Local Artist Paints the Nightmare to Live the Dream

Bryan Collins at work in his studio

By Maggie Canty-Shafer

The Fort Collins art scene has been dealt its share of criticism, oftentimes from the source itself. The common complaint – that if one’s work doesn’t fit into the landscape and/or Southwest imagery genre, you’re fighting a losing battle – seems to keep many artists wary of settling anywhere north of Denver.

Ironically, it’s the same complaint that keeps Bryan Collins pulling out his paintbrush every day.

“It’s more important to build a scene than to join one,” he said of settling in Fort Collins. “The soil is fertile for an awesome art scene and it’s gaining momentum.Why can’t Fort Collins have a national art scene?”

Collins, who started drawing while still in diapers, displayed his art most recently at the Gallery Underground, which recently closed. His work, self-described as whimsical surrealism, combines cartoon and children’s storybook thematic imagery with a darker, macabre edge. It’s as if Poe’s The Raven was made into a Disney movie.

His colorful characters and imaginative settings bring out the child in the viewer, while the nightmarish monsters remind them what lies under the bed – the darkness in this world, and perhaps more frighteningly, in ourselves.

“That’s what adults are: Kids pretending to be serious,” he said. “But you’re still just a kid. Kids will see the grim message and remember they have issues too.”

His efforts to strengthen and nourish an art scene in Fort Collins include displaying in places where his art becomes part of the environment, not the catalyst. Putting art up in coffee shops, alleyways, restaurants and bars brings his emotionally inspiring and attention-demanding pieces to people who otherwise wouldn’t have sought them out. So commuters become viewers and coffee shoppers, critics. At the end of the day, everyone becomes an art lover and the world, a gallery.

“My passion is for getting new people into art,” he said. “People who like it but don’t know yet that they like it.”

Collins never went to art school and walked out of the only college-level art class he ever took. He didn’t choose painting as a career, but rather as an outlet – a coping mechanism as natural as breathing.

“When I was a teenager, life was so confusing that the only place I felt at peace was at my drafting table,” he said. “It was where I could put these intangible questions into tangible things to process them. Everyone has a different way of dealing with emotional struggles. Art is the way I vent, and it has always worked for me.”

Collins’ tools of choice are acrylic paint and colored pencil, but he also uses watercolor, pastels, scratchboard and whatever else his current project demands. He’s often inspired by the outdoors, his two young children, dreams, nightmares and the paradoxes of life that arise when least expected.

A drive home galvanized a painting when he witnessed a grizzled and tattooed man on a Harley, for instance. A tough character at first glance, the biker passed Collins’ car and Collins caught glimpse of a bouquet of flowers carefully strapped to his back and on their way to an unknown recipient.

Naturally occurring contrasts and glimpses into the heart and character, like the flower-carrying biker, make their way into his work and bring it to life, offering realism to the exaggerated and animated subjects.

Collins has been creating full-time for over three years, and plans to continue as long as the current art climate will allow.

“My kids just being kids help me remember the message,” he said. “To be carefree and keep enjoying it. When I don’t, I start to view it as work. I’d rather be poor and happy than rich and unhappy.”

Bryan Collins currently has art in shows across the U.S. and the U.K. You can see his work at upcoming shows in Fort Collins at CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing (5 Old Town Square) throughout this month and also at NewWestFest in August. See and purchase Collins’ art at bacstudio.com or reach him by email at bryan@bacstudio.com.

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