One to Watch

Surrealist Storytelling with Cam Collins

It all starts with a face. Once a human figure is drawn in, Cam Collins works outwards to build surreal and chaotic scenes, listening to the emergent personalities and actions of his central characters to construct the narratives as he goes. Of course, a narrative doesn’t end once the paper is filled to its edges—with fantastical figures and otherworldly settings, Cam intends for his viewers to bring their own stories to his work. In their density and level of detail, Cam’s drawings bid us to get lost, shocked, amused, and puzzled amid the absurdity that lies therein. Rendered in fine line work, these scenes reflect both the artist’s automatic output of his own inner world and the unfiltered influence of popular culture.

A recent graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, Cam has exhibited in numerous shows in Los Angeles and Chicago, where he based. Most recently, he was selected as Fair Director’s Pick at The Other Art Fair Chicago.

Tell us about who you are and what you do. What’s your background?

I’m Cam Collins and I mainly draw. It’s super fun for me and always has been, and I like that people can tell I have fun in my drawings. Career-wise, my background is doing a lot of album covers and art requests for tour posters and shirt designs. Besides that, I like to draw intricate works that are fun for me to draw continuously, and I was even able to get a solo show of my own to showcase a lot of it [recently]. I’ve just graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Printmaking. I am still young, so there is much more to do.

What does your work aim to say? What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

I think it is safe for me to say each piece of mine has its own agenda and plot, but a common theme is abundance no matter what. If the theme of my work is abundance, then that allows me to draw many things. Of course, if there is conflict between the figures and their intentions with the objects around them, then there can be a narrative that drives me to complete the piece. For example, Anatomy of a Missile is a piece about a brother and sister who use mysterious sources to create a missile. In front of them is a diorama of a city that they are planning to destroy. This is actually the first part of the story that is continued on a Levi’s jacket I drew on with a piece titled Datatown, which showcases the town awaiting the missile.

By abundance, do you simply mean visual abundance, or does that term take on other meanings?

By abundance, I mean the possession of many items. Of course I also mean visual abundance, but to support me having visual abundance in my work, I feel comfortable making narratives where many items are in one’s possession, which leads to a character who may have an air of greed.

Can you walk us through your process for creating a work from beginning to end?

I always just start with the human part of it. Once I know the human involved I can make an attempt at being like the human and surrounding them with the objects I think they could interact best with. Once those are in place, I can add more humans and more objects that will talk to me and feed me information on what this piece is really about. It may be a bit odd to phrase it like that, but it really does feel like the piece is telling me what to do for it.

How do the narratives in your work emerge?

The narratives in the work emerge through me continuously working on it. The piece is telling me what is going on and they tell me where to put what and so on. It is nice that the piece does it for me, and I think it really adds its own life to the work.

How did you get into printmaking? And do you find that your drawing practice differs from the way you approach printmaking?

I got into printmaking because I went to an art trade from an advertisement flyer I found, and the people inside told me that it was the Printmaking building. The people I traded art with said my work would be really suited for printmaking, so I got into it. They were right. Printmaking has a process, so I must follow its rules. It is a break from my pieces telling me what the rules in their world are, so instead I must follow the real world rules. I think it grounds me a bit, and it is satisfying when I see something I do in the real world elevate my fiction.

What series or artistic project are you working on next?

Right now I’m still doing covers but I am also developing games. I am planning on learning how to work in Unity to continue developing those types of projects, but I am also applying to graduate school at SAIC to get my MFA in Printmaking. I am also making a ten-page coloring book right now that is about toys trying to find their creator. I think regardless of what I’m doing, creating stories will be ad infinitum.

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