The eldest of the six Collier children shares with his father, Carroll, the realization of a dream…the ability to make a living in the world of art. A painter, sculptor, illustrator, and author/illustrator of a children’s book, John Collier’s career began early. His art as a child drew praise from adults and peers alike. “Drawing was the thing I could do better than other people,” he recalls. “I could tell the difference between my work and my peers. I liked mine better!”
Even so, he says, “Dad never encouraged or discouraged me from being an artist. He just wanted me to do what I loved. I put enough pressure on myself to be successful; it was good to have Dad remind me that the drive to succeed can often blind you to possibilities in your art.”
In college, John initially planned on studying philosophy or engineering, but decided he loved art too much to let it slip away, thinking, “how nice it would be to draw pictures for a living.” At North Texas, the academic curriculum allowed him to take only two art courses a semester, but these limitations did not suit the young Collier. “I had other ideas,” he remembers. “I had a figure drawing class in the morning; then, stayed in the studio drawing all day. I failed all my other classes, got an A in drawing, and learned what I wanted to learn.”
A full time artist since the age of 19, John Collier, like his father, has spent his life doing what he loves. He is quick to point out that his “formal education took place in museums and in libraries where I kept my nose stuck in art books…and from pure desperation. Starvation is a great motivator,” he says thinking back to those early days. “Even as an engineering student, I used to visit the art library because it smelled like home where I had grown up surrounded by books about art.”
This self-designed education led John to the early renaissance, late gothic period and eventually to 20th century notables such a Twombley, Wyeth, Hopper, and Hockney. “Most recently, I delved into a book about Andrew Wyeth. Most people love being able to see the hairs on the dog in Wyeth’s paintings, but I love the moods, the design aspects, and the composition. The detail is just an extra bonus.”
John’s images, like Wyeth’s and others who incorporated a touch of the surreal, lead us to see the familiar, then ask what it means. In the upcoming show’s feature piece, Girl by the Lake, John sets a pensive, autumn-haired adolescent wrapped in a towel against a traditional landscape. Yet, the girl is not a part of this serene backdrop. She appears, instead, to be from another world or time as she stands in the middle of three dwarfed, stylized fir trees. The artist creates just enough angst with the stark contrast to cause us to question “what” and “why”.
Girl by the Lake, like most of John’s work, is rich in symbolism. While drawing on contemporary design ideas found in abstract expressionism, the underpinnings are distinctly classical. His compositions are at first realistic, but it is realism that never existed. Rather than presenting a camera eye view, he reaches into the subconscious to draw out symbols – some religious, some secular – and key visual elements. Skillfully, he orchestrates their relationship, creating for canvas a central theme and a parallel subtext – the familiar alongside the question, “what does it mean”?