Krystle Collins found her calling while attending church as a child in her native Louisiana. But it was to art, not the ministry. Today, her unorthodox form of expression is gaining a consistent following.
BY CHRIS MATTOX
Hand fans vacillate, back and forth, pushing warm air around the room. The preacher is barely a third of the way through his sermon, and the youngest members of the congregation are becoming restless. Peppermints are deployed as so many red-and-white appeasements. Some of the young people are chastised and told to sit up and pay attention. In order to keep their little one quiet and occupied, Krystle Collins’ parents slide their seven year-old daughter a pencil and paper. She became fascinated with the large decorative hats of the women and the curvature of arms and hands raised in worship.
“I would draw the backs of people’s heads, the women and their hats,” she says. “I’ve been creating for more than 10 years, but that’s where it started. Doodling in church.”
Collins, 31, now lives in New York, and her creative outlets are far more diverse than the backs of offering envelopes and scraps of paper from grandma’s bible. Collins creates across various mediums, including paint on canvas, sculpture and embroidery. One constant is her subject matter.
Those balmy humid Sundays in a country Lake Charles, Louisiana church helped inspire Collins’ study of the female form, and black women in particular. She noticed early on that black women aren’t often represented in mainstream art. She began drawing what she saw and then transitioned into creating images she wanted to see. “First, I think the female form is just so beautiful,” she says. “Then, black women are often shown in these one-dimensional ways. I wanted to create images of us that capture the whole of who we are.”
Despite positive response to her work, it took Collins a while to consider herself an artist. She’s self-taught. She has spent years honing her craft through trial and error, trusting her instincts and letting her style evolve naturally. Yet, neither sales nor critical acclaim could assuage her feelings of inadequacy.
“For the longest time I felt like a glorified hobbyist,” she says. “I had this thought that you had to go to school or be trained by masters in order to call yourself an artist.”
That all changed when people begin to share with her how her work connected with them. These weren’t surface level platitudes that could often become more annoyance than encouragement. Rather, people began to see themselves in the art she created. She learned from that.
“The more I put myself in the work the more relatable it becomes. That realization taught me to trust my instincts,” she says. “Oftentimes I start a piece with only a basic idea of what I’m going to do. Then whatever flows out of me ends up on the canvas or in the sculpture.”
In her piece Carefree Girls, framed embroidery on cotton, Collins crafts two women enjoying their lives as evidenced through their vivid and unique hairstyles. Similarly, a series of acrylic and charcoal on canvas pieces titled The Soul Catches Up I, II, and III, observes the ebb and flow of emotions. These two pieces are textured and tactile, encouraging contact. They are also an example of how Collins mixes mediums and materials to create something that expresses what she is feeling at the time.
‘IT’S ABOUT EXPRESSION’
She doesn’t want to limit the ideas that come flowing out of her. She embraces the term “creator” because she plies her trade across several mediums and techniques. While versatility can be a virtue, it’s a valid question as to whether Collins risks becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none.
“I’ve heard that criticism, but in my mind it doesn’t work that way,” she says. “Why can’t I be a master at several trades? It’s about expression. I express myself in different ways. Whether it’s sculpture or embroidery, they are all aspects of who I am.”
She elaborated on how sculpture is more tactile and allows her to feel like the art is coming directly from her to the medium without the intermediary of paint and brush. So she sculpts when she wants to feel the art. Embroidery is a relatively new form of expression for Collins, but she has jumped head-first into the form. She’s currently working in fashion and turning her embroideries of black women into wearable art. All of these pieces and others are available for sale through her website, KrystleColinsArt.com.
“It might seem that I’m all over the place, but it’s really that I’m thinking out loud,” she said. “As long as it’s genuine, I’m going to try it.”
Follow Collins on her journey of self expression via KrystleCollinsArt on Instagram and her website, KrystleCollinsArt.com.