Driving home from his commercial art studio in downtown Dallas in the early 1970’s, Carroll Collier realized that it was not objects or things that he wanted to paint; it was, instead, a desire to convey the aesthetic qualities of everyday scenes that directed him to easel painting. “The first time I noticed this ‘aesthetic sense’ was one day late in my commercial art career…crossing the Houston Street viaduct, I saw a green traffic light, cars, buildings, trees. It was a very ordinary scene, but I was struck by the impression this configuration of objects had on me.”
Today, his subjects and style remain constant, and he continues to focus on the aesthetic sense inherent in the world around him. “Wherever I go this ‘sense’ always tells me what to photograph or what to sketch. It is one of my greatest pleasures. Early on, I realized that trying too hard to find the aesthetic blinded me to it. I had to learn to just look. Still today, I take photos of objects to use for accurate detail, but the details are modified to create greater harmony with other shapes, colors and values in the painting. I am not a storyteller artist. I strive for the poetic in each painting, never losing the aesthetic sense of the whole as I move toward completion.”
Looking back, Collier recalls his departure from a highly successful career in commercial art: “I made sure to ease myself gradually from commercial illustration to painting full-time. It was important to me that the kids still have a steady sense of family, both emotionally and financially.”
Embarking on fine art, Carroll discovered that it was possible to balance painting with income, a thought so preposterous during the depression that it never entered his mind as boy. He always had the desire to create, to draw, or to paint even as a child growing up in Dallas. At ten, he experimented with watercolor and his parents gave him his first set of oil paints for his 12th birthday. But, it was not until his cousin, Forrest Kirkland, a successful illustrator, invited fourteen year old Carroll to his home for drawing lessons that he gave any thought to earning a living doing what he loved – creating visual images. Soon, this mentorship with Kirkland gave him the encouragement he needed to land his first commercial art job at $6.00 a week.
Then came the war, and it served as the art school that the previous years of economic hardship had denied Collier and others his age. Assigned to the US Army’s Graphic Reproduction Branch of the Transportation Corps in New Orleans, Collier designed and illustrated training manuals. There he met the young artists of World War II. Some had come from drawing tables in advertising agencies; others were older and had attended art school or actually been instructors. Young and excited, they learned from each other. Best of all, were the life-drawing classes in the French Quarter.
Returning to Dallas after the war, he married Mildred, his wife of fifty-four years, and was hired as a commercial artist at Beale Studio, earning $240 a month. “While I was there,” he recalls, “I was given the job of hand-lettering a headline in beautiful script for a half page ad for Everett’s Jewelers. The script was to read ‘Christmas Bright’. All was fine until the Sunday edition came out. I had made a small error in spelling leaving out the ‘r’, so the headline read ‘Christmas Bight’. I must have been a good artist because I was not fired!”
Collier went on to become a sought after illustrator in the Dallas market. For the next twenty five years he produced illustrations for such prestigious accounts as Braniff, Texas Instruments, Dr. Pepper, and Bell Helicopter. Along the way, he filled a wall with regional and national awards for his work. Then, in 1972, encouraged by the first showing of his paintings, Collier began his second career. Working together, he and Mildred, once again experienced success in the world of art and have watched two of their sons follow in their father’s steps as professional artists.
“The kids were around art all their early lives,” says Carroll, “and they all have an interest in and a talent for art.” Even so, the Colliers were reluctant to push their children into the art field.
“John demonstrated great talent”, recalls Carroll. “In his teenage years, I could see it, but knew if he was going to succeed as an artist, he had to do it on his own initiative. I had seen too many aspiring young artists who did not do well in the field. I didn’t want art to break his heart.”
But John’s success and drive relieved Carroll and Mildred of their fears, and they were not so hesitant to encourage Grant, the youngest, when he, too, showed an aptitude for art. Grant, like his older brother, has experienced success, and is continuing the Collier family legacy. Carroll remarks with a smile, “I have a feeling we haven’t seen anything yet!” Mildred agrees as she talks of John and Grant and notes that the third generation is likely to see several Collier artists, too. Two granddaughters are already pursuing their interest in art, she says with great pride.