Wollongong artist soars to new heights

Birds are an apt metaphor for Wollongong artist Trina Collins, aka Poncho Army.

"It's their innocence and freedom," she says.

Collins was a finalist in the recent Australian Stencil Art Prize with her stencil of a blue tit approaching a twig to land, titled Landing.

The artist says the work expresses how she now feels after moving studios four times in 12 months: "I feel like I've finally landed."

Collins has gained a 12-month residency at the Wollongong City Gallery and is loving the vast space.

"I've always been in small studios before and I couldn't do screen printing or spray-painting," she says.

"I can do half a day of spray-painting and the other half illustrations."

The tiny Landing stencil has been worked from an illustration that was decorated and coloured and printed out before being built back up over eight layers.

"It's important to get the registration right; the smaller the work, the easier. The bigger the work the more difficult it gets," Collins says.

Despite her success at the Australian Art Prize - this is her fourth year as a finalist - Collins stresses that she doesn't want to be known as simply a stencil artist.

Graduating in graphic design from the University of Wollongong in 2003, Collins says stencil art, illustrations, and screen printing are her three passions.

She developed her artistic skills early and was making posters for bands as a teenager.

"I got into band posters when I was young - I made black and white drawings using fax machines and when the only computer program around was MS Paint."

Last year Collins also participated in the Outpost Project at Cockatoo Island and is excited about heading back next year to work for a week.

Collins says displaying work at competitions is more about exposure than claiming a win.

"Two pieces of my work were bought last night [November 21, when the winner was announced], which I'm really happy about," Collins says.

"You need to use these shows to get your name out there."

On the topic of names ... where did Poncho Army come from?

"Back at uni we had to do a portfolio and you had to use your name or a pseudonym, so I just put two words together."

Collins' project at the city gallery is to create a 13-piece series to be exhibited in June. It will have a storybook theme but no further hints are forthcoming.

At the end of the gallery residency, Collins plans to book galleries in the US. The only hitch she can see so far is that she is terrified of flying.

"I'm a major claustrophobic for getting in planes - the furthest I've been is Queensland and that was on the road," she says.

A selection of work from the Australian Stencil Art Prize is at the Chrissie Cotter Gallery in Camperdown until Sunday.

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