Keith Collins is giving a Post-Modern push to a Renaissance art form that peaked somewhere between Raphael and the invention of wallpaper.
And Collins' contemporary tapestries may very well be emerging as the boldest statement of wealthy decorum and weighty egos since family portraits.
"They are the type of thing that can totally change a wall, aesthetically and acoustically," explains courteous, groomed, exuberant, stylish and thoroughly self-made Collins, 34. He orchestrates a team of artists through a studio in downtown Los Angeles, a gallery on La Brea that is tastefully close to Melrose, and clients from Malibu Colony Hills to Tokyo. "Tapestries soften the sound of a room, change and follow new forms as the light changes, allow the sense of touch . . . and in that alone, they transcend the quote, painting, unquote."
His carpet tapestries also transcend the pocketbooks of those who can just afford macrame god's-eyes and million-copy reprints of James Dean slopping through the Manhattan rain.
A Keith Collins (that vaunted association between name and oeuvre --as in a LeRoy Neiman, as in a Patrick Nagel--already is in place at the better parties) can cost as much as $20,000.
"For that you get a one-of-a-kind piece, a one-off in your choice of size up to and including 16 feet in width and eight or nine feet in height," Collins said. Like the enormous, descending waterfall surrounding a spiral staircase in the home of actor Patrick Duffy. "Up to 50 colors. Or more."
Or you can pay only $5,000 for "a smaller, limited edition piece . . . the first of a run of 25 of, say, your Ferrari Testarossa." Also the Bugattis, Duesenbergs, Delahayes, Tuckers and Lamborghinis of car collectors who have commissioned Collins to replicate their priceless toys in broadloom.
The automobile can then be assigned to garage, private museum or showroom. The tapestry image is hung in the living room. Only one leaks oil.
Although much of Collins' work is commissioned by car collectors--Cris Vandagriff , president of Hollywood Sports Car, presented a tapestry to Enzo Ferrari shortly before the legendary Italian car builder died last year--it is not his restriction.
Noel Blanc bought a Collins as a birthday gift to his father and it shows Bugs Bunny talking into a carrot alongside Mel Blanc speaking into a microphone. Sylvester Stallone has a deep pile portrait of himself as a softer, gentler John Rambo.
A lady bought her gentleman a tapestry of the vintage T-28 Air Force trainer that shared his affection. A brother bought his sister a wall carpet of the cheetahs she adores.
In a less sentimental mood, a corporation, Great Western Litho and Bindery, commissioned a tapestry of its prized pet--a Miller printing press.
It all pales, however, alongside the order from a Georgia real estate baron.
"He wanted a portrait of himself, 10-feet tall and from the waist up, holding a red Rolls-Royce Corniche in one hand and a Koenig-Ferrari Testarossa in the other," Collins said. How enormous the id? "I don't know. I'm just a rug man.
"But the face alone was this big." Collins' hands are two feet apart. "And he was wearing a Panama hat."
Collins, unquestionably, is a success. Guess who calls him? The designer-creator of Guess leisure wear, Georges Marciano.
And that's none too shabby for a young entrepreneur, a physician's son whose early experiences in business would have turned the less resilient to a more profitable career on welfare.
Collins was born in San Pedro. Dad was a radiologist who collected Volkswagens and now teaches at UCLA. Mom is a public relations consultant who currently relates publicly for State Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). Grandfather collected Hammond organs.
Medicine, of course, was ordained for Collins. As were his biology, chemistry and calculus studies at Cal State L.A. But medicine, he decided, was not his drumbeat.
Collins left college with a saxophone, an elderly Porsche, admiration for the graphics of Esquire magazine, and a vague suspicion that his future lay somewhere in the design world. Then he decided to carpet his cubicle apartment in East L.A. for nothing.
"I had an aunt who used to take carpet samples and stitch them into full carpets," he remembered. "She told me what to do and I went down to several carpet stores, jumped into their bins and risked the coffee grounds and stray dogs to go for the prize of these colored pieces.
"I stitched them all together, like a quilt, and, hey, I had so many colors in it that it worked beautifully."
It also worked for friends who asked Collins to duplicate his patchwork rug for their homes. With that skinny encouragement, he sold the Porsche for $2,200 and poured the money into materials, research and a back-room business that would debut at a 1974 crafts show in Westwood.