This Arizona Artist Uses Everyday Items To Tell The Earth’s Story


Joan Maureen Collins holding a large abstract painting with multiple paintings behind her

Artist Joan Maureen Collins with her painting “The Beauty of Open Spaces.”

Artist Joan Maureen Collins paints like a sculptor. “It’s a lot of putting on, taking off, putting on, taking off,” she says. “Over time, it builds up, and I’m able to discover interesting, mysterious pieces underneath.” By shaping, scraping and layering acrylic paint on the canvas, occasionally incorporating other media such as oil sticks and graphite, Collins creates abstract works that embrace imperfection. She applies the paint with found natural materials such as feathers and branches. Other tools she works with are equally unorthodox—brooms, Swiffer handles, spatulas and various household items are all fair game.

"I'm very much into gestural abstraction," Collins muses. ""Lots of physical brush strokes."

A collection of sketchbooks covered in abstract paintings.

Driftwood lies atop Collins' many sketchbooks.

Abstract paintings hanging vertically down a wall.

Collins compares her paintings, such as "Entangled Beauty" (foreground), "Fleeting Equilibrium," "Cascading Dreamscapes" and "Enigmatic Vistas" (top to bottom), to sculptures in which builds with adding and taking away layers.

A collection of pastels, a bowl of dirt, driftwood and a feather sit on a paint-splattered table.

"My hope is that working with pieces found in nature transfers into an organic experience," Collins says.

Two hands pouring paint into a container on top of a table covered in paintings.

The artist's passion for nature is the underlying theme for all of her work.

No matter what she uses to craft them, each work stems from the same kernel of inspiration: her passion for the environment. “Abstraction is my visual language for my love of nature,” she explains. “That’s why I like to paint—I can almost explain my thoughts better through art than saying it out loud.”

Collins believes nature’s beauty comes from its subtle complexities, which she expresses in her latest series, “Entangled Beauty.” Originally inspired by her desert surroundings, the artist expanded beyond the Southwest setting on a recent trip to Ireland. Taking a 120-inch roll of unstretched canvas to the coast, she placed it in the Irish Sea and painted as the waves washed over it. Pulling the canvas back to the shoreline, Collins applied colorful organic ink, pressed free-floating seaweed and plant life onto the piece, and rolled it up. After stepping upon the work to allow the natural objects to form an imprint, she hung the canvas on her friend’s clothesline to dry. “It was kind of a switch for me to do that, and it was really fun,” she says, adding that the process was a great reminder of the earth’s fragility. “The more fragile something is, the more we care about it. The more we see the beauty, the more we understand that it’s something we need to hold on to.” 

The artist credits her own understanding to her many travels. “I’ve been able to see amazing places, some ugly, some pretty,” Collins says. “You see that juxtaposition, a push and a pull.” How she expresses what she sees, she explains, is similar to photography. “I just put it on the canvas,” she says. “I want people to share my experience. And to an even greater extent, I want them to share my love for our earth.”