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Gift Horses

Ashley Collins’ inspirations fuel her philanthropic career

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Ashley Collins in her Venice, California, studio, working on a large scale canvas.

Inspired by the generous love and hope on display each summer at Cathedral Pines, Collins created a work of art specifically for Gilman’s “Moments and Bliss” benefit show. The multimedia painting, entitled “Courage,” incorporates personal belongings, pictures and newspaper clips sent to the artist by the campers. Some became a literal part of the finished work while others were expressed metaphorically. To Collins, the idea was to integrate “the hearts and spirits of the kids into the material.”

In Collins’ work, as in her own experience, the horse is a symbol of love and honesty. It was a horse named Chief who, in her teen years, offered the only sense of comfort she knew. The animal accepted Collins at a time in her life when her family would not. They shunned her desire to paint, treating it as a disturbing abnormality to be kept hidden rather than a talent and passion to be encouraged. Through his acceptance and love, Chief taught her an understanding of grace and courage that would last as a driving, symbolic force in her career. She spent every free moment of her time with the gentle Appaloosa; in his presence she felt safe and loved. “He was,” she said, “my greatest teacher in both life and art.”

<i>Silk</i>, mixed media (oil on 15-year-old aged paper, resin-fired finish). She incorporated the lessons of this initiation directly into her work. She began to paint horses with bold but elegant black brush strokes that depicted the beasts as sensitive, strong, wise and cautious. An intimate understanding informs these works, and the relationship with Chief is enshrined. His tenderness is felt, his patience is understood and the love that Collins remembers radiates forth.

Gilman finds the paintings inspiring. “The way [Collins] captures the spirit of the horse in these figurative works is powerful. I am overwhelmed with the sense of hope and faith. They are uplifting.” Such appreciation from a gallery owner is significant in light of Collins’ early career struggles.

In the 1980s, several galleries rebuffed Collins’ attempts to enter the Los Angeles art scene. Many said that horse imagery was inappropriate material for fine art. This narrow vision prolonged Collins’ career journey, but did little to deter or dissuade her.

She developed a friendship with the famed modern artist Robert Rauschenberg, who filled a mentor role for the young artist. On the subject of all artists’ inevitable struggle with acceptance, Rauschenberg told her to believe in her own vision, the critics be damned.

“He told me that all of those voices that said a horse painting cannot be contemporary art will be silenced if you are strong enough and fierce enough to fight for the work,” she recalled. Collins’ heeded Rauschenberg’s advice. Her quest was successful and those who know her or collect her work now have the good fortune of witnessing and sharing the lessons Collins picked up along the way. >>>



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