Laura Collins finds artistic inspiration in celebrity culture

Chicago-based artist Laura Collins’ paintings depicting Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen will be featured in “The Olsen Twins Hiding From The Paparazzi” at the Tonya Harding Nancy Kerrigan 1994 Museum in New York City from April 22–May 1. 

By Arts & Culture Editor

The time is 4:15 p.m. Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen are a bit scatterbrained as they answer the phone for an interview.

Why? Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have posted their first-ever public selfie.

“We’re freaking out right now,” Olen said. “The Olsen Twins just took over Sephora’s Instagram account. This is big news.”

The selfie might not seem like a big deal to most people, but for Harkins and Olen, founders of the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan 1994 Museum, a Brooklyn-based “gallery” set up in the hallway of their shared apartment, it is definitely “on brand,” as the duo says.

Harkins and Olen are currently working with Chicago-based artist Laura Collins on an upcoming New York City art exhibit, “The Olsen Twins Hiding From The Paparazzi,” with art inspired by the many ways Mary-Kate and Ashley hide from photographers—mostly while donning designer handbags and giant coats.

Collins may not yet be a household name, but her work is likely familiar to downtown Dollop Coffee customers. The artist’s fashion illustration-inspired acrylic paintings, which depict models falling on the runway, TV’s “Real Housewives” and celebrities hiding from photographers, have graced the walls of the Chicago coffee shop at the 343 S. Dearborn St. and 345 E. Ohio St. locations since December 2015.

Collins’ work first caught the eye of the THNK 1994 duo when she submitted a drawing of Harding’s mug shot for the pair’s 2015 show. After following Collins’ work for the last year, Harkins and Olen got the idea for their new exhibit from her Olsen Twins-inspired pieces.

“Once I started posting the Mary-Kate and Ashley paintings, [Harkins and Olen] texted me immediately and said, ‘What’s going on?’” Collins added. “They were like, ‘We need to do something with this. We should do a show in New York and have a Kickstarter.”

After raising $9,989 to pay for gallery essentials, including a larger venue, an art shipment from Chicago to New York and a plane ticket for Collins, “The Olsen Twins” show is set to run from April 22–May 1, according to the Kickstarter page.

The idea to have an Olsen Twins-inspired show was a no-brainer for the long-time fans of the fraternal actresses, especially after news broke of 29-year-old Mary-Kate’s eccentric wedding to the 46-year-old Olivier Sarkozy, Harkins said.

“We’re fans of Mary-Kate and Ashley for very different reasons,” Harkins said. “Viviana watched ‘Full House,’ but I never did. I became more of a fan after they moved to New York. You’d always read about them going to the Met Ball and smoking inside. They always seemed very cool and elusive.”

The show is mostly humorous. Harkins and Olen are both Upright Citizens Brigade-trained comedic performers, but Collins said her work is not meant to depict her subjects in a negative light. While many of the subjects are shown in less-than-flattering situations, such as “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Kim Richards post-nose job, Collins said she feels empathetic toward her subjects.

“There’s always an underlying sadness and darkness to my work,” Collins said. “It’s humorous, but it’s also a dark humor. I hope people know I’m not just poking fun at these people. I do feel a lot of empathy for them. That feeling of embarrassment or feeling like you’re being watched is definitely a huge theme in my work.”

Harkins and Olen have no background in the art world, but the upcoming exhibit caught the eye of major media outlets, including W Magazine, Elle and the Norwegian edition of Vogue, among others.

“It’s been so cool because every one of them has Laura’s paintings in them,” Harkins said. “It’s been fun to watch other people say, ‘These are so cool.’ Plus, it’s fun to read a Norwegian article about yourself.”

Collins said she draws most of her inspiration from popular culture. With “The Olsen Twins” show, Collins will be able to showcase that love on her most public art stage yet.

“I find celebrity culture really fascinating,” Collins said. “It’s like someone that we feel we all know but don’t actually know at all. I try to find some sort of universal common ground. Celebrity culture is a really good chance for that to happen.”