Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council
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Cory Collins

Location: St. John's, NL
NLAC Program Funded Under: Professional Artists' Travel Fund
Amount Funded: $1,000


Dates: January 26 to 29, 2015
Project Contact: Cory Collins
Artist E-mail:

Cory Collins may be a new name in some visual art circles, but this emerging talent has been an active visual artist and writer for a few years, winning the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters competition in poetry twice since 2013 and once in the visual category, in 2013. He also received an honourable mention at the Sparks Literary Poetry Competition this year.

Collins received his first grant from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (NLAC) in 2013 and used it to produce a visual project called Overworlds.  He was the recipient of a second project grant the following year so he could create Sovereign Leagues.

Collins-Art-1University of Yellowknife

It was in 2014 that his emerging talents took a leap towards greater exposure.  Outside of the inclusion of his winning works in the Arts and Letters Awards Exhibitions, Collins appeared in other group exhibitions including the City of St. John’s Civic Art Collection Exhibition, That’s So Gay 709 at Eastern Edge, and 2014: A Year End Celebration at the Christina Parker Gallery.  Then, the year was capped off with his first solo exhibition titled Re-Mappings which was installed at the Burnaby Art Gallery in British Columbia. That exhibition led to an invitation by the gallery for Collins to lead an artist talk, and the NLAC provided support for him to attend through the Professional Artists’ Travel Fund.

The work Collins creates is focused on hand-drawing, often with markers but also ink and coloured pencils. The subject matter he focuses on is usually cityscapes and maps from panoramic, aerial, and semi-aerial perspectives.  Collins feels this approach allows viewers of his work to take in a scene that is richly varied and complex, inviting visual exploration.  His immensely detailed work is imagined, allowing it to speak to possible alternative futures, history, or a blend of both. There is a clear appreciation for a variety of architecture from various periods in his pieces, which also include bright colours and a chance-based element during the creative process resulting from his allowance of the natural bleed of his inks to contribute to shaping the final piece.

Q and A with Cory Collins...

NLAC: What is it about your subject matter that inspires and attracts you to it?

Cory: I think most people, if they give themselves the opportunity, will have an interest in creating cityscape or map environments, even if it's through the medium of computer games. For me, looking at a gestalt that has a lot of intricate detail to explore can have an overpowering effect on the imagination. And examples of those in 'fictional' cityscape probably connect with an impulse to explore and plan an ideal location that tells a story or provides escape.

NLAC: How did you get interested in the subject matter and why?

Cory: I've always drawn and it's mostly been buildings as my natural inclination. Maps in video games and novels were a big influence on me growing up and were probably part of what allowed and drove me to visualize larger scale works. Overworlds, for example, are essentially pictorial maps in video games where characters are represented moving between points that are stages, themselves entered by characters for further play. But because they have to represent both levels of detail, the world's size multiplies further in one's mind, building upon the artist's effect of rendering tiny settlements or features on the page or screen itself.

NLAC: You have a background in social work, but what led you to explore becoming a visual artist?

collins-art-4New Earthsea

Cory: Honestly, I guess it was moving downtown and meeting people who were involved in the visual arts. Before that time, I was mostly removed from the art world and it probably seemed as foreign as any other profession. But encouragement from particular people was also a motivator. Often they would see cityscapes composed on cheap graph paper in ballpoint pen that I had just left at a friend's house, but were impressed enough to tell me to try larger works in colour. Once I discovered markers, which for me feel much easier to hold and use than paintbrushes, I was set.

NLAC: How did you develop your artistic skill set; what did you find difficult through that process and what came naturally?

Cory: I would usually find or imagine examples of real cityscapes that I enjoyed and mix them together, and that's still a big part of my overall approach. Isometric composition of buildings is perhaps inherently difficult and requires a fair amount of concentration, but you get better over time if you're committed. Other things, like drawing particular architectural features, are probably easier simply because they're embedded in my mind from years of playing SimCity!

NLAC: Do you ever see your artistic practice blending your work in both visual and writing mediums?

Collins-Art-2College at Cambridge Bay

Cory: That's a difficult question but there are some rough thematic connections, at least for my creative writing, in that they both often try to communicate a sense of grandeur and the ornate. In poetry, however, otherwise excellent nature and fantasy poetry can easily veer into what seems kitsch or cliché, whereas that's harder to do by accident in visual arts, at least for my subject matter.

But both genres are tapping into a kind of sincere, romantic impulse that seeks fascination with the impossible. Even though that terrain of expression has often been seen as a kind of territory for adolescent or lowbrow work, I think that's rather foolish and I wonder if there is recently more acceptability for works inspired by that impulse. Whether that observation reflects a trend of post-irony or a variant of ‘new sincerity,’ I'm not sure, but it's interesting nonetheless.

NLAC: What are the biggest hurdles you face in the creative process and how do you overcome them?

Cory: The largest single ones are space and time, really. I'm reminded of the attitude of Fran Lebowitz, who wanted free time so badly that she drove a taxi just exactly enough to pay the rent! I'm not sure that approach works for me, but she was onto something in that free, unstructured time, whether for introspection or socializing, is something you need for creativity to flourish.

NLAC: What was the focus of the artist talk you gave in British Columbia, and how did that go?

Cory: I was discussing some of my work, its practice, theory and influences, especially some of the historical and contemporary context of particularly significant illustrated maps. I was also discussing some aspects of the history and nature of this art form in connection with my exhibition Re-Mappings. The talk went great -- Burnaby Art Gallery curator Jennie Cane was an endlessly helpful resource.

NLAC: What are some of the things you’re presently working on and hope to do in the near future?

Cory: My drawing series Sovereign Leagues, devoted to modified illustrated maps of German cities, is ongoing while I'm also continuing to pursue some poetry and other writing projects. I've had a number of poetry publications and competition placements, most recently the honourable mention in the Sparks Literary Festival competition. With that in mind, the goal is to inch closer towards a first book.

NLAC: How does the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council (NLAC) funding from the Professional Artists' Travel Fund help?

collins-art-3Town of St. Ivy

Cory: The PATF really helps with defraying the cost of travel to a far-away destination like BC, which is valuable for any immediate purpose of the visit, but it's also a longer-term investment in promoting the cultural capital of Newfoundland and Labrador. The value of increasing creative capacity may not be easily quantified, but the increasing visibility of and connections to the province on the world stage is part of the evidence that such investments are having a real impact on growth of all kinds.

NLAC: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Cory: Hmm. I guess just to say thank you! My trip was brief but memorable and allowed me to get in touch with a whole new audience and arts community, which can only be a positive for artistic development.