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He was born in Chudleigh, England, and was largely a self-taught artist. He first exhibited with the Royal Academy in 1893. He moved to Canada with his family in 1910 and began living at the north end of Shuswap Lake on Seymour Arm. The family started by living in a tent, and eventually built a log cabin, on land purchased from the Seymour Arm Fruit Lands Company. Although their fruit trees were killed in the winter of 1916, the Collings family stayed on.
A London art dealer, who was particularly struck by examples of Collings paintings that he had seen, actually travelled to Collings home "thirty-five miles from the railway and civilization", (that "civilization" being Kamloops, B.C.) to acquire paintings to sell in London. This led to a solo exhibition in London of Collings work in June 1912. He also earned the sobriquet "Recluse of the Rockies", from the isolated location of his home.
In 1921 Collings exhibited with the Island Arts and Crafts Society in Victoria, B.C.
He developed a unique method of water colour painting that remains as distinctive and appealing as it was in his time. In 1912, an appreciative article on Collings work by British artist Val Davis, a member of the Royal British Academy of Arts, was published in the October 15th issue of The Studio. Davis lauds the colours of Colling's paintings, and also comments on his own amazement that such a new technique should have been developed after hundreds of years of watercolour painting.
The "new technique" was actually quite simple, although it didn't seem to be known to the public. According to one source, Collings would paint a watercolour, and then sandwich it between two panes of glass while the painting was still wet. He would leave the painting between the layers of glass for a period of time, then remove the painting and dry it. The result of this process was a magical merging and defocussing of colours and shapes. Presumably he had a variety of techniques for doing the actual painting, and no doubt found a balance between the amount of wetness and the length of time the painting spent sandwiched in the glass. Additionally, the type of paper he used, the sizing of the paper, any treatment he did to the paper prior to painting, and the types of watercolour paint used, would also have affected the outcome. He also soaked his watercolour paper for as long as two days before starting to paint. It is probable that he spent a lot of time experimenting before he "got it right". But once he got it right, the results were sublime. The colours are distinct yet somehow continuous, luminous and impressionistic while retaining the sense of the original detail.
In 1924 and 1930 Collings exhibited work at the Vancouver Exhibition. In 1928 he served as a Juror for the First Annual International Salon of Water Colors, held under the auspices of the Provincial Exhibition of British Columbia at the Bursill Gallery in New Westminster, B.C. He was listed in the exhibition catalogue as "John C. Collins (sic), Artist, Shuswap Lake, B.C.". Additionally, he displayed a "Group of Water Colors", courtesy of Mr. And Mrs. J. Fyfe Smith of Vancouver. The other jurors for that exhibition were Charles H. Scott, Bessie Adelaide Fry, and John Vanderpant.
Collings was one of only three local artists to display work in The Founders Collection, the first exhibition held at the Vancouver Art Gallery when it opened in October 1931. It is possible that his two watercolours were purchased in England and "reclaimed" to British Columbia. He had a solo exhibition at the gallery in 1940.
Collings died at home on Seymour Arm, Shuswap Lake, in 1931.
|1940 June 25 - July 14||Watercolours||VAG|
|1924 Aug. 9 - 16||Vancouver Exhibition Annual Exhibition||Seascape|
|1928 Sept. 3 - 8||Provincial Exhibition
1st Annual International Salon of Water Colors
|Group of Water Colors|
|1929 October||BCAL Citizens' Loan of W/C||The Deserted Camp|
|Homes of the Cariboo|
|Dartmouth Castle, Devon|
|Home of the Bear|
|In the Cotton Belt|
|The Last of His Tribe|
|Early Morning on the Teigh|
|The Deserted Homestead|
|1930 Aug. 6 - 16||VanExh Oil Paintings & Water-colours||Home of the Cariboo - Cotton Belt, B.C.|
|1931 October 5 - ?||Vancouver Art Gallery
The Founder's Collection
|Shuswap Lake, B.C.|
|Mountain Study, near Lytton, B.C.|
CONTEMPORARIES OF EMILY CARR IN BRITISH COLUMBIA (refer to SFU74)
AN EXHIBITION OF OUR COLLECTION OF
EARLY WESTERN CANADIAN WATERCOLORS (refer to UL78)
KATHARINE EMMA MALTWOOD - ARTIST (refer to UVIC81)
OUR CHANGING LANDSCAPE (2008) (refer to BAG08)
HOPE AT DAWN: WATERCOLOURS BY EMILY CARR
AND CHARLES JOHN COLLINGS (refer to VAG12)
EARLY PAINTERS AND ENGRAVERS IN CANADA
(refer to H70)
Includes short reference to Collings.
ISLAND ARTS AND CRAFTS SOCIETY - List of Exhibitors
THE DICTIONARY OF BRITISH ARTISTS 1880 - 1940 (refer to DBA76)
CHARLES JOHN COLLINGS: THE RECLUSE OF THE ROCKIES by Maria Tippett
The Canadian Alpine Journal, Volume 60, 1977, pages 30 - 32
Biography and two works illustrated; reprinted from The Beaver, Autumn 1975
ROYAL CANADIAN ACADEMY OF ARTS -
EXHIBITIONS & MEMBERS 1880 - 1979 (refer to RCA81)
ARTISTS IN CANADA 1982 - UNION LIST OF ARTISTS' FILES (refer to AIC82)
A DICTIONARY OF CANADIAN ARTISTS (refer to M)
BIOGRAPHICAL INDEX OF ARTISTS IN CANADA
(refer to BIAC03)
14 references listed for Collings.
TAMING THE FRONTIER: ART & WOMEN IN THE CANADIAN WEST 1880 - 1920
July 2005; by Virgina G. Berry, copyright Margaret Berry and Julie Berry Melynk.
188 pages softcover; illustrated, footnotes, bibliography, index
Centered on Winnipeg, but has early references to Collings.
ART INSPIRED BY THE CANADIAN ROCKIES, PURCELL
MOUNTAINS AND SELKIRK MOUNTAINS 1809-2012 (refer to TOWN12)
VANCOUVER PUBLIC LIBRARY - B.C. ARTISTS FILES (refer to VPL)
"Collings' Works Shown at Gallery" by (unknown)
Vancouver Sun, June 28, 1940
"Fine Water Colour Show at Gallery" by (unknown)
News-Herald, June 27, 1940
"Work of Noted Water Colorist at Gallery" by M.A.E.
Daily Province, June 24, 1940
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