You can’t miss Laurie Collins’ house on the road to Jindivick. Its unique metalwork fence with whimsical images reflecting aspects of Gippsland life is a real give-away, leaving one with no doubt that this is the home of a man who loves what he does and where he lives.
“We lived in Warragul for a while. Moved to Jindivick about 15 years ago. You can see why. Look at the surrounding scenery. Perfect.”
Born in Melbourne, Laurie took a BA in Arts and Craft with the aim of teaching. “At that time, the Course focussed on the obvious art subjects – drawing, painting, graphics, sculpture, woodwork, photography. It touched on metalwork, but only in a rudimentary way. Not enough for what I wanted to do.
“So at first I both taught – and worked for myself – with wood, sculpturing small pieces, as well as continuing to sketch. I still like to do both, but gradually I got more and more interested in what could be made with metal, especially junk metal. To improve on my basic welding skills, I signed up for a 2 year Course held in the evening at TAFE. After a year and a half, I’d got enough from the Course for what I wanted to do, and haven’t looked back since then.”
Judging by the number of shows both in Gippsland and Melbourne which have sleected pieces of Laurie’s work to exhibit, one would have to agree. They have been featured recently in Melbourne’s Brunswick Street Gallery, in Yarram and the Old Drouin Butter Factory.
“Winning a prize would be nice, but, for me, it really isn’t important. I’m honestly not concerned about that. Having my work selected for an exhibition is enough recognition of what I’m trying to do. What I mean is, I work on my own in my shed. Its just me and my ideas. When my work is selected, it feels like a validation. It gives credibility to what I’m doing. Tells me I’m on the right track, that its worthwhile. After all, I collect bits of scrap metal. Its all useless junk to other people.
“Then there’s a show coming up that I want to exhibit in. Or I’m asked to make a piece. Ideas start shaping themselves in my mind. I look at this old junk and start to pick out what I can use to make my ideas tangible. Make something living and vibrant out of cast-off bits of nothing. Its a real challenge.”
In 2006, six artists living and working in Baw Baw Shire founded the “Wild Dogs from Down Under” group, with Laurie as a member. That year they staged their first show at the Warragul Art Centre. In June, Laurie will exhibit in Meeniyan, and later at the Art Melbourne Exhibition. He recently returned from China, where he went to the sister cities of West Gippsland towns with a group of local art teachers to showcase works they had made here. He has just made pieces for an exhibition entitled “Red” which is currently being staged at the Bradley Hall Gallery in West Drouin. Amongst the pieces is a quirky red balloon, its roundness shaped cleverly from flat squares of metal welded together with somewhat rough seams. “I think a rough texture makes a piece more tactile, more vibrant.”
On his mind now is a major piece of work commissioned by the Shire to be set up in Thorpdale with the theme Thorpdale Heritage. Whilst he hasn’t yet worked out how the finished piece will look, images of sheep and potatoes are invading his thoughts. That is not unlike what he recently encouraged his students at Drouin Secondary College to do. Under his guidance, a group has made images to be set up around Drouin’s Swimming Pool. “I try to encourage the students to have a go. Not to be afraid. To be positive. In any group some are already keen, others are less so, but you can encourage them to try, give it a go. When it works it does so much for their confidence. That’s what you have to do with art. Be positive. Give shape to your ideas. That what gives you the confidence to try again.”
Laurie is about to retire from teaching. I’ve enjoyed the work. I’ve given something back. Learned a lot myself, too. But its time to do something else. And, no, I’ve no plans to travel. Only between my house and my shed. I’m really happy here. I wouldn’t want to be or do anything else. I’ve got all I want. All I need. I love it here.” Its a very lucky man indeed who can say that!