Awhile back, I was browsing Instagram when I stumbled up Gee Gee’s work.
Honestly, I reached out to her on a whim; thinking to myself, “This lady will never respond to me…she’s probably too big a deal to be interested in a little Midwest blog.” Which is why I was totally blown away when I received a timely and friendly reply, saying she would be happy to be interviewed.
Now, this exchange took place in the middle of all the holiday chaos. Not to mention, this talented, Minnesota-based woman also balances painting with motherhood, and was getting ready to travel with her family at the time. Basically, her schedule was insane, yet she still made time to chat with me and share a few words of creative wisdom.
Okay, okay. I’m babbling. But I’m so humbled by her kindness and creativity and can’t explain how excited I am to have her here on the blog today. So, without further nonsense from me, I am very happy to introduce abstract artist Gee Gee Collins…
First, things first: Where do you call home and what do you love most about living there?
I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I love the simplicity of life here. I also enjoy having all four seasons. Being from the south I never grew up with snow so that took some getting used to, but now I love it. I’ve even taken up skiing!
What attracted you to painting? Or, when do you first remember being interested in fine art?
I’ve always loved art from the time I was a little girl. I remember being five and having a friend over and decided it would be a good idea to paint a painting on our new carpet. Not such a great idea! My mother is a fine artist and there were oil paints around as a child. And my father just took up painting at the age of 81, so it goes without saying that art runs in the family.
Tell us a little bit about your journey to this point.
I’ve always been artistic, but have not always taken it that seriously. I did go to college for art and studied abroad but then came home and took a job in healthcare. It wasn’t until about seven years ago that I began painting again. My style is always changing. I can be all over the board and so is my art! I’m always on the search for the next new thing.
What was your family and upbringing like? How was creativity part of your childhood?
My mother owned a small chain of retail women’s clothing stores when I was growing up. I loved to go with her to New York on buying trips and pick out clothes. I loved the colors and fashion. I also always had plenty of art supplies around.
Who has had the biggest impact on your life as an artist thus far?
I would definitely have to say the art of Joan Mitchell, Franz Kline and Matisse have influenced my work the most.
You’re originally from Atlanta, correct? Do you think living and working in the Midwest has fostered or hindered your creativity?
Yes, I am originally from Atlanta. I believe living in the Midwest has encouraged me to be more productive. In the long winter months I find painting a great creative outlet. When you’re stuck inside on a dreary cold day you can always pick up a paintbrush!
How was studying under abstract painter, Michael Phillips? Intimidating? Helpful? Inspiring?
Studying under Michael Phillips was a great experience right out of the gate. Being only 18 and studying under him was very liberating in terms of abstract art. There were no rules! For all of my college career all I did was paint abstract with the exception of a few nudes here and there. He introduced me to artist such as Helen Frankenthaler, Mother Well and Cy Twombly.
Italy is such a gorgeous country. How did you end up studying there, and how did you stay focused?
I don’t think I stayed to focused, except on drinking, wine and shopping!
Any favorite memories from your time in Italy and any places we should go when we visit?
The last time I was in Italy I ended up staying and living in Florence. I worked in the leather market and sold jackets. It is definitely one of my favorite cities in Italy. Also the Amalfi Coast is amazing. Just rent a scooter and drive up the coast. Breathtaking!
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring artists looking to “break into the industry”?
Yes! Just keep emailing galleries. Don’t get discouraged just because a gallery says no. There will be one where your work is a fit.
Do you think an artist needs to attend school to be successful?
Definitely not. I think it depends on the art that you do. If you’re always painting, using color and intuition, you will continue to get better and better. Look at other artists that you like and study their work. The internet has made the world so small, you could basically study the fundamentals of painting online.
Best places in the Midwest to get inspired?
OK. So I have a new favorite spot in Minneapolis: the North Loop. It’s buzzing with great coffee shops restaurants and stores. My new favorite is Martin Patrick. Unbelievable. It’s the most well-appointed store I’ve been in, besides Ralph Lauren. New favorite restaurant by far is Spoon and Stable. And if you’re in Minneapolis for a cocktail, check out the Parlour. So fun!
What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?
Look at as much good art as you can! Stay loose and free! It’s only art.
What’s your favorite and not-so-favorite part about the creative process?
I love to create, and enjoy the fun of experimenting with different styles. I feel I’m always landing on something new and it becomes a series. But when it’s done, it’s done. I rarely want to go back and paint it again. The not so fun part would be cleaning up. I’m terrible at that! My studio is a mess. There’s paint on the walls the ceiling, everywhere!
You’re a young mom, correct? How do you carve out time to paint?
I paint now because my kids are in school during the day and that gives me time. When they were younger I used to sit them in the corner with toys or Legos and I’d just paint with them in the room. Now, sometimes my kids will also paint in the studio with me! There was a series I did awhile back where they helped me build up texture on my canvases by throwing sand on them.
How do you stay inspired?
By constantly experimenting with a different application, technique or style. By looking at art I love. Otherwise, anytime I need to be inspired I can always look at the work of Joni Mitchell and that works too.
Bubbler or water fountain?
Water fountain. Or, is wine an option?
Thin crust or deep dish?
Definitely thin crust. Well done and crispy.
Stop light or traffic light?
Anything we missed that you’d like people to know about you, your life and/or career?
I thank God for the freedom, fun and blessing of creating art! It never gets old.