UB graduate student premieres 'wheat-pasting' art work in downtown gallery

Max Collins uses his simplistic art style to land art show


Just days after his girlfriend completed suicide, Max Collins found some inspiration to use his new art technique and pay tribute to the loved one he lost.

Last May, Collins used “wheat-pasting” to create a mural of his late girlfriend’s eyes on the side of Ró, a furniture store that she co-owned. It was his first local project using the technique.

“I woke up a few mornings [after her death] and thought to myself, ‘I have to do this and that’s the perfect place,’” he said. “That was where I met her so it made sense to use that spot.”

Max Collins is a traditional photojournalist who broke away from the one-dimensional aspects of photography to turn to a new passion, which combines his love for nature and his photographic trade into a different abstract art form using, of all things: white office paper.

Collins, a Buffalo native who grew up in East Aurora, graduated from the University of Michigan with his bachelor of arts and returned to Buffalo, where he is now a Master in Fine Arts candidate at UB.

“My sister’s boyfriend at the time was a painter, and since I grew up in the countryside I knew almost nothing about the city’s art scene. He would always talk about how much he loved the city, and I think he’s right,” Collins said. “If you are outgoing and make work for yourself, there’s tons of possibility in Buffalo.”

Collins worked as a photographer for Michigan’s student newspaper and decided to step away for a more hands-on art form in wheat-pasting, a gel or liquid adhesive created by mixing wheat flower or starch and water. Collins has put his own twist on the style, by using white office paper and construction glue instead.

“I love the purity of it and how minimalist it is,” he said.

Collins by using white paper, it’s “an inexpensive self funded project” that expresses Collins’ love for nature and the forgotten architecture of Buffalo’s past.

“Max’s style is unique in a sense that he is very original coming from photography. But now, reacting to the digitization of modern art, he wants to reconnect to image making in a more hands on method with wheat-pasting,” said Millie Chen, one of three professors on Collins’ thesis committee.

From a critical standpoint, Chen said that Collins’ personal artistic style has elements that combine the abstract nature of photography with the tangible, tactile elements of nature.

“Max likes to take pictures of nature – rocks, boulders and trees – and give them a new paperskin that essentially transforms them into phantom, ghostlike presences,” she said. “His use of white is related to reproductive technology. He photographs these interventions and gives them lots of layers to explore.”

Anna Kaplan, owner of the Body of Trade and Commerce Gallery, said that she chose Collins’ work for the gallery because of the potential she saw in the young artist.

“I’ve been paying attention to Max for a while now,” she said. “He’s made an incredible impression on the local scene in a short amount of time. I'm confident this is just the beginning of great things to come from him.”

All of Collins’ pieces featured in the gallery are untitled, but work together as a part of a larger series of works.

One piece in particular from his series rien ne de crée – a French saying meaning “Nothing is born” – is a photo mural of tree branches wheat-pasted together with a light shining from the center, pasted onto recycled planks of wood.

“Nothing is original, something is always borrowed from something else,” Collins said.

This idea is constant throughout his work.

For another piece, he wheat-pasted tree branches on display along with his mural at the gallery. Collins picked the branches from trees behind the Niagara Street train tracks – the branches had fallen from the trees and littered the tracks.

“I find it so amazing that in what has been left behind, there are roots and trees still growing up out of the buildings,” Collins said. “I was at Silo City the other day and on the roof, a tree was starting to grow, that just makes me happy.”

Collins describes his artwork as ephemeral – only lasting a short time.

“I know my work won’t last forever. That’s the beauty in it. Over time the pieces develop their own texture, wrinkles in the paper, holes in the wood. Someone thought I actually burned the imperfections into this wood, but that’s just how it was,” he said.

Collins’ simplistic combinations of everyday white paper and recycled materials give his pieces an abstract nature, which leaves the interpretation up to each viewer.

Collins’ thesis project will take place in Niagara Falls this spring, where he plans to wheat-paste an entire house – a large project that will certainly attract lots of attention. He is currently talking with real estate agents to find the perfect neighborhood to work in.

“If you make yourself look like you’re supposed to be there, nobody ever questions you,” Collins said.

Chen is very proud of her student and said she has nothing but praise for his vision.

“He’s ambitious. He’s hard working, but a project of this proportion doesn’t daunt him. It’s a good challenge for him,” Chen said.

Collins’ post-grad plans are still up in the air.

“I just bought a cabin 25 miles out from Boston, me and two buddies are going to fix it up and live up on the north shore,” Collins said. “Or I might chase a girl out to Portland – who knows what will happen.”

Collins’ works are currently on display at the BT&C Gallery downtown. The works are a part of the Fresh: Series 1, a showcase of young Buffalo artists.

This is the first cycle of a series that will be running yearly, featuring artists from around Western New York. The show opened on Jan. 28 and will run until Feb. 27.

Gallery hours are 12-5 p.m. every Friday and Saturday, or by appointment.

Max Kalnitz is an arts staff writer. Arts desk can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com.