There is something undeniably natural about the wide range of textures and tones Marlene Collins demonstrates in her latest showing of work titled, Seed.
“I think pretty much any theme I could have gone with, my work would still really focus on the textural surfaces and the earth tones,” Collins explains. “I can go back to work. I did as a teenager and, you know, my palette hasn’t changed.”
Seed incorporates a range of sculptural vessels with a selection of flat, mixed-media creations and a large installation piece in the Arts Underground Gallery.
Three vases are perched on stark-white plinths. The vessels (made of hand-built clay) strikingly resemble age-old artifacts with smoke-fired exteriors that are delicately detailed with linear drawings of swallows. Off-kilter and imperfect openings continue that rough, worn aesthetic.
Adjacent to the vases lies a large vessel titled, Nesting. Its coarse interior is lined with a bundle of dried grasses, further engaging the essence of the natural. And Collins has brought this and many of the works, in Seed, to life with soft folds and bends in the clay that are a departure from the polished ceramic styles many might be used to.
“I didn’t know that much about clay. And a friend talked me into taking one of her workshops,” Collins says, referring to artist Samantha Dickie who first introduced her to the medium.
“I ended up not being crazy about the wheel, but I really took to the handbuilding. From that point I have to say Sam really influenced me that way.”
Collins favours a textured, natural aesthetic over shiny finishes for her work. And over the last few years she’s experimented with techniques and styles – not to mention oxide chemistry and smoke firing – to find her own relationship with the medium.
“Until you sort of start down that road, you don’t realize what a huge medium clay is. You’re dealing with the process, which is very unique,” she explains.
“But you’re also dealing with form and you’re dealing with finish. And, of course, the unity of all of those things.”
For Seed, Collins employed copper carbonate and red iron oxides to develop the hues and speckled finishes.
In works such as Opening and Matured, she achieves a juxtaposition of off-whites and muted green-grey tones that penetrate the forms, creating a marble-like appearance. The sculptures themselves are gourd-shaped, and Collins’ use of texture and oxides breathes a sense of life into the otherwise-static works.
Collins is no stranger to the Whitehorse arts scene: she’s not only the program administrator for Arts Underground, but also an exhibiting artist. However, Seed marks her first full showing of sculptural works.
“It’s a very different way of working. When I paint, I’m in my head a lot because there’s a lot of thought that goes into painting, for me,” she says. “I find when I work with the clay, it’s more instinctive. I feel like it’s coming more from my body, almost. For me, it’s more of a soothing experience.”
As for the theme, Collins admits in her artist statement that it’s something she could explore for the rest of her life “and only scratch the surface”.
“You can take really obvious natural or spiritual takes on it,” she explains.
“No matter who you are or what your values are, you are able to relate on some level because really it’s about life and death and things that affect us all.”
She explains that the theme examines objects or concepts that are “an integral part of the intricately connected webs and cycles of co-existence.”
A smaller cone-shaped vessel, titled Trumpet, evokes thoughts of war as handmade bullets spill out of its opening.
In a completely different context and aesthetic, a trio of swallow paintings reveal delicate imagery and gritty textures fusing together. The result is a metal grid peeking out from under a rough, thick layer of concrete that is softened by a painting on its surface of a bird traversing through a warm-coloured sky.
Collins’ work with clay has developed through courses and workshops, over time. But each work in Seed was astonishingly created within the last two months after another show cancelled.
And while Collins declares she’s exhausted from it, she is prepared to see where her sculptural works go from here.
“I feel like I’ve got the tools now that I’m able to express what I want to express.”
Marlene Collins’ exhibit, Seed, will be on display at Arts Underground until May 29.