Amongst the chaos at Rokeby market, Laurie Collins, a tall, bearded man, has his sketchbook opened to a fresh page, glasses slightly lowered down his nose and pen in hand, preparing to sketch a cheerful, smiling, brown haired lady holding a bouquet of yellow flowers, sitting across from Laurie on one of his carefully constructed wooden seats.
Laurie, also known as Collo, Mr C, or Jack, taken from Jack and the beanstalk, due to his height, has followed his passion and love of art. The recently retired art teacher, who is 55 years of age, taught metal work, woodwork, graphics, design and technology. Laurie has always drawn, but when he was growing up art wasn’t valued greatly at his school. "I couldn’t see any point in making things that didn’t have a purpose. So I did engineering and architecture courses which just didn’t lead to where I wanted to go." He then completed an art and craft teaching course where his passion for art was rekindled, and has created pieces ever since.
The whimsical form of his sculptures, from birds with pointed beaks and extremely long necks, to dogs with spiralled torsos and flopping ears, and love seats comprised from wood and steel for the romance stricken couple, cannot be overlooked. "I like using recycled materials. I like making something out of something that people don’t value," he says. Laurie creates his unique pieces from what most people would consider ‘junk’. "I mainly use steel and recycled wood, because that seems to be what I’ve got access to and my technology is fun to work with," he says.
Eagerly sketching away, Laurie says "I now get to a point where I think that art really gives quality to life. We all have that artistic aspect to our lives, how we make our life express our individuality, so I guess this is how I’m expressing my individuality. His wife Marian says "Laurie has a great ability to see all sides and ways around things, he can relate to all different people. He has an ability to create, to look at a piece of metal and turn it into something sweet and amazing."
"Be careful with her. She’s wild. I’ve only just trained her", Laurie shouts out, warning the lady who has just purchased his bird sculpture named Tara, reflecting his connection with his pieces and his sense of humour. "See this is the sorta thing," says Laurie. "These things they’ve all got their own character which people relate to." Marian believes Laurie is very creative. "I’m astonished by the complex stories he can come up with, it often has different layers in it," she says.
Having sold pieces through the likes of Town and Country Gallery in Yarragon, Rosie’s in Carlton and Ishka stores around Melbourne just to name a few, Laurie holds pride in selling his work. "It is continual reassurance that people like it. I really like the fact that it connects to other people. I don’t like work which is so inaccessible that you have to have a masters degree to understand what on earth you’re looking at."
One of the highlights of Laurie’s artistic life so far was being part of the wild dogs group, which held an exhibition from Warragul all the way to Jiujiaug in China. He says that the China exhibition gave him an understanding of how the art world works. "It gave me a big lift out of my existence. I have nothing but praise for the experience."
Fellow art teacher Russell Handley says there’s something enthusiastic about Laurie. "He’s an easy chap to get a long with and very prolific. You know if I went to school I would have liked to have Laurie for a wood metal teacher."
Russell says "the fact Laurie’s art is made out of junk is quite intriguing and it looks great in the garden."
Having completed the finishing touches of the sketch, Laurie hands over the final piece to the lady with the flowers. "Thankyou Laurie, thankyou very much," she says, leaving Laurie’s stall with a smile.
In the future, Laurie wants to take aspects of his art around the world. "I’d like to go back to China, to New Zealand and to Asia. It gives you a range of experiences and challenges, and throughout my retirement I’m looking forward to heading out to the world.
Asking Laurie whether he has any words of encouragement to all aspiring artists out there, he replies in words of wisdom "Value your own ideas, everybody has got ideas, just get out there and start doing it. You grow from your mistakes more than from your successes."
- Sandra Kasprowicz (2010)