Graham Collins Stitches Found Paintings To Create Something Bigger Than the Sum of Its Arts
by Nicole Demarco
September 27, 2017
A few years ago, Graham Collins landed on a GQ list of 10 artists to watch when he bronzed pedestrian items like toothbrushes and potato chips and showed them at Art Basel. Some of those works are now on display at The Journal Gallery, along with others that are substantially more monumental.
“Unmeltable Antebellum” is a striking giant. To create it, Collins took strips and segments of nearly a hundred found paintings and meticulously arranged them and stitched them together. It’s one of many similar pieces, created over several years, that will be on display through Nov. 4 as part of the artist’s latest solo show, “Western Shade.”
The title is a nod to his first show, “Shade Tree,” put on five years ago at Soloway in Williamsburg, and his recent move from his beloved Brooklyn to California, where he’s settled (albeit, temporarily) in Long Beach. “But my thinking about it, specifically, was actually related to historical notions of Western civilization,” he adds.
What materials are you working with?
The paintings are all made from found paintings. None of the paint is put down by me. It’s all oil and canvas; conventional paintings that I find at thrift stores, eBay, on the street, wherever. I really like this real separation between me and the original painter of the source material. These are things that people have put out into the world already. It’s a way for me to plug into that. In the show, there’s also a bunch of bronze sculptures that are made from casting. I cast each individual element… little banal objects and studio scrap, with scraps from making my frames, snack food, toothbrushes and open mail.
How do these two elements work together?
I think it’s perfectly valid to have one set of concerns and then jump over to a totally new set for a new project. But I’m going to go ahead and contradict myself, and tell you how they relate… I’m always preoccupied with this idea of building a painting from the ground up. I have an MFA. I went to art school twice, but I like the idea of pretending that I don’t have a lot of highbrow or historical knowledge. I’m just taking these things and building them up into what they become.
How do you approach the sewn paintings once you have all these pieces and you start stitching them together?
It’s pretty strategic, really; it’s geometry, like making two triangles make a square. A couple of those make a larger square or rectangle. It’s really that simple. It’s getting it done in the quickest way possible and then letting that dictate the composition and the formal properties.
Is there anything that’s inspiring you right now or that was particularly inspirational while working on some of these pieces?
My girlfriend Jenny Jieun Lee has been working with this dance group, the Stanley Love Performance Group, who just did a little three-day residency at The Kitchen. I’ve seen it before, but I got to see it the night after the show opened and it’s really amazing. I don’t know anything about dance, but it’s really inspiring. Super human, super vulnerable, and fun and quirky and accessible. Even someone like me, I can tell that it’s really brilliant.
I know you went to school, but what point did you realize you wanted to pursue art as a career?
That’s such a funny question because I didn’t. When I went to grad school, I wanted to have some kind of career with art and I think it’s common when you go to an MFA program and you know you’re not guaranteed a job as an artist, it’s like… I can always teach. But it’s so hard to get good teaching position. I knew I’d just keep making art, so I did. For years, I did some work in galleries and then I kind of just stumbled into being able to make some kind of living off it, totally unintentionally. But my conscious decision was the opposite, to not actively pursue it.
Do you miss Brooklyn?
Oh, I do. I love being back here. I’m sure we will be eventually, but it’s great. I work at our house, half outside and you can do it there, you know? It doesn’t rain. I have a canopy and a couple little buildings. It’s a sweet setup for now.
“Western Shade” on view through Nov. 4 at The Journal Gallery, 106 N 1st St., Williamsburg; 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.