Photo Documentary: Texas Series: Art
While traipsing through the state of Texas, I found myself in the dusty town of Navasota. It’s exactly how you imagine it: train tracks, buildings vaguely reminiscent of the 19th century and one tumble weed away from a texas cliche.
There I stumbled upon an avatar of art. First I saw his work: bright, vibrant pieces with colors that called to me from across the room. The lack of detail was as telling as if he’d composed a vast landscape down to the last leaf on the hundredth tree. The bright colors prohibited from turning away and the simplicity left me undistracted by detail and free to dwell more fully on the minimalist content – the Buffalo Soldier piece, the slave with a white child on her lap – all with minor detail in their faces. This permits the viewer to think of it in a historical, big picture context instead of getting lost in the details of expressions and brush strokes.
I thought about how much I’d love to meet the artist, but assumed he was probably in Dallas or one of the other larger cities. So, I moved on to several other stores only to see his work again in Tejas Antiques. As the owner Duane Garner cut me a slab of espresso fudge (which is nearly life changing. If you go to Navasota, get a slab of the fudge and tell them I sent you. Seriously!) I went on about my draw to this artist’s work. Then Duane informed me he was right behind me and pointed out one Leon Collins.
I spent a few minutes with Leon who explained to me that nearly all of his work comes from the stories his great grandparents told him. They were slaves and he grew up with them telling him stories of their lives on plantations. I found This prolific display of making eternal through his art such a direct connection with his own history and a vaster, national historical portrait amazingly profound.
Yet, what I think what resonates, for me, beyond the profundity and history; is that upon speaking to Leon I learned that he resides in this small town. He has had no formal training and he paints what is meaningful to him. There is no existential crisis. There is no pomp and circumstance. Leon Collins is the embodiment of doing something meaningful, beautiful and fulfilling without great expense or formal education. To me he is the personification of my belief that we all have something within us of value to contribute – something that bestows joy and enrichment on ourselves and others beyond the idea that there is only one possible path to get to where you want to go and be who you want to be. There are million different paths to millions of different destinations.