American Artist Interview with the Painter Jacob Collins

Male Figure by Jacob Collins (Graphite and white chalk on paper, 2001) From Jacob Collins’ website.

If there is one living painter who combines talent, practiced craft, and high intellect, it’s Jacob Collins. Based in New York City, he is one of a small group of contemporary painters looking back at the tradition of Academic painting.

Thinking Man by Jacob Collins (Oil on canvas, 30 X 20 in., 2004). From Jacob Collins’ website.

Last year, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend with Jacob. His passion is electrifying. With it, he has opened three schools for the training of new artists in traditional academic techiniques, such as rigorous draftsmanship, first from plaster casts and, then, nude models. He is uncompromising in his approach to his own work and instills the same in his own students. The results can be seen in his own work.

Fire Island Sunset by Jacob Collins (Oil, 2004, 24 X 38 in.) Private Collection. Illustrated on the American Artist Magazine website.

Allison Malifronte of American Artist Magazine recently talked with Jacob. The interview pincipally focuses on his latest school, The Hudson River School for Landscape, based on the group of artists from the nineteenth century by the same name. Here is an excerpt from Malifronte’s conversation. (Note “AA” refers to American Artist Magazine, not a twelve-step program.):

AA: If you could offer an aspiring landscape painter one piece of advice, what would it be?

JC: Last year I read Asher B. Durand’s “Letters on Landscape Painting,” and I was struck by the advice he gave to aspiring landscape artists to draw the individual pieces of the landscape for as long as it takes to understand them before putting it all together. He recommended perhaps even years of drawing branches of trees and rocks, outcroppings, and clusters of trees with a sharp pencil, seeing them as the alphabet of the landscape. I was impressed with his analogy that trying to paint a landscape without learning this alphabet was like trying to write a novel without learning the letters and words of language.

(For the full article, click here.)

As lover of art, I appreciate this kind coverage of Jacob Collins. It shows that there is a greater diversity in current art production than glossy magazines and blockbuster contemporary exhibitions would lead many to believe. And, Malifronte’s interview focuses on the craftsmanship of Jacob’s work. Her questions do a wonderful job of capturing what drives his passion on ground level, not just a 10,000-foot view of his work. This is an approach that makes American Artist Magazine such a valuable resource for not only artists, but for art historians, dealers, and collectors of art. (No, they did not pay me to write that.)

As an art historian, it allows me to understand what is happening in the mind of an artist looking back at the nineteenth century that doesn’t survive in remaining nineteenth century journals. I have read Eugene Delacroix’s journals (and others’), and I do not feel that he wrote much of his working method down in a context that we can easily piece it together. This could be because he lived in a culture where much of his approach was ubiquitous and mundane. The shortening of Jacob’s name in the article to “JC” may be most appropriate because he is resurrecting not just the art, but the understanding–and, therefore, the appreciation–of it.

For more paintings by Jacob Collins, I highly suggest visiting his website here. It has a large collection of images of his work. (My only complaint is that there is not more recent work available on it.)

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