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Gift Horses

Ashley Collins’ inspirations fuel her philanthropic career

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TOP Breathe, mixed media triptych; BOTTOM May 12, mixed media diptych on panel.

Collins’ large-format, multimedia wood panels combine diverse elements to achieve a holistic harmony. Layer upon layer of pages—yellowing, aged paper from dictionaries, books and other mysterious texts—are hidden beneath painted words and washes of color. Iron- and copper-based paints are left in and allowed to rust and bleed. The organic result gives the pieces a feeling of age, of time passing.

“The first step,” Collins said, “is covering the panel with pages of books. This first layer is about the information we are bombarded with every day. Over these come layer upon layer of images, which are about love and kindness.” The total effect is one of balance. These juxtapositions—of chaos with calm, of power with mindfulness—rest within the work’s literal and metaphorical layers.

Some paintings are joined by a poem written by the artist on the reverse side. “The wonderful thing about the poems is that they are truly intended for, and speak to, the ultimate owner of the work. They are from my hand and my heart,” Collins said.

In “January 20,” a painting dedicated to the inauguration of President Barack Obama, an iconic horse head prominently encompasses most of the panel. In its poem, Collins wrote, “On this day a new hope, a new change for this country, for this world, if we choose.”

Gilman recalls the morning she first saw the work. “The President had been recently sworn in, so the title, which is written within the work, has a powerful message. The horse’s head in the forefront is so commanding, the scale of the work itself evokes a sense of pride.”

Collins’ paintings have been acquired by global business tycoons, Hollywood celebrities and serious international collectors, and the success has afforded her once unthinkable opportunities. She travels extensively and has taken up residence for weeks and even months at a time in places like Cambodia, Laos and Israel. And since balance is a key component not only to her paintings, but also to her actions, Collins has pursued ever-greater, and farther-flung, philanthropic goals. She has helped fund a girls’ school in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco and sponsored an orphanage in Cambodia.

“This is truly a case of using the celebrity of the work to give back and help others,” she said. From Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains to the unknown, impoverished villages she has touched in far corners of the globe, Collins is working hard to leave a world better than the one she found.



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