by Rachel Heidenry
Letters, words, phrases and pages. These are the raw materials for Bethany Collins work. Born in Montgomery, Alabama and now living in Atlanta, Georgia, Collins draws inspiration from the social nuances of language. With a conceptualist eye, she takes words and explores them through the lens of racial identity. Deconstructing definitions or entire passages of text, the artist then re-presents them to reveal the complexities of cultural norms and historical memories. Throughout each of her projects, there is subtlety in individual thought that evinces a powerful point-of-view and that somehow manages to deliver works that gracefully balance delicateness and unabashed boldness.
Her canvases range from traditional paint on canvas, to erasures in dictionaries. No matter the medium she remains committed to the object in space – floating letters, hanging words, torn-out pages. These explorations stem from an artistic urge to examine multiple meanings and perceptions. As an artist, Collins is uninterested in relying on the normative. Instead, she identifies the entanglements and tangles them further – but only conceptually. Aesthetically, she maintains a refined palette of minimalist influence, delivering beautifully simple works that appear far more harmonious than their content.
As a 2013-2014 Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, Collins directly confronted the racial landscape of both the American South and her temporary home. In her Noise Colors series, the artist plays with the narrativizing structure of titles and their visual counterparts in form. Letters are dispersed or scattered on the canvas, forming no distinct language structure but still speaking through gaps, form and color. And in her Dictionaries series, Collins puts eraser to paper, scrubbing away at the unnecessary definitions to reveal particular thoughts that are poetically social.
Her works confront race and racial identity in a way that honors and revisits, but also articulates anew. They are compelling, thoughtful and discursive, opening discussions rather than settling them. Bethany Collins’ body of work is an extraordinary exploration of contemporary racial landscapes and the languages linked to them.