The View from Outside: Finding Intimacy Beyond Discomfort in the Work of Luke Collins

In what medium and exactly how are your emulsion pieces made?

I watched this video on YouTube one day on when you cut open a polaroid and immerse it in water and let it sit for a little while the emulsion separates from the transparent layer of film protecting it. You can transfer it onto paper and manipulate it in a way where it looks like a wet, crumpled newspaper or something. So, one night I just decided that I wanted to cut open a lot of my old Polaroids that exemplified how I was feeling in that state. I had two little Tupperware bowls and let them soak and separate. I had some paper left over from when I was back in school and I found my mom’s little tiny paper guillotine and cut up some layers and um, I think I made 12 of them in total and some of them were duds but I thought some of them turned out really well. The way the emulsion oxidizes, it turns a sort of topey brown color- I wanted it to feel as if it were still part of the paper in a way.

You mentioned previously that the emulsion transfers represent intimacy within emptiness. What does it mean to be creating self-portraiture in isolation?

The majority of the photos of myself I had taken about a year prior, but I feel like I was in the same mental state. What I was feeling inside was externalized, which is why I wanted to create a dichotomy between interior and exterior space. I’ve always had a close relation with myself and self-image, whether negative or positive. But whenever I’m investigating my own photos of myself I often feel this voyeuristic, I don’t know, sense of being outside of my body, and I felt like the way I was situated in this imposed isolation, I was in turn being forced in my own life to be outside of my body and recognize the things that were happening in the word and in my life.

The images of yourself are so different fromm the others. Specifically, the expressions.

I think those two photos come from, well I got really bored one day, and I realized my polaroid had a self timer on it and I messed around with that. I took 8 different photos and I did this progression where I was taking pictures with clothes on and I slowly took them off, messing with my face and smushing it around. I like how there is this sense of embodiment between the two that feels really guttural but also really intimate, almost secretive. 

Two part question: At what age did you start taking portraiture that wasn’t made to make you look good, by societal standards. Why do you recreate that in your artwork now?

 I honestly feel like I’ve lived ten different lives, and I portray myself in ten thousand different ways in how I interact with social media and things in general, but I remember being 14 and I had gotten my first camera and especially at that age I had a really bad relationship with how I looked. I felt so excised from a traditional male image, so I had set up my camera and taken a photo of myself, and it was so close to myself. I edited it so all my pores were really visible, strong, and clear, and I uploaded it to the national geographic website because I figured they had a cool photo sharing platform. Two weeks later I found out that it was published in their daily dozen. Once that happened it felt like the way I saw myself was being validated in a way. It was a black and white photo. Ever since that point I had tried to experiment a bit with how I represent myself. Usually in my art it is more transgressive in my expressions and the way I hold myself and interact with myself. I like the idea of making people feel uncomfortable, but once they get past that discomfort it’s like it creates some lens into my life, and the way I see myself, and then they feel more comfortable. Or at least that’s how I hope people see it (laughs).

Are these images honest representations of yourself?

I think so, I think they are the most realistic versions of self. I got into this stupor where I felt like I really needed to be this one thing, I needed to present myself in a certain way that fit whatever category I identified with at that time, especially on Instagram and things we use to put masks on. I don’t know. While I was doing that I was creating these things I never showed anyone that were the embodiment of myself and how I was truly feeling. I kind of destroyed that whole image and went for this one. It’s a much more realistic exploration of who I am. I’ve been thinking about how debilitating the social image is. I got on Instagram when I was 12. It really does kill us, immediately in my adolescence I was shrouded in how I was supposed to look and how I was supposed to feel, and I never felt comfortable in it, but I felt like I had to adhere to it in whatever way. But you get to this point where, well I’m incredibly sensitive especially to things that really deeply make me uncomfortable, and I don’t feel right when I’m putting out something that isn’t me. That doesn’t have a part of me in it.

What is the earliest reoccurring theme in your work. Was that self portraiture?

Oh wow… I think that it is self-portraiture. I have some close friends who don’t necessarily understand the things that I make, but when they see it, regardless of how abstract it may seem, even if it is not a portrait of myself they say it looks like me in some way. I think that I have a character that I tend to draw and it is based off of me, but also meant to exemplify everyone. My longest reoccurring theme is the idea of creating different things out of yourself.

On social media, you have named your account(s) “blue boy” or a variation of that name. Can you briefly talk about the name “blue boy” – what does that name mean to you, what does it mean to your self-portraiture?

When blue boy came about, I started thinking about it very seriously when I entered college, I felt like I fit into that. Now it’s something that I use to categorize everything and every person. In my work I try to cross a lot of boundaries and break down certain barriers when It comes to certain portraiture or certain ways of living. I think the true meaning of blue boy is, though there is this boy aspect, though there is this generalized aspect of it, it still means nothing but it also means everything. To me it’s this all-encompassing thing in my life because I’m synesthetic, so a lot of people attribute color to music or music to color, and for me its color to certain aspects of my life or certain people in my life, and for me specifically the color that has stuck with me is….I see myself all the time as blue, and when I categorize where we are in the world, where we always have been in the world, I feel like we are this blue society, this blue collection of beings, from whatever corner of the world we are in. Blue boy is an all-encompassing term. In the beginning it was just me, but the more work I put out the more people are able to identify with it as well. When it comes to the evolution of it it’s always been the same for me it’s just gotten stronger. It feels very right to me. Honestly at first, I think I used it as an escape away from myself, to take away from what I was afraid of about myself, but now it’s just me. It’s not me trying to hide myself, it’s me being myself, who I really am, who I feel like everyone is.

Ok, last question. What are the three words you would use to describe yourself?

Blue. Boy. Brain.

Luke Collins is a poet and artist from Tryon, North Carolina studying Creative Writing and Studio Art with a concentration in Printmaking at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His work often does what he’s afraid to do in daily life; it presents, highlights, and discusses the harrowing intricacies of individual experience, dissecting the performativity of gender, sexuality, and age and putting each on guttural display. While currently focusing on developing his skills in printmaking, he often experiments with abstract drawing and various photographic processes, in all formulating a mixed-media approach to his growing body of work.

Interview conducted by Sophie Payne