Artrepreneur: Art Investigates Illustration

Cathleen Collins has taken some of the strategies used in illustration and has pushed them through acrylic paint to create a show that’s well worth seeing.

Exploring Illustration at the Chocolate Claim is Collins’ first show. The young artist has been working for the summer at Arts Underground. She’ll go back to school in the fall to complete her program in graphic design and illustration at Capilano College, in Vancouver.

The overall show has some of the look of a graphic novel without the words. Most of the shapes are hard-edged and the palette is focused, though bright and cheerful. The choice of each particular colour creates the background rather than any specific treatment or blending.

One piece references advertising in particular. If you drink Coke, you’ll be as happy as this guy is: a cheery little number on a green ground with bubbles floating around it. I think it’s a kind of ironic – but the painting glories in its illustrative qualities and perhaps could be used straight as an ad itself.

In our popular culture, images are used for lots of practical applications. Collins has created images that could be easily silkscreened or printed: this is part of why this style is called “graphic” in that it works with the strengths of the technologies we have for reproducing images.

Paint, however, commits each piece to being one original, even if the artist could make some great T-shirts from these paintings.

This kind of commitment and studied investigation grounds the show, taking it to another level.

For example, Collins has taken a graphic floral pattern that might be used as a print for funky fabric and has created two versions of it: Feelin’ Groovy tries it out in orange; Feelin’ Blue, in blue.

You can imagine her thinking, What are the effects of these colours?

The colour choice appears in many of the piece’s titles, making it an important part of each piece’s content. The exploration and investigation make the show intriguing.

Most of her show features girls with dogs. When Fred Eaglesmith was in the territory, he observed that the Yukon was full of dog-owning girls named Jennifer. If you see a girl on her own, just wait a minute, he said, then you’ll see a dog come up to her.

Add to this that the girls are often wearing rubber boots, and this becomes a particularly Yukon show.

In her artist statement, Collins points out one of the girl-with-dog pieces, Out for a Stroll, as the piece where the show began.

Remember those green chalkboards they used to have in primary school? Take that and add white chalky lines – a girl being pulled forward by a Mr. Mutt-styled English Sheepdog. The lines are brushy. The only solid area of colour is her hoodie in solid white with small orange dots.

In the other paintings, the lines have become hard-edged. These lines are often lovely. The dark-blue lines in the predominantly orange Citrus Living Room work like the black lines in a comic strip, but the complementary colour makes the overall effect rich.

The woman in this painting locks gazes with the dog. A negotiation seems to be in place: Will the dog jump up on the couch or not?

Collins’ choice to use background colour for skin colour, even if other areas are given another colour treatment, is intriguing. In Walking Away, the orange in the girl’s face conveys melancholy, which seems unlikely for orange, but there you go.

Sitting on the Grass depicts a girl and her dog doing just that. The dog is rendered in hard-edged black with one colour of grey; the girl, mostly in black lines. The overwhelming blue-sky blue surrounds them, overlaps their legs with little blades-of-grass brushstrokes and makes up the girl’s skin colour.

But the effect isn’t blue; it’s cheery and peaceful. Despite the title, it isn’t green and the unexpectedness of this choice is quite lovely.

In her artist statement, Collins claims that “illustration is art.” I would disagree. Illustration is generally understood as graphics or images used to illuminate or expand on a text. Still, you can use anything, including skill developed through illustration, to create art, and Collins has done so.

My lone quibble with this delightful show is that some of the hands aren’t quite right. One hand in Citrus Living Room and another in Sitting on the Grass miss their angles ever so slightly.

In the minimalist style Collins has chosen, the artist depends on those angles for creating the illusion of space. That being said, she nails them in other places and the simplicity of the right foot in Citrus Living Room is dead-on and particularly good. And the faces are perfect.

This show has delighted more folks than just me, judging by the red dots on the wall. Go see it before Aug. 31 when most of these pieces will disappear into people’s homes.

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