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James Collins

James Collins (Born in Northampton, UK in 1939) was a conceptual artist, photographer, painter and writer-critic. Moving to the USA at the age of 31 he frequently travelled back and forth between the countries until finally settling in his land of birth until his death in 2021.

 

His earliest work was as an art theorist and he found a home in the US wing of the conceptual art group Art & Language that was based around Joseph Kosuth and the Fox publication. He wrote a number of articles for the group and also a number of stand alone important artist’s books such as Revision and Prescription in 1971 but was criticised by some in the British wing, of the oft intolerant group, because of his commercial articles in art magazines. He exhibited in the important Narrative Art exhibition in Galerie Templon, Paris in 1979 and before that in Lucy Lippard’s 3,549,000 conceptual initiative in Buenos Aires.

 

In the mid 70s Collins created a number of very important conceptual art works usually referred to as Introduction Pieces – he accosted strangers in the street and asked them to take part in small, easy actions (such as showing him some treasured item in their possession or introducing two strangers to each other). Usually these works were accompanied by photographs by Collins or even a commercial produced strip of portraits if they could be persuaded to follow the artist to one of the photobooths usually found in London’s train stations and post offices. He also collected signed certificates by the participants indicating their agreement to be taking part in a work of art: sometimes those certificates were in themselves the artwork. These clearly conceptual works overlapped the artist’s increasing interest in photography.

 

He began to be better known as a photographer in the mid-1970s when a series of colour and b/w images of himself typically gazing at women – usually with a considered physical or abstracted gap between them – were exhibited giving the impression of alienation or even distrust between the figures. These works were often considered as part of an emerging movement concerned with inferred narrative in art called “Story Art” along with other artists such as Bill Beckley, Mac Adams and Peter Hutchinson. His later photographic career was even more concerned with erotica – with his hiring models to pose for him often with a mild sexual frisson.

 

His method of creation usually took the form of short Super 8 films from which he selected still images for display. In some installations (such as at Documenta 6) he showed still images alongside the films as installations.

 

Collin’s career continued with him creating many paintings in pastel or oils again of women (usually using photography or film as source material) but his seeming obsession with the female form and its sexuality became tired and even objectionable with the rise in feminist criticism of the “male gaze”. By 1988 as exhibitions began to be less frequent he regarded his career as being in the doldrums and while he continued to paint (mostly in pastels), he became something of a recluse with depression and other mental health issues. He continued to take photographs throughout his late career but the imagery was often his own painted works.

 

While the criticism of his pronounced “male gaze” is a fair one, Collins artistic practice is both historically and aesthetically important – some have suggested his post-modernist objectification of gender roles predates the work of Richard Prince and Jeff Koons and much of his mid-career and late photographic output may be seen as studies in gender psychology. His death in 2021 was sadly a lonely one.

DOMESTIC DIALOGUE. 1978. UNIQUE WORK WITH DRAWING. SIGNED & DATED.

102 x 76cm backing panel with a single 59 x 87cm c-print. The image of Collins looking at the red headed woman is in front of a flat red painted wall with various objects placed on it. Below the photograph Collins has cut away the backing board and placed an original 6.5 x 12cm black ink on paper drawing which shows the artist's composition he had planned in aadvance. There is very minor grubbiness to the backing card  which could be removed with care and some wear at the corners but the c-print is in near fine condition. A unique work which is signed under the drawing in pencil and dated "'78".

UNTITLED. c. 1982. TEN C-PRINTS MAKING UP A WHOLE.

102 x 76cm backing panel with hand drawn keylines by Collins upon which are mounted ten different c-prints of different sizes and shapes. The six panels make up a greater image of the artist's shadow looking at a shadow of a female below other items on a patterned wallpaper and a house plant. There is very minor grubbiness to the backing card  which could be removed with care and some wear at the corners but the c-print is in near fine condition. A unique work but unsigned and priced thus.

£750.00

WATCHING SUZANNE (DOMESTIC DIALOGUE). 1977. SIX C-PRINTS MAKING UP A WHOLE. UNIQUE WORK. SIGNED, TITLED & DATED.

