"Carroll Collier has given us
a world which is universal, where the clouds are more important than computers, where buildings die in splendid isolation, slowly surrendering the sounds of those who lived and loved within them."
Jonathan A. Diffily
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
Carroll Collier’s paintings occupy a distinctive space between the commonplace and the transcendent. His titles, descriptive and unpretentious, redirect the viewer to focus on the painting itself. In so many of his landscapes, sky and clouds dominate, another reminder that his subject is more metaphysical than physical.
Throughout his nine decades, Collier has had countless realizations about his art and that of others. Two defining experiences he describes offer insight into how he sees the world. The first is a recollection of passing the Houston Street viaduct in Dallas as he came home from work. Collier passed by it daily, but for no apparent reason, one day he sensed in the viaduct a kind of beauty he had never grasped before. The experience was hard to define in words, for it was a feeling, brought on by seeing. It guided the artist in the 1970s when he chose to leave the security of a commercial art position for life asa painter. As he recalls, the viaduct experience determined what he would paint as a fine artist.
It was not painting he was after, but “the feeling” he had sensed. Collier’s meticulous but relaxed brushstrokes contribute to conveying that feeling: the atmosphere he creates becomes thepainting’s subject.
Another defining moment occurred at age fourteen: a landscape painting by Edward G. Eisenlohr (1872-1961) made such an impression on Collier that he still remembers acute details about it today. The fact that the young artist connected to Eisenlohr is highly pertinent to his position within the history of artists working in Texas. Collier would become, like Eisenlohr, part of a long tradition of artists who were powerfully
influenced by the Texas landscape. Eisenlohr’s
parents belonged to the large influx of German immigrants who came to the United States and settled in Texas. His paintings often depict sky, light, and expanses of land. In 1911, Eisenlohr traveled with the great Frank Reaugh (1860- 1945), “dean of Texas painters,” on Reaugh’s lengthy Southwest sketching expedition. Both Reaugh and Robert J. Onderdonk were major influences on Eisenlohr, linking them through the chain of influence back to Collier. And like Collier, artists working in Texas were anything but provincial. If they did not emerge directly from the German romantic tradition (as many of the 19th century immigrant painters did), they were in tune with its sensitivity toward nature. Likewise, one of the major influences on Collier is Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), among the best-known of the classical French landscape painters. Both the viaduct experience and the memory of the Eisenlohr landscape are somewhat indefinable, in the way feelings cannot always be pinpointed. Yet they gave Collier an irresistible sensation that he was compelled to follow. The search led him to leave a reliable career in commercial illustration for a less secure life that has been ultimately more rewarding for the artist. Certainly it has been tremendously rewarding for Collier’s audience.
Katie Robinson Edwards, Ph.D.
Curator, Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum