Edwyn Collins - Wildlife 1

Article by Mark Shukla | 23 Apr 2009
  • Edwyn Collins

When former Orange Juice man Edwyn Collins was hospitalised in 2005 following a major cerebral haemorrhage, his family were initially told to brace themselves for the possibility of permanent brain damage, with a slow, limited recovery posited as a best-case outcome. Four years down the line and Collins has already released a new solo album, made a return to record producing and even started gigging again. Although he remains partially paralysed on his right side, his progress has been astonishing by any standards.

Presesnted chronologically, these wildlife drawings - undertaken with the artist's non-dominant left hand - track the progress of Collins' rehabillitation as he slowly learned to reconnect with the world around him by rekindling his passion for illustration - a lifelong pursuit that had been marginalised during his years as a successful musician.

Although these images clearly illustrate the gradual improvement of Collins' motor responses, it is in fact the early drawings, those most proximate to his haemorrhage, that are the most visually fascinating. In his profile illustrations of a Pintail duck and Whooper Swan we find a kind of brittle beauty; a spare, childlike elegance that is hard-won yet perfectly articulate. It's an enchanting quality, and one that many artists who have not suffered Collins' misfortune seek to capture. One is reminded of the age-old art school practice of having students draw with their charcoal attached to the end of a long piece of bamboo - a tactic intended to disrupt their habitual methods of thinking and introduce an element of unfamiliarity into their formal approach.

As we move from picture to picture Collins' dexterity grows, and within a year of starting the series he is producing impressively confident work. In Seahorse, from October 2006, we find a significant advancement in his range of technique, together with a deft use of directional lines which give his images a robust, voluminous quality. By the start of 2009 he has introduced colour to the works: Common Tern Feeding featuring a subtle blue background in front of which the terns are rendered with fluid, powerful lines.

Although some may find it churlish to criticise the drawings of a man recovering from such a serious illness, I think it would be patronising not to mention their faults: specifically that once Collins appears to regain his confidence in mark-making his work does lose some of its peculiar, awkward beauty, the sense of creative drive striving to overcome physical adversity. Masterpieces they may not be, but as documents of a singular individual's therapy through art, they're quite remarkable. [Mark Shukla]

Glasgow CCA Intermedia Gallery until 9 May. Free.