Originally published in Taos News
Most of the painters, writers and musicians that I have interviewed for this column rely on different sources of income, with very few working full-time at their art.
“One can’t make here it as an artist,” is a phrase I hear way too often. So it was a refreshing surprise to meet Charles Collins, owner of Charles Collins Gallery and a Taos Master, who tells me that he lives exclusively off the proceeds of his sculptures, prints and paintings—though he added quickly that it also happens “by the grace of God.”
“I try to keep positive and focused,” he said. “Of course, you can’t forget the practical aspects of doing business, like keeping the store open as many hours as possible. This gallery is open seven days a week.”
Another key issue for a successful artist is having good people skills.
“You need to be able to talk to prospective clients about your art,” Collins said. “Not necessarily talk them into buying it, but show them what you can do and highlight your best pieces.”
Collins’ bronze tri-sculptures
Whenever visitors come in the gallery, Collins demonstrates how his unique bronze tri-sculptures fir together, which makes it possible to display them as one item or three individual pieces.
“They are based on the concept that everything is interconnected,” he said. “I believe in the multiplication of energy, the possibility of creating something more powerful than the sum of its parts.”
He always arranges the sculptural units in groups of three interlocking pieces.
“Three is the number of perfection and of persons in the Holy Trinity,” he said.
From pottery to painting
Collins came to Taos in 1976 because he saw a pottery for sale, Ranchos de Taos Pottery, and decided to buy it. He owned it for four years.
“It was a great experience,” he said, “but then my art started evolving and I developed my paintings and sculptures. I also learned to do giclee prints, which have kept me in business over the years. There is a whole room full of them at the gallery.”
After he sold the pottery, Collins began to exhibit his work and spent ten years at the Kachina Lodge.
“A wonderful place,” he said. “I have great memories of it.”
But Collins needed a bigger space, with more access to people, so he moved to his current location in the McCarthy Plaza, where he has been for ten years.
Honors and awards
A proclamation making August 6th Charles Collins Day in New Mexico, issued by Governor Johnson in 1999, hangs from a gallery wall.
“At that time my pieces were at the Kachina Lodge and Governor Johnson was there for a conference about education,” Collins said. “He looked at them and said, ‘Charles, you are like a star, shining light on everyone.’”
As an artist, you hope for that kind of recognition, Collins said, and yet, it is always surprising when it happens.
“My work has made me the most awarded artist in the history of the Taos Fall Arts Festival,” he said. “My bronze sculpture The Ambassadors Meet in Washington is the only one awarded Best of Show in the Festival. And I have always felt really happy to receive such recognition, and honored and humbled as well.”
Advice: have a body of work
His main advice to young painters and sculptors who want to start living off their art is to amass a volume of work, one hundred pieces or more, that they can display in their own space or show to gallery owners.
“Gallerists and investors want to know that that you are committed artist, not someone who has only made a few pieces,” he said. “They also want to see your style and how your work has evolved over the years. A good body of work shows your depth as an artist.”
Working as a team
Charles Collins Gallery currently exhibits the work of Timothy Bunn, Arlo Guthrie and Marcie Sweet Brown, besides Collins’ art.
Brown, Collins and Collins’ sister, Jo, take turns working at the gallery. They are now looking for another artist who wants to exhibit there and share responsibilities.
“We would like to find a morning person,” Collins said, “someone who is available to be at the gallery from nine a.m. to one p.m.”
Looking for models
Collins is also in search of models for a new photography project.
“It will be about the triumph of the human spirit reflected through the physical form,” he said. “There is a lot of beauty in Taos and I would like to portray it.”
Interested people can call Collins or just pass by the gallery.
State of the art business in Taos
Collins sees it as picking up again.
“Things are moving on,” he said. “I think that this summer will be a good season for all of us.”
He says that the artistic community should do more advertising on the national level.
“We need to let people out there know what we are doing,” he said. “Because we are doing a lot.”
Charles Collins Gallery is located at 115 McCarthy Plaza (adjacent to Taos Plaza).