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Posted 30 September 2015 - 12:50 AM
"Roland Collins, the artist, who has died aged 97, produced evocative gouache paintings, drawings, illustrations and lithographs that cast Britain in an elegiac light.
His landscapes of places such as Hampshire, Pembrokeshire, Cornwall and Kent were in the tradition of his contemporaries Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and John Piper. Like those artists, he often brought a quietness to his subjects; although his scenes were full of the evidence of human enterprise – barrels, barrows and carts – people were largely absent.
In colourful wash, he painted thatched houses and clapboard cottages in the home counties and fishing boats rocking in repose in the harbours of Cornwall and Kent. In London he painted Spitalfields Market, Columbia Road and Belgrave Mews, scenes, again, largely devoid of tradesmen and shoppers.
While his paintings were bright and bold, his drawings exhibited a fine eye for line. For his 1936 view of The Grapes, a pub perched on Limehouse Reach, he drew from the water rather than the land. The result is a masterpiece of graphic geometry, a lattice of ladders, panels and posts.
His work provides a rare survey of a landscape mostly lost to post-war development. “So many of the things I was interested in and attracted by no longer existed after the war,” Collins told the critic Andrew Lambirth in 2009.
At the age of 19 Collins exhibited a small drawing in ink at the Royal Academy summer exhibition, but for much of the next 70 years he remained in obscurity. In his nineties, by which time he was living in a converted sweet shop in South London, Collins finally found the art world taking notice. Promoted by the gallerist Michael Parkin, he went on to enjoy successful shows at Mascalls Gallery in Kent and Browse & Darby in Cork Street. “If ever an artist deserved to be better know,” Lambirth noted, “on the grounds of putting in long years of consistently good work to very little acclaim – it is he.”
Roland Collins was born on September 17 1918 in Kensal Rise, London. Although his father was a clerk for the Great Central Railway at Marylebone, his paternal family had originally been farmers and cheesemakers in Cambridgeshire (they lived at Cheese House on the green in Cottenham). Roland was raised in Maida Vale where the canals of Little Venice would become a focus of his early drawings.
As a young boy he won an Evening News poster competition. He attended Kilburn Grammar School, where he blossomed under the wing of the art master Robert Whitmore and gained an LCC grant to continue his art studies at St Martin’s. On leaving art school in the late-1930s he took a job in the design and layout department of the advertising agency London Press Exchange.
The approaching war, Collins said, “spoiled everything”. He registered as a conscientious objector (he also had a weak lung) and was given light agricultural work. On a wartime excursion to Regent’s Park, to paint the stucco terraces designed by John Nash, he was apprehended by a policeman and marched off to the station for questioning. He learnt that military personnel were stationed in the buildings he had been observing."
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