Anthony Collins

Studio Visit  |  August 2011
Anthony Collins works from his studio at La Catedral Studios in Dublin.
Many of Anthony’s works over the last few years have been in the form of interactive events. Anthony used to be an art dealer in London and he said that he was always fascinated by people coming into the gallery and the “ineluctable subjectiveness in their attitude towards certain things.” This observation of society began to evolve into an art form for Anthony.
He began to create interactive events. One of these events was called Dinner Party, where he set up a table and chairs at an event that was being held in the Docklands and invited people to sit down to ‘dinner’. “Welcome to my dinner party”, he said, “…but I have no food. You’ll have to paint your own!” He describes some of his events as being quite opportunistic. He had set out bowls of rich coloured paint and asked people to use the ‘tools’ he presented them with to paint their dinner. These tools are made from an assortment of materials and each one is unique. He said that some of the marks people made were more symbolic than “crafted” and some paintings were incredibly well executed.

Dinner Party, 2005. Image courtesy of the artist.

I was interested as to why Anthony creates interactive events. He explained that it started out as a kind of Socratic thing. Socrates’ process for finding out people’s ideas on morality was to engage them in a conversation. Socrates would not put forth his own thoughts on the subject, rather he would listen to what people had to say and he would question them so as to guide them through their thought process and help them to arrive at an understanding of the subject. Anthony applies this same method of working through his interactive events. He is interested in finding out people’s thoughts and ideas about art – he says he does not necessarily know what art is himself, except in the broadest sense; he says “it’s about life”. The conversations that happen throughout the events are very important to the work. 
At first people were reluctant to respond, saying they didn’t know anything about art, but Anthony thought if he could get them involved in being a part of making the art it would put them more at ease. He has made around 200 tools that he puts to use through different interactive events. Anthony does not like to be too prescriptive in telling people how to use the tools because he says that no matter what, people will do their own thing and those taking part in the project will always determine it in some way or another. 

A selection of the tools made by Anthony

Doris Lessing, an early feminist writer, is someone that Anthony greatly admires. He spoke about her book The Golden Notebook, in which she recounts going through a breakdown and her attitude toward feelings and emotions. He is also interested in Wittgenstein’s theories of how you cannot separate the mind and the body – how the mental and the physical are unceasingly connected. Various subjects have led him to explore the idea of “creative opportunism – or how the mind, not the brain, deals with unexpected events.”
A recurring character runs through some of Anthony’s work. This is the character of Judith. Judith came about because Anthony liked the idea of people “empathising with a character; a mythological, heroic character.” Anthony was conscious of the fact that there are very few heroic women characters in the bible – they are mostly associated with sin! – so he thought this was an interesting area to explore through his art. For one of the Judith projects he decided to set up what he referred to as a kind of spontaneous theatre. When there were events going on in the gallery next to his studio (The Back Loft), Anthony approached women coming or going and asked them if they would like to be involved in a performance or interactive art piece. He also invited specific people to take part. He then explained the character of Judith to them – she was a heroic character from the Old Testament who pretended to switch to the side of her enemy in order to get close enough to him to cut off his head. He gave each woman a sword, a helmet and a template of the outline of an image by the artist Artemisia Gentileschi called Judith Slaying Holofernes (1640 – 20) where we see Judith cutting off Holofernes’ head. After the participants are told the story of Judith, they then draw on the template with coloured pens “the faces of the protagonists of this psycho drama.” As they were drawing, Anthony was able to photograph them in character. He then used these photographs as a template and traced certain elements onto acetate to create a new work. In a way, he is bringing Judith into the modern world by channelling elements of her character through different women. 

Theatre of Judith, 2008/9

At the moment Anthony is working on a series of watercolours that he painted over a six month period in county Kerry. They were painted outdoors in a forest, so Anthony has logged the weather on each painting because he said that the weather had become a part of the paintings. For some, this is quite literally true – raindrops can be seen mixing with the watercolour on some of the paintings which adds an interesting dimension to the work. These are not intended to be realistic or scenic images; what Anthony was trying to do was to capture the atmosphere of the place and to some extent, his feelings at the time. He is thinking of exhibiting these images projected onto a net screen in a space that will surround the viewer so as to recreate the atmosphere of the woods.

Work in progress – Watercolour painting projected onto net

I was curious as to what brought Anthony back to what I saw to be more of a traditional method of working from the interactive events, but Anthony said he does not feel that either way of working is necessarily traditional or contemporary – he has always painted and he said his work will always go back and forth between various media and methods.
Certain projects are on-going. For instance, Anthony has a possible project in mind with the tools. He has given them the overall title of The Academy for Less Control because he says that no matter how much people think they are in control of the objects, in the process of using them they end up making a mark they did not mean to make and often something quite unexpected comes out of the process. He recently came across part of an old piano and found that by trailing or dragging the tools along the exposed chords, a melodic sound is produced. Anthony is interested in exploring this new direction through The Academy for Less Control.

Anthony ‘playing the piano’

More of Anthony’s work can be seen on his website:

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