressive conservative family, far more interested in the appearance of normalcy than in listening to the dreams of a creative child. Collins took to drawing on large rolls of butcher paper and would spend hour upon hour creating a world that made much more sense than the rigid structure her family imposed. Her parents were so disturbed by this child who captured emotions so vividly on paper and in words that they took her to psychiatrists and doctors to find out what was "wrong" with her. What was indeed wrong was the formation of genius in an environment ill-conceived to nurture or balance this same genius.

 

Collins worked odd day jobs to find enough money to buy paint supplies; she scoured salvage yards to find metal or wood, since canvas was simply too expensive. Collins slept on the concrete floors of her small studio, on abandoned boats, on couches of kind friends and kinder strangers. More important than her lodgings, she used money to rent somewhere to paint. Collins's meals consisted of canned food made on a hot plate, crouched against a small studio wall looking at her latest work. She would usually leave whatever her job of the moment was and begin painting at night … often until the sun presented itself the following morning.

While this sounds like the very hell her father had predicted, to Collins it was anything but. "These years were amazing to me," Collins recounted in an interview for her international traveling retrospective; "I was doing what I wanted, painting all night long. What to others must have looked like the sad existence of a lost homeless person was to me some of the most amazing hours I have ever imagined. To me, I wasn't homeless, for I was with the home I created with my works – all of them magic and in each creation a new voice to counter the negative voices that I had so often heard for years in the past. To me, life is about what you can do when you follow your passion …"

The actual hell for Collins was the close mindedness and closed doors of the art world. "I could not get my work accepted no matter what I did. At that time, with few exceptions, the art world was extremely hostile to female artists, whether due to simple history, misogyny, or calculated risk. Whatever the basis used as justification, the repeated answer was simply no, a resounding no, a forever no." Frustrated at every turn, after years of refusal, Collins did the only thing she could think of: She opened a gallery to sell her work as that of a male artist. She would paint from midnight on, open her gallery during the day, work a part-time job to get any money she could, and sell works of an invented old reclusive Englishman named "Ashley Collins." Whether due to the use of painting as a male artist, or due to the fact that the work, once exposed to the public, sold itself, will never be known. The first sale occurred during an art show at the Los Angeles County Convention Center in 1992. Within moments of that first sale, after so many years of struggle, Collins quit all part-time work and focused all of her energies on her art.

The path that followed held its own struggles as she continued to assert herself, now as a woman, into the world of art. It was a slow and arduous climb, but one that continued always upward. Galleries offered representation and additional exhibitions followed. Sales of her artwork continued year after year, the prices of her work only climbing, even through two recessions; collectors of growing and growing prestige found her work. While her path has not been easy, it is one that her collectors can appreciate: Hers is a path of longevity with a through-line of constantly increased values.

 

Click on an image to see a larger view.

 

"Amadeus"
Mixed Media on Panel
36"h x 48"w

 

"Sire"
Mixed Media on Panel
48"h x 72"w

 
 

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Today, Collins's work is found in public and private collections from Dubai to Germany, from Vancouver to Shanghai, from Aspen to London. She has exhibited internationally with Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine, and Robert Motherwell; she has broken sales records for women artists; and her work is found in several private collections, including those of Robert Redford and Ringo Starr, as well as in museums and embassies around the world. What has remained a constant is the sheer force and scale of her work and the underlying goal: "Success comes twice during the life of each work," Collins notes, "when the work is created – after all each of these works are my children – and when the work touches another person, and they finally see on the panel or in the paint what it is inside themselves; that which is truly beautiful."

"I have spent most of my adult years erasing the layers
of reality that covered the beautiful truths of childhood."

Having established herself as one of the contemporary art world's premier women artists, Collins now devotes herself to using proceeds from her art to help others around the globe. "I changed the way I operate exhibitions," Collins explains, "so that now almost all of my shows benefit the needs of others in some way." Her beneficiaries include school children in Mozambique to children with cancer in Idaho, international medical organizations to U.S. food pantries, and so many more.

A note about Process:

Each work begins on a blank hand-crafted wooden panel. The first layer is always a simple layer of book pages, one next to the other. These pages are sometimes from children's stories, sometimes from dictionaries, sometimes from old books from the early 1800's and1900's. These pages represent the information we are bombarded with from the time we are children – how thin we should be; what we should buy; how we should dress, act, and behave. It is after this layer that the art really begins: Collins adds layers of aged paper which serve to quiet the "noise" of the initial pages; replacing the noise, one layer at a time, with calm. This is achieved by using paper she ages naturally – adding 14-18 years of sun, wind, and rains into each artwork. One through line you will find on the majority of Collins's works is hidden images and hidden text. The longer you have a work, the more things you will discover; different lighting will bring different layers to the fore. The last step of the process is the resin finish which makes each piece touchable. The raw resin compound is moved across the work by Collins with a blow torch, so that the last natural element, fire, finishes each piece. When the resin hits the underlying work, it seeps through and picks up earlier layers – allowing the process of creation itself to determine which layers peek through and which hide.

 

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