AN INTERVIEW WITH TROY COLLINS
An image, a snapshot, a picture in his head. That’s how Troy Collins begins each painting. He visualizes the image and colors and, not unlike Mozart copying a completed concerto onto paper from his mind, Troy transfers his completed vision onto canvas. He has been creatively visualizing since he was a boy and later as a landscape designer and, finally, as a painter.
“I could look at this dirt field and see where the flower beds need to go -- the design, the layout and everything -- and I just thought this was normal,” he said. “And I do the same thing now with painting. I can look at a blank canvas and then I’ll start to see the image and the color palette and things just come together on a canvas.”
Like many artists, his education and experience didn’t set him on an immediate path toward a career in art. Troy attended college on a football scholarship while working at a landscaping company. After graduating with a degree in education, Troy moved from Montana to Idaho, where he taught and coached for two years. But as much as he enjoyed it, that career did not provide him with the artistic outlet he craved.
“There was something missing. It was being able to use my hands and my creativity and being outside. I loved being outside. When I was going to college I worked for landscape companies, and I loved it. We’d go visit different job sites, and I was doing things and using my creativity.” he said. “That was more how I was wired than sitting in a classroom, so I decided to start my own little landscape company.”
From humble beginnings, which included installing a sprinkler system from the back of his 1982 Camaro, Troy built his small but successful landscaping business. Along, the way, he met an artist named Robert Moore, who liked Troy’s working style and hired him as an assistant during off-season months, a move which permanently altered the trajectory of Troy’s life.
“My job was to do everything under the sun to keep him painting, like cleaning brushes, sweeping the studio, stretching and prepping canvases, and framing. I did everything that an artist has to do after the painting is done to get it out to the galleries. That was my job,” he said. “And once I was done doing everything I could do to keep him busy, I would set my own canvas up and just try to play around and tinker with it.”
Seeing his interest and potential, Moore offered to teach Troy how to paint. And for the next several years, they painted together, and Troy learned, improved, refined, and waited until the day he was ready to show his work in a gallery. When that day came, Moore helped him secure placement in a prestigious Oregon gallery full of works by accomplished and award-winning artists. That beginning triumph led him to representation in more premier galleries over the years, including Montana Trails.
“I just kept working hard and producing and learning and growing. Then I’d still get together with [Moore] a couple times a year. Still, to this day, every time I am around him I continue to learn and grow and push, so he’s continued to be my mentor,” he said. “It was like I had my very own professor from Harvard shadowing me, and me being the only student, for four to five years. It was just the most incredible thing.”
One of the first things that strikes viewers about Troy’s paintings is his distinct use of color, which are often bright, unexpected, and uplifting. Troy said he learned how to make fresh use of color during his time with Moore, who is, in fact, color blind.
“When I was assisting [Moore] he would ask me about a certain color, and I would have to define it, and I’d have to remember how to get those certain colors. And so in assisting him when he was painting, I was really paying attention to color, not knowing that I was learning so much about color at the same time,” he said. “The color was really easy and natural. It still is. It just came easily for me because of his training and teaching.”
Once Troy set out on his painting journey, he saw his perspective begin to shift, and his creativity flourished.
“I see the world as much different since I started painting,” he said. “Because now everything I look at is a potential painting. And I’m always looking at the color and value and hue relationships of everything that I’m looking at. So I’m constantly mixing colors in my mind, thinking about how I would compose that, and what would make it a strong painting. It’s a pretty interesting world to live in.”
Troy says he does not begin a painting before he has a vision in his mind. He looks at the blank canvas and creates the painting in his mind first. Then he takes very thin layers of color and stains the canvas in the shapes that he sees in his mind, creating a rough sketch and what he calls “parameters” for the next steps.
“I go to the pallet knives. I’ve got one in each hand and I’m mixing into two or three different colors, and I’m matching the value notes that I have already [painted] on the canvas that are very thin,” he said. “Then the last, probably, 10 percent is when [I call on] all the experience and expertise of the drawing and the proper stepping and making sure relationships between certain masses are true to nature.”
When his apprenticeship with Moore began to wind down and his art career began to take off, Troy made the tough decision to be a full-time artist, selling his landscaping vehicles and equipment. Troy credits the support of his ex-wife and his own stubbornness for helping him push through the tough times in those early transitional years.
“It was tight, but then I was just too stubborn to give up, and I knew [painting] was what I was supposed to do,” he said. “I finally pressed through [the tough times], but it wasn’t without a lot of Top Ramen and budgeting.”
In recent years, Troy’s art has been selling well, and he has received a good deal of exposure and is renowned for his work, and for that he credits his current wife Gina.
“She plays such a huge part of the success that we have had just within the last ten years. She’s behind the scenes getting things done,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of exposure through the Big Sky Journal, Western Art Collector, Cowboys and Indians, Western Art and Architecture all kinds of different publications, and that was because of her diligence and her marketing genius.”
Thanks to his talent and Gina’s dedication, Troy’s work has been featured in more than 100 magazines and several books. His paintings have hung in the Montana and California State Capitols, the US Pentagon, the US Capital, and US Embassies. But even with all those accolades, Troy said that, for him, nothing compares to the feeling when people tell him that his paintings bring them joy.
“When I hear that, it’s like the ultimate compliment, even more than pulling out their wallet and buying it. When people tell me that it brings them joy and makes them happy, then I realize that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, what I was called to do,” he said. “I want people to feel my paintings. I don’t necessarily care if they see them, but if somebody comes up and they feel a painting, then they are not just seeing it, they are feeling it. And that’s my goal. ”
Troy is aware of his fortune and is very thankful that he is able to get up every morning and do what he loves. From his studio in the Bitterroot Valley, he is inspired and excited to create paintings that are not just aesthetically pleasing, but have life, heart, and soul.
“I have learned that what is most important in my work is that it doesn’t have much to do with me. I don’t do it to create beauty. I do it to create feeling and energy for other people. I know it’s an avenue for me to pay bills and it’s a passion and I’m going to continue to do it, but I think, most importantly, it’s affecting somebody or creating joy or happiness for somebody,” he said.
By Kim Weeks
Copyright Montana Trails Gallery, Inc 2022