Spotlight: At 88, Tennessee Sculptor Jim Collins Looks Back on His Storied Career in a New Chattanooga Exhibition

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About the Artist: Tennessee-based artist Jim Collins (b. 1934) is perhaps best known for his public art, specifically his mixed-media, figurative sculptures. Commonly using the outline of people and animals fabricated in metal—such as Cor-ten steel or aluminum—his sculptures also frequently employ found and repurposed materials, like hats, furniture, and vintage ephemera. Each work contains a narrative element that references both the artist’s inner creative world as well as offering viewers the opportunity to construct their own. Mythology, literature, history, and lived experience are at the core of his creative process and act as a source of ongoing inspiration. Collins received his MFA from Ohio University and was formally an art professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Many of his works can be found across the Southeastern United States, and, more recently, have been installed in Ireland.

Installation view of “Jim Collins: The Last Show” (2023). Courtesy of Ruffner Art Advisory, Chattanooga.

What You Need to Know: At the age of 88, Collins is subject to his final exhibition, “Jim Collins: The Last Show,” which is on view with Ruffner Fine Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The exhibition is comprised of a diverse selection of work highlighting the artist’s signature style and recurring motifs. Of particular import and focus are examples of sculptures from his “Watcher” series, which was begun in 1978, featuring the outline of a seated figure. Though the show marks the last of the artist’s exhibitions, it does not mark the end of his working career, as moving forward he will continue to work on a commission-only basis. The show with Ruffner Fine Art offers an invaluable opportunity for both followers of Collins’ work and those new to it to explore the artist’s diverse practice.

Jim Collins, Backwards Watcher with Raven (2022). Courtesy of Ruffner Art Advisory, Chattanooga.

Jim Collins, (2022). Courtesy of Ruffner Art Advisory, Chattanooga.

Why We Like It: Collins’ sculpture has a unique balance of whimsicality and refinement, intelligence and accessibility, which can be found equally between his public installations and smaller-scale pieces. The viewing experience of his work can be considered decidedly dual, as one is able to perceive the work on the whole and its compositional elements, as well as recognize the individual pieces that make up the sculpture—from found materials like vintage stools to the texture and shape of Cor-ten steel. Within his final show, the juxtaposition of works from his “Watcher” series is specifically intriguing; with over four decades of experience producing sculptures for the series, Collins’s deft assembly and nuanced aesthetic are brought to the fore. The exhibition of work is an important opportunity for visitors to explore and discover the work of an inimitable Tennessean artist.

Jim Collins, Mirror Watcher in Pew (2023). Courtesy of Ruffner Fine Art, Chattanooga.

Jim Collins, (2023). Courtesy of Ruffner Fine Art, Chattanooga.

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