Return to Articles


by Marge Bulmer

“The presence before him was a presence”
--Henry James

“Portrait I,” oil/collage/resin
on panel, 8 x 9’, 1998.

"Fragile," oil/collage/mixed
media/resin on panel,
3 x 4', 1999.
(Gallery Soolip, West Hollywood) On dense surfaces of iron and copper-based paint Ashley Collins applies pages from a variety of texts and then paints overwhelming images of horses that invade the viewer’s space on 8 x 10 foot canvases. The enormity of the image stirs the imagination. Unlike those who are attached to the Western romance with horses, Collins uses them as a vehicle, a metaphor, to communicate significant content. To Collins the horse symbolizes strength, power, energy, and confidence to continue at all odds. She refers to these paintings as portraits. The horses, placed in the foreground space, either race directly at you or get their huge heads into your face.

The figures look like enlarged, high-contrast photographs, candid moments of time theatrically caught in a split second. The effect of yellowed, aging texts and ancient surfaces painted into the works add a nostalgic feeling of looking at an old photograph or movie still. A hard resin splashed on the surface preserves the moment. Scratches in the resin appear to be damaged areas, but are deliberately added to enhance the content. The representation of the moment is caught and encased, mummified.

Printed words that appear in each painting are at first ambiguous. But examination reveals clues to a suggestive narrative. Modern and Warhol, for example, allude to art history, implying the artist wishes to make sure we see her work in a context of her choosing.

The iron and copper-based paint, applied to the canvas and allowed to rust and weather outside for as long as a year, reinforces the significance of time past. What the medium will do to the surface is uncontrollable, just as much that happens or has happened in life is unpredictable. The horses’ forcefulness, however, emphasizes will in ascendance over fate.

A large painting of a wolf, Los Angeles, is a departure from the dominant subject matter, but deserves to be noted. A skinny red wolf, it’s head down, occupies the center of the canvas. Hardly predatory, this is a vulnerable creature, evoking sympathy and helplessness. This lost wolf faces a vast empty space in the form of an opposite panel in this diptych. The printed name of Los Angeles in the painting doesn’t name the animal; it names the space.

Collins poetically addresses sociological and psychological issues with her animal metaphors. Visually potent to begin with, you are also impelled towards contemplation of survival, the passage of time, and the willful summoning of energy to push into the future.

"Modern," oil/collage/resin
on panel, 8 x 9', 1998.

"Los Angeles," oil/collage/mixed
media/resin on canvas, 84 x 144", 1997.