80 x 66cm backing panel with hand drawn keylines by Collins upon which are mounted six 23 x 29.5cm, c-prints. The thresixpanels make up a greater image of the artist  looking at a female's face in front of a blue painted wall with other elements (flowers and photographs) mounted on it. There is some wear at the corners of the backing card and the bottom left corner has a heavy stain on it which would be hard to remove and other marks elsewhere but the c-prints are all in near fine condition. A unique work which has been signed and dated on the right in pencil by Collins and titled on the left. Priced to reflect damage.

£850.00

CAN YOU LIFT YOUR SKIRT, MARILYN?/CAN I LIFT YOUR SKIRT?. 1974. TWO UNIQUE PHOTOGRAPHS. SIGNED.

102 x 76cm backing panel with handwritten text by Collins and two 34.5 x 23cm, unique c-print showing a model firstly holding up her own skirt to show her panties and then a second image of Collins lifting her skirt with the texts "CAN YOU LIFT YOUR SKIRT, MARILYN?" and "CAN I LIFT YOUR SKIRT?" under each. The additional text in pencil reads "As Marilyn, a girl I'd met in the Garment Center, Manhattan, was a complete stranger I liked the idea of persuading her to break not one but two cultural rules. She not only lifted her skirt, she let me lift it too." " A conceptual underpinning to Collin's photographic work that else at times seems voyeuristic. There is some minor grubbiness to the backing card (a footprint!) which could be removed with care and some wear at the corners but the c-prints are in near fine condition. Signed and dated ('74) by Collins bottom right. A unique work.

£995.00

IMAGINING YVETTE 2. 1975. UNIQUE WORK. SIGNED, TITLED & DATED ON REVERSE.

102 x 76cm backing panel with a single 102 x 76cm c-print tipped on. The image is of Collins in the foreground "imagining" his subject who unbeknown to him has exposed her breasts taken from a super-8 film the artist made. This panel is signed and titled "Imagining Yvette" 1974 on the reverse of the card but there is a schematic dawning that indicates that this is part of a diptych but sadly the other panel is missing - priced thus.

£600.00

WATCHING SUZANNE 2. 1975. UNIQUE WORK. SIGNED, TITLED & DATED ON REVERSE.

102 x 76cm backing panel with a single 102 x 76cm c-print tipped on. The image is of Collins in the background "imagining" his subject who is shown smiling in the foreground This panel is signed and titled "Watching Suzanne" 1974 on the reverse of the card but there is a schematic dawning that indicates that this is part of a diptych but sadly the other panel is missing - priced thus.

£600.00

NIGHT MOVES (VERSION C). 1977. HUGE NINE-PART UNIQUE PHOTOGRAPHIC WORK. SIGNED, TITLED & DATED ON REVERSE.

Nine different 76 x 102cm backing panels with each with a single 76 x 102cm c-print tipped on it - the whole making up three triptychs and overall a 228 x 306cm image! The work consists of Collins lying naked on a bed with different colour sheets looking at a different woman - each image a composite of three separate photographs. This is the work that was exhibited at Documenta by Collins in 1977. A massive unique work which is signed and titled "Night Moves (Version C) " 1974 on the reverse of each and the relative position of each image in the larger work indicated by a sketch. The work can be displayed as one large work or three triptychs. Minor edge wear and rippling to the backing cards but overall VG+ condition.

£8,500.00

UNTITLED (MARILYN SHOWING HER PANTIES/COLLINS SHOWING HER PANTIES)). 1974. TWO UNIQUE PHOTOGRAPHS. SIGNED.

51 x 76cm backing panel with two 23.5 x 18.5cm, unique c-prints showing a model (Marilyn) firstly showing her panties with a smile on her face and then a second image of Collins pulling down her skirt to also show the mildly erotic image. This work relates to a larger work by Collins ( "CAN YOU LIFT YOUR SKIRT, MARILYN?" and "CAN I LIFT YOUR SKIRT?") from the same years. The work is signed and dated "'74" in pencil along the bottom of the backing card. There is some grubbiness to the backing card probably from past framing which could be removed with care and some wear at the corners and edges but the c-prints are in near fine condition if a little over-red in colouration. This is a unique work.

£500.00