REGULAR visitors to Provincetown may know Larry Collins as the cordial and knowledgeable man behind the counter at Larry Collins Fine Art, the gallery that he’s directed at the West End of Commercial Street since 2004. Browsing through his collection of photographs, paintings, artifacts, and memorabilia—including works by such renowned artists as James Bidgood, Mike Disfarmer, Damien Hirst, and Wilhelm von Glöeden—it quickly becomes clear that Collins’ curatorial scrutiny is sharp, studied, and eclectic.
Guests may not always be aware, however, that Collins himself has been working industriously as a painter and photographer for the past five decades, quietly garnering accolades and distinctions along the way. His painterly style is both vibrant and pensive, inspired by postimpressionists like Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cézanne, as well as expressionists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and abstract expressionists like Willem de Kooning. He has also earned a following for his distinctive, classically influenced drawings of the male form. Collins’ photography is more austere but no less emotional: his most famous photographs include many resonant images taken during his time in Vietnam, where he served as a soldier in the late 1960’s. His artworks and books have been acquired by a number of major institutions, including the Worcester Art Museum, New York Public Library, Boston Public Library, British Library, and the library collections at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Born in 1945 in Spokane, Washington, Collins was raised in Oklahoma, where he exhibited his work to early acclaim at age seventeen when Dorothy Miller, the legendary former curator of collections at MoMA, selected one of his paintings to be part of a regional show at the Oklahoma Art Center in 1962. Collins received a BFA in 1967 from the University of Oklahoma and an MFA in 1980 from Massachusetts College of Art, where he also taught in the 1980’s and 90’s. Since 1993, Collins has lived and worked in Provincetown, and from 1999 to 2004, he was director of Vintage Photography in the Driskel Gallery at Provincetown’s Schoolhouse Center. Earlier this year, a career retrospective of his art, “Larry R. Collins: Finding Light,” was exhibited at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.
Recently I talked with Collins about his life and work at his studio in Provincetown.