RNCM Alumni: Visual Artist Conor Collins

Conor Collins is a rising star in the visual arts world. We chatted to him about his work and trajectory since graduating from the RNCM in 2012.

What are some of your career highlights?

I think my favourite moment was when my first painting went viral. I was living in a wee flat maybe two years after graduation, and working a job earning just enough to pay the bills and afford paint. I couldn’t afford much paint now I think back, so the painting itself – a portrait of Olympic diver Tom Daley – was made by diluting acrylic and putting inside the nib of a pen so I could write with paint. I spent the night on it, and finished maybe 4am or 5am. The next day my flatmate said I should share the portrait on Twitter, so before bed that night I tweeted  the painting and after I brushed my teeth I had 10 retweets – which I thought wasn’t bad! Then when I woke up I had 100 missed calls and 1000+ notifications; I had messages from TIME, the Ellen Show, even messages from people like Stephen Fry! The bad part was I was going on a second date that night with who would turn out to become my now long-term partner. I couldn’t spend the date just checking my phone, so turned it off and switched off to the world. By the next day the painting had been seen by more people online than visit the MOMA in a year! It was a surreal feeling, but affirmed that maybe changing my career path from music to art and following my passion wasn’t a bad idea after all.

When did you start marking art?

In my third year training as a classical tenor at the RNCM I fell in love with a visual artist. His use of colour and the drama of catching someone’s style and laying it out for all to see on canvas captivated me. I started painting next to him just to spend time with him. I travelled through more styles than I can remember: watercolour, clay, screen-printing, but none were for me. Before long I let my romantic feelings known but they were not reciprocated. Devastated and with a broken heart, after a day of panic attacks I returned to my blank canvas, dipped my hands into pots of blue ink and smeared them over the canvas. It was a mess, but it was an expression of what I was feeling. Which I suppose was apt considering I too was a mess. For the first time I had finally found out what my style was. It wasn’t the materials I used, it was what I wanted to say. Over the next few days I couldn’t stop sketching and painting… I’ve been making art ever since.

What are your memories from studying at the RNCM?

I met my best friend there. They do say you meet your best friends at Uni, and I was lucky enough to. We were totally inseparable; equally supportive and terrible influences on each other. But if you haven’t got drunk with your best mate and then put a bucket with a smiley face on your other friend’s head while he’s asleep in the Sir Charles Grove halls lift after drinking far too much Vodkat… have you really lived?

How did the RNCM help you get to where you are now?

It gives you a thick skin. Which sounds awfully like you get bullied but that’s not what I mean at all. But as a singer, you open yourself up when you sing. So at first when someone says after a performance ‘Lovely. Now you did this wrong, and this wrong, and this was flat, and you disconnected here, here and here,’ at first it can feel personal. But it’s not. It’s someone investing in you and wanting you to be the best you can be. I felt by the end of the four years I was left with a superpower of not really being afraid anymore. You actually long for criticism. You want to know what steps to take to be the best you that you can be. I am so grateful for it, because that lack of fear I think is the reason I do what I do now, the reason I met my partner, and the reason I am not afraid to stand out or stand up.

Any advice for RNCM graduates unsure of which direction to take?

Be uncertain. It’s much better to question who you want to be and what you want to do now, than turn 50 and have the mid-life crisis. There’s no point going into pig farming and then at the age of 49 say, ‘Well I really was supposed to be a ballet dancer.’

What are your plans for the future?

HOOVERING! I am working on a portrait at the moment made entirely out of wildflower seeds. Been finding seeds everywhere I look lately. Over the next two years I also have planned a couple series of paintings. But I can’t say much more than that yet, except you may see a few famous faces as models for them too.

To find out more about Conor Collins and his work click here.

11 August 2020