Jim Collins with his sculpture “Bear Family” (Corten steel and cast bronze) outside Chivaree Gallery (Cashiers, NC) in 2014.
Renowned sculptor and multimedia artist Jim Collins has exhibited internationally and around the United States for decades. Ask any art lover from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and chances are they’ve got a soft spot in their heart for Jim Collins. Collins designed and fabricated many public sculptures in their city, including nine “Mile-Marker” pieces along the River Walk and Volumes, the dazzling steel fountain outside the Bicentennial Library. Stainless-steel sculpture, often in color and usually in silhouette, is Collins’ calling card, and he has created sculptures for commissions at locations including the Nashville International Airport; the Number 1 Fire Station in Plano, TX; roadsides in Limerick, Ireland, for the Limerick County Council’s public art program; three villages in County Louth, Ireland; and Kilkenny, Ireland, where he created ten sculptures by invitation for the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2004. He says his sculpture style is best exemplified by his long-running series, “The Watcher.”
Recently, Collins has started an offshoot of the “Watcher” series, “The Walking Watcher.”
Collins’ mixed-media work, meanwhile, creates dynamic visual fields with antique photographs, documents, vintage product packaging, textiles and carefully chosen frames.
Pictured: “The Banyan Family” 2014, and detail (below)
Peter Baldaia of the Huntsville Museum of Art (AL), which hosted a solo exhibition of Collins’ mixed-media work in 2007, wrote, “Collins carefully constructs his evocative box collages from found and recycled materials to suggest arresting, delightful, unexpected narratives…some pay tribute to mythology, others comment on societal ills, and many become pure flights of fancy. All deliver a cornucopia of visual delights that suggest the open-ended imagination of theater as well as the rich tradition of storytelling in the South.”
The artist says: “All of my collages are akin to a theater where I present the stage and the characters. It is my story during the fabrication and is open to different stories when presented to the viewer. Actually, the art is not complete until someone sees the work and reacts to it, either by making up a story, reading the artist’s statement, or just walking away.”
Collins’ mixed-media work toured Ireland in a 2011 solo show, Irish Encounters. Collins is fond of exploring his Irish heritage in the subject matter of his work. After I closed Chivaree Gallery, I included a new series of larger-scale collages by Collins in “Appropriation Art,” the exhibition I curated for the Bascom Center for the Visual Arts (Highlands, NC) in Spring 2015. Collins had seen a sign in an antiques shop in Georgia reading “Evaluation Center for Disturbed Women,” which he said triggered the idea for a mixed-media series on the Irish myth of Étaín. He included the sign in the piece below, The Wooing of Étaín (2014).
Collins provides a brief outline of the myth:
Étaín (AY TEEN) surpassed all other women of her time in beauty and gentleness and thus was an object of jealousy. The Fairy King Midir (MIDER) was the husband of Fúamnach (FRONACH) but fell in love with Étaín. Fúamnach got so jealous she struck her magic wand on Étaín, transforming her rival into a pool of water, then into a worm, and finally a scarlet butterfly that was blown over the ocean for seven years. When she was able to return to Ireland she fell into a glass of wine which was drunk by a woman who longed for a child. In this way Étaín was miraculously reborn.
After being reborn Étaín married the High King of Ireland. Midir made an attempt to win Étaín back, going to see the king and challenging him to many games of fidchell. The king won all but the last, when Midir won and asked a kiss from Étaín as his prize. He got his kiss. But, Mider turned himself and Étaín into swans and left the royal residence through the chimney. The king did not accept the loss of his wife and pursued them. Then Midir used his magical powers to turn fifty women into duplicates of Étaín, offering the king the possibility to choose only one. In trying to find Étaín among the clones, the King chose his own daughter by accident, fathering a daughter by his own daughter in the process.
If Collins’ collages represent theater sets for the stories that unfold therein, as he has suggested, these pieces are like a tragic Wagner opera re-staged in the Victorian era. Collins encourages viewers to use his pieces to create their own version of the myth.
Collins’ work is the subject of the catalog Jim Collins: Art, 1963-2003, published by Two Hands Art Publishing. An addendum to the book was published in 2009. He is also included in the volume Art of Tennessee (Frist Center for Visual Arts, Nashville, 2003), an historical survey ranging from the earliest Native American populations to the present. He is listed in the Dictionary of American Sculptors and Who’s Who in American Art. Collins holds an M.F.A. in sculpture from Ohio University and was a Professor of Fine Art at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga from 1966 until 1983.