‘Leaving GAA behind was really challenging, but it made sense to me’
In the third instalment of a new series, in association with the all-new BMW 1 Series, we meet GAA star-turned-artist Neil Patrick Collins to talk life after sport, the pursuit of passion and finding success in the middle ground of art and fashion
“I always want to get to new places, so I took the BMW 1 Series up to Belfast with a friend from Brazil who hadn’t been there. We went on a bit of an art tour.” Photographs: Conor Mulhern
It is a really powerful car, and it is definitely a head-turner,” says Neil Patrick Collins, surmising his road trip with the new BMW 1 Series. It feels like substantial kudos coming from the GAA star turned artist, who has displayed a flair for performance and aesthetics from an early age.
“As a child, through my teens, and as a young man, the only thing I was really interested in was sports. When it came time to take a career in sports seriously, Gaelic football was the way for me to do it,” he says. A decade playing saw Collins rack up performances and accolades for his home county of Roscommon, a life he stepped away from in 2017. “It was time to pursue other passions,” he explains, “leaving that world behind was really challenging, but it made sense to me and to the people that knew me.”
While GAA played a leading role for Collins, there was also a quieter infatuation with artistic expression and fashion. “I was trying to live other experiences and seek other things outside the world of sport. Since I was young I have always expressed myself through clothes,” he says. “I enjoyed wearing and experimenting with clothes that were a bit out of the ordinary. In the GAA off-season, I would go travelling to different countries and experience different cultures and I was very interested in the expressive side of fashion. The ways that fashion functions as an extension of a personality, and the side of fashion that is more connected to art.”
Experiencing new places
Collins studied fashion buying and trained himself in graphic design and clothing design before moving to New York, where he worked in the fashion industry for two years, including a stint with iconic Japanese fashion house Comme des Garçons. “I really enjoy having diverse experiences,” he says.
“I think that is what really fulfills me. During my time in New York I worked hard for other companies, and after a couple of years I felt the need to step away and do my own thing for a bit,” Collins reveals. He then moved to Melbourne, where he started painting, and from there moved back to Dublin, where he now lives.
“I always want to get to new places, so I took the 1 Series up to Belfast with a friend from Brazil who hadn’t been there. We went on a bit of an art tour,” he says. “There’s a lot of incredible street art in Belfast, so much of it linked to the political history of the North, and also many pieces connected to other struggles in Palestine and Syria.”
Collins’ eye for art and design was cast over the car on the trip as well. “I mean, the aesthetic of it is beautiful,” he says. “From the outside, you just see this blend of incredible white, with tinted rear windows and really nice alloys. In terms of style and appearance, it is magnificent.”
The 1 Series M Sport Model that Collins tested included BMW’s Black Dakota leather interior, and an upgraded Harman Kardon sound system. “The big thing that struck me while driving the 1 Series up there was the absolute comfort of it. You have this feeling of luxury in everything from how it looks to how it drives,” he says.
“I listen to a lot of music, so the fact that the car syncs automatically with my phone was great. Everything you need your phone for is then there on the screen, whether it’s your Spotify, or messages, or maps, so you don’t need to touch your phone for the journey.”
The trip took in several galleries in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, an area of the city known for its smaller and tighter streets. “It is a really vibrant little area there, and the parking assist technology and the GPS were very valuable,” says Collins. “The whole journey was seamless, and the ease with which we could navigate unknown, unfamiliar streets was a luxury in itself.”
The combination of performance and style is key to Collins, who tries to strike a similar balance in his work, and recently exhibited a collection of his work at Studio 10 in Dublin. “I started painting because I knew I needed to express something, and I needed a new outlet to do it in,” he says.
“I went to Melbourne and spent six months there creating paintings for the exhibition I wanted to have in Dublin. Art has given me a way to express my own experiences. There’s a freedom in how personal it is, when you create something for yourself first and foremost, rather than creating something with a commercial goal in mind.”
There’s a thrill-seeking side to Collins, who initially found that rush through the world of GAA. “Sports is like a cauldron,” he says.“You have the fans in the stadium, you have the element of competition, you have your teammates, and you have your own physical effort, you have this whole concoction of intensity. When you are playing sports at that level, it is the ultimate feeling of presence. You’re not thinking about anything other than where you are at that moment and that is a beautiful thing.”
But there are different types of thrills for different stages in life, he suggests, and art has allowed him to embark on a more introspective journey. “I don’t think you can replace the high of sports,” he says.
I really feel delighted and blessed to have been able to have those experiences, but I like to keep experiencing different things, and satisfying different parts of myself
“I really feel delighted and blessed to have been able to have those experiences, but I like to keep experiencing different things, and satisfying different parts of myself. What I am enjoying now is something different – I get a buzz from the mental challenge of encountering new ideas and perspectives in galleries, and museums, and books, and also just listening to people, connecting with them and getting stories from them.”
There is an evident pioneering spirit about Collins. After driving back to Dublin, he went straight to work collaborating with several brands for upcoming expos and conferences. Having experienced working in the art world and the design world, he wants to find a way to operate in the middle ground.
“I still really enjoy the world of fashion, but I am attracted to the niche elements of it. Upcycling and recreating clothes is something I am really interested in. I was wondering why I was painting, telling myself that this wasn’t my career. But I think if you stay open to the things you are drawn towards then you find a way to incorporate them and make sense of them. The time that I spent painting really makes sense to me now, but at the time I was a little more unsure of why I was doing it. So combining that process of creating art with creating clothing makes sense to me now.”
For more information on the all-new BMW 1 Series, visit discover.bmw.ie/models/bmw-1-series