Patrick Collins’ landscapes directly connect to his childhood, in that he often spent his early days venturing into the Irish countryside. Such adventures allowed his affinity for nature and keen observational sense to thrive. Throughout his painting career, Collins pulled many of his subjects from boyhood memory.
Rather than relying directly on the land itself, he focused on his remembrances of the land, enabling each painting to stand independent, with an internal logic and unique meaning (Ruane, 59). Furthermore, such depictions of memory liken to poetry, as Collins’ paintings delve deep into the world of imagination, evoking emotion of the past and present. Although this sense of mystical autonomy encompasses the whole of Collins’ works his themes and techniques, however, vary over the course of his painting. Color, brushstroke, use of light, and composition mature from his first pieces to his last. Thus Collins demonstrates a progression of understanding not only in his artistic views, but also in the means which he presents these views in his artwork.
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St. Anne’s Park, Raheny (c. 1946) demonstrates Collins’ early style in painting. The thick, layered application of paint shows his abstract detachment from the specific scene. The dark, brooding colors contrast with the highlights of light, adding further to the fairy tale aspect of the piece. Collins’ thick, almost busy composition, however, is short-lived as he progresses to a less cluttered canvas. In Barking Dog (1955) a house, tree, and dog are the only subjects to occupy the piece. Empty space becomes apparent as swirling blues and grays fill up the void, pulling the work together.
The dark boarder further contains the painting, while the short depth of field allows the illuminated inner rectangle to pop out from the surface, as it hovers under a mist of dry paint. Such a technique adds to the scene’s intangible nature, thereby fulfilling Collins’ objective. He states, “You don’t believe in the thing you’re painting, you believe in the thing behind what you’re painting. You destroy your object, yet you keep it … You destroy to find another thing” (Ruane 23). Likewise, Spring Morning (1957) embodies the ethereal qualities of Collins’ painting, as soft golds meld in a hazy atmosphere. Though abstracted, the natural aspects of the blustery season emanate from the gestural brushstrokes and “U” shaped composition (Ruane 31). Stepping further from the subject orientated Barking Dog, Spring Morning unites the cottage onto the painting’s one-dimensional plane, demonstrating the synthesis of light and motion from the natural world.
Such gestural elegance is intensified in Collins’ Expressionist Phase, as he manipulates the paint, yielding visually alluring images. Bridge and Trees (1962) exemplifies such elegance, in that the abstract landscape exudes a sensual, almost tangible quality. Likewise, Three Menhirs (c. 1962) embodies the phase’s dramatic gestural style (Ruane 35). Contrasting darks and lights streak horizontally over the canvas in thick, textured stripes.
The rocks loom like ghosts on the surface, as if in mid flight. Menhirs on the Plain (1965), a later painting in the series, shows a more static view of the landscape, clustering the three stones into a stationary block. A subtle frame encloses the picture, as in Collins’ earlier works, creating an illuminated window in which the menhirs sit. Unlike Three Menhirs, Menhirs on the Plain focuses largely on piece’s empty space. The rough coating of semi-dry paint, which veils the framed rectangle, poignantly exhibits a feel of desolation. Although the aim of Collins’ paintings is to evoke such emotion, he also insists that one must struggle in order to gain from his work, as he struggled in its creation: “It’s never easy, there’s never an easy painting” (Ruane 35). Thus, his Expressionist Phase, though sensuous, failed to meet goals as a painter and therefore ended after two short years.
After another brief transition period, where Collins’ tested a variety of methods, the artist finally landed upon his signature style, one, which focuses on the literal and symbolic aspects of Ireland’s nature through controlled technique. Blue Landscape (c. 1966), for example, presents an abstraction of the aqueous landscape. Pastel highlights dot the surface in quick yet deliberate brushstrokes. It is this juxtaposition of the seemingly haphazard with the actual careful calculation that defines Collins’ painting. The embossed window motif and serene romanticism aspects are also indicative of his work, as they embody the paintings’ nationalistic themes.
The subtle boarder signifies isolation; symbolizing Ireland’s removed nature, both geographically and politically. While the idyllic landscapes demonstrate the artist’s typical Irishman obsession with the past, in that he focuses on idealized scenes from memory, much like Irish ballads and poems, which glorify history. Standing Cattle, No. 1 (1967) further bolsters Collins’ strong ties to his land, as the scenic landscape is depicted in shadowy earth tones. The painting’s circuitous dynamic also embodies the motion of the Earth or perhaps even time. Despite this spatial movement, however, the cows and trees remain centrally fixed, thus demonstrating the omnipotence of the natural world.
Though seeming contradictory, Collins’ move to France enabled him to more fully understand Ireland. As he explains, “It became a mental necessity for me to get out of Ireland … I wanted to go on doing what I was doing, but it was too tight on my mind. I know everyone in Ireland that painted, I knew their opinions, and I wanted to get away and look at things from the outside” (Ruane 67). Thus, Collins’ work in France merely echoed his memories of Ireland. In fact, by leaving his country, he was able to shed a new, enriching perspective on his landscapes. Cottage in the Country (1972) demonstrates a switch in color scheme, as Collins trades his usual brooding blues and grays for bright greens and yellows.
The customary gauzy veil of dry paint also disappears, as does the protective boarder, thereby opening the picture and revealing a more definite scene. Though equally lucid, Pollarded Oak in Winter (1974) reintroduces the dark frame, yet manipulates the paint to create a transparent look, as if done in watercolor. The innovative brushstroke technique, characteristic to Collins, becomes freer during his years in France and black accents often dramatize the surface, thus stimulating energy and emotion. Such decoration, however, fails to displace the artist’s nationalistic aims. Rather, each painting harks back to the Irish landscape of Collins’ memory, as the freedom expressed in his work while away from Ireland depicts an even greater pride for his country.
Upon his return to Ireland, Collins’ painting flourished as he combined techniques used throughout his career. His new perspective on Ireland is candidly articulated by the artist, “This whole untouched Celtic thing here, it’s like a virgin waiting to be laid. Painters born here should all go away and then come back to the Celtic thing” (Gillespie). Collins’ years abroad therefore enabled him to form a perfect balance of color, light, line, and composition, which in turn yielded the multifaceted essence of “the Celtic thing” to fully emerge. Potato Patch (1981) exhibits an abstracted view of a common agricultural landscape, striping the surface with scar-like lines, while keeping the empty space equally as intense.
The vertical line on the left-hand side of the piece emphasizes the marginal void. Soft light poignantly highlights the crop, which holds much significance to Ireland. Not only is the literal field of potatoes meaningful, as it remains a part of every Irish natives’ memory, but the deeper allusion to The Famine also lies embedded within the landscape. Thus, Collins has set a supreme example of Irish painting, encompassing realized technique and theme to yield poetic enlightenment within the art world.
Gillespie, Elgy, “A Day in the Life of Patrick Collins,” Irish Times, August 15, 1980.
Ruane, Frances, Patrick Collins, The Arts Council and The Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 982.
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