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Roland Collins A forgotten Artist

March 5, 2018

Roland Collins was born in Kensal Rise, NW London.

He showed artistic aptitude from an early age, winning at the age of eight a poster-colouring competition organised by the Evening News. He attended Kilburn grammar school, helped with scenery painting for the school’s annual Shakespeare play, and was encouraged by the art teacher to go to art school. This he did with the help of a London county council grant, spending two years at St Martin’s School of Art (now Central Saint Martins), where his teachers included Leon Underwood and Vivian Pitchforth. After college he worked as a studio assistant in an advertising agency, preparing layouts and designs.

In 1937 Collins first exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of just 18, submitting a pen-and-ink drawing entitled Riverside, Chiswick, of two houseboats on the mud at low tide on the Thames (see above). The pen-work was masterly in its taut linearity and rhythmic arrangements of shape, balancing dark and light with satisfying authority. But black and white was not enough for the full expression of his essentially Romantic vision; he needed colour, and gouache (an opaque form of watercolour) became his preferred medium. He painted on paper, usually on sheets measuring about 15in x 21in, which he attached to a drawing board and worked on in front of the chosen subject.

Ever since those pre-second -World-War days, Roland Collins became an acute observer of the London and later the Dieppe scene. The Old London as we used to know it has disappeared, and it is with more than nostalgia one is taken back thirty, forty or fifty years. Roland Collins has managed to record the landscape of the time in a way the camera never has. it is not just a case of buildings destroyed by the war and the property developer, but the disappearance of items-all clues to what was a more leisured way of life-like the hand-pushed cardboard box delivery cart-massive but presumably light in weight. the old carriages and stable in Knightsbridge Mews; the Watney’s Lion and Shot Tower that became the South Bank Site for the Festival of Britain.

When the second world war broke out Collins registered as a conscientious objector, although a lung problem meant that he could have only undertaken light agricultural work in any case. He continued painting, discovered Fitzrovia in the West End of London (where he was to live for 40 years) and undertook the first of several mural commissions for a Greek restaurant. Artistically versatile, he relished turning his hand to other projects, working as a designer, photographer and even travel writer.

In 1945 he designed the sleeve for the first British LP issued by Decca: Stravinsky’s Pétrouchka, also a self portrait below and a couple of commissions from over the years.

In 1951 he wrote the text for The Flying Poodle, a book for children with photographs by Wolfgang Suschitzky, and in 1956 illustrated another poodle book, the novel Fifi and Antoine by Charlotte Haldane. Meanwhile, in 1954, a series of lithographs, to illustrate Noel Carrington’s book Colour and Pattern in the Home, seemed to anticipate in their crisp design some of the 1960s pop-inflected interiors of the English painter and printmaker Patrick Caulfield.

Since his Royal Academy debut in 1937, Roland has continued to exhibit regularly since, though an innate modesty has kept him from the limelight. As a consequence, his delightful and unaffected paintings are less well known than they might be, and a talent which has been continuously in use for more than 70 years has gone largely uncelebrated.

“Eventually, my love of architecture led me to a studio at 29 Percy Studio where I painted for the next forty years, after work and at weekends. I freelanced for a while until I got a job at the Scientific Publicity Agency in Fleet St and that was the beginnings of my career in advertising, I obviously didn’t make much money and it was difficult work to like.”

Yet Roland never let go of his personal work and, once he retired, he devoted himself full-time to his painting, submitting regularly to group shows but reluctant to launch out into solo exhibitions – until reaching the age of ninety.

For me his work shows elements of Nash, Ravilious, Bawden and occasionally Degas and Dufy too.

Whether using gouache, watercolour, pastel or inks, Roland had a wonderful control of his media.

Hopefully the skies weren’t as grey as he depicted here as he often painted outdoors !

Beautiful observational work.

I love the simplified windows in the building below, they’re almost arrows pointing to the Lion above lol

Welcome back to part 2 of my posts about artist / painter Roland Collins. I’d like to show you Roland’s coastal work and some of his paintings created during his yearly trips to France.

Working predominately in gouache on a format of 15 x 21 inches, his work records landscapes and cityscapes that have since disappeared. In 1964, Collins, and his wife Connie, purchased Ocean Cottage in Whitstable on the Kent coast. This was to provide an endless source of inspiration for him and arguably resulted in some of his finest work.

I feel there are definite strains of Ravilious in this painting above. Roland’s work sits comfortably among his other contemporaries Paul Nash and Edward Bawden but it’s only really been truly ‘discovered’ in the last ten years.

His forty years spent living and working in Fitzrovia, five years in the Cornish fishing town of Padstow  in the 1990’s and his and Connie’s many visits to Dieppe all feature predominately throughout his body of work.

Such beautiful colours and textures here.

Some stronger colours here.

Again, his depiction of the beach here just works so well.

He spent hours and hours just painting and sketching outdoors.

Obviously (as he owned a boat himself for a while), he had a real love for the shape and line of them. For the sea and coast, where he also chose to live for a few years.

Although the coast, London and its environs were a constant inspiration (he illustrated the Picturesque Guide to the Thames, 1949) he also began making painting trips to France. “You could say I first went to Dieppe in the early-1950s in search of Sickert,” Collins said. His palette seems much fresher and lighter, not so many grey English skies perhaps !

Some links back to his life in the advertising industry here spotting these French billboards and iconic businesses.

A couple of lovely soaring bridges.

Perhaps a touch of Raoul Dufy’s colour palette here.

Sadly Roland passed away in 2015 at the grand age of 97.

Many thanks to The Guardian, Spitalfields Life, James Russell and the sites above for my introduction to another outstanding British artist, which I hope you’ve also enjoyed ?

More images looking through the catalogue over at, The Portland GalleryBrowse and Derby or the Michael Parkin Fine Art Gallery.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Rachel Ward permalink
    March 5, 2018 9:54 am

    What wonderful work! Thanks so much for posting this and making me aware of someone new.

  2. Jess permalink
    March 11, 2018 2:01 am

    Hello! I just found your blog by clicking through a link to some pottery posts from several years back. I’m now making my way through your more recent posts and loving them. Thanks for sharing this – I really enjoy Roland’s midcentury painting/illustration style!

    • March 11, 2018 9:00 am

      Thanks Jess, great to have your comments, hope you enjoy the blog too.

  3. March 14, 2018 10:31 pm

    Self portrait of a self portrait. Love it.

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