Drawn To Adventure: Interview With Climber, Artist, and Filmmaker Jeremy Collins

The film “Drawn” is a crowd­fund­ed pas­sion project, years in the mak­ing by climber, artist, and film­mak­er Jere­my Collins. Using extra­or­di­nary hand-drawn ani­ma­tion, sketch­es, and water­col­or, Collins pays trib­ute to a lost friend and com­pos­es an ode to seek­ing new adven­ture at an age where many would pre­fer to sit back. Jeremy’s quest took him climb­ing in the four car­di­nal direc­tions of his home in Kansas City, Mis­souri: West to the gran­ite bas­tions of Yosemite, East to unclimbed walls in Chi­na, South on a voy­age to the steamy jun­gles of Venezuela, and North to the ser­rat­ed sky­lines of the Vam­pire Spires in the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries. In the film, he con­tem­plates life, death, dis­cov­ery, and the impor­tance of fam­i­ly. Here, Jere­my talks about the film, his artis­tic influ­ences, and his fas­ci­na­tion with the idea of direction.


The Clymb: In Drawn, you climbed in Yosemite, Chi­na, Venezuela, and the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries. Was there a rea­son you chose these four climbs in par­tic­u­lar?
Jere­my Collins: Each one has a dif­fer­ent sto­ry of how we end­ed up there. Yosemite was a booty call from Mikey Schae­fer. We had met in Patag­o­nia the sea­son pri­or. For Chi­na, I called Tom­my Cald­well, and he start­ed laugh­ing because he was already plan­ning a trip to the exact loca­tion, so I joined in. For Venezuela, I was approached by José Miran­da at a film fes­ti­val and two years lat­er we showed up in Cara­cas. For Cana­da, I pro­posed a route in Baf­fin Island to Pat Good­man, and he counter offered with a pic­ture of The Phoenix. He won.

The Clymb: Some of your pieces appear sur­re­al­ist and Native Amer­i­can-like, such as your ani­mals and land­scapes. Was there an artist who inspired the devel­op­ment of your style?
JC: Yeah I sup­pose you spend enough time out in the ele­ments, and those types of influ­ences tend to absorb into you. There is no sin­gu­lar artist I have looked to for styl­is­tic guid­ance, but native work from all con­ti­nents cer­tain­ly inspires me and feeds into my work. I like what the Aus­tri­an moun­tain artist Hein­rich Cae­sar Berann was doing back in the mid­dle of the last cen­tu­ry. I love Jack Unruhs life­work. I’ve been look­ing at his work since I was a kid and now we are Face­book friends. What a strange world. It keeps shrink­ing. I guess in gen­er­al I am more inspired in what artists do with their work, not their par­tic­u­lar style. In that case, Shep­ard Fairey or Chip Thomas has my respect for their impact on the cur­rent mind­set via street or cul­tur­al art.


The Clymb: Since your last film ‘The Wolf and The Medal­lion”, did you exper­i­ment with new styles or medi­ums?
I wouldn’t say I had new medi­ums, I just grew into them. I have a deep­er con­fi­dence in what I am doing with my hand drawn work and how they fit into sto­ry­telling for film. One excit­ing exper­i­ment I did was all the liq­uid tran­si­tions in the film. We shot these all with a DSLR sus­pend­ed over a glass pane that had a bed of water in it. I poured ink into the water and while it bled, we cap­tured it. It was a strik­ing and suc­cess­ful approach.


The Clymb: One of the themes of the film is the desire to keep search­ing for more in life, whether through trav­el or expe­ri­ences. What spurred you to take on this project?
I think the sim­plest answer is that as an artist I am always look­ing for the next big thing. And pair that with my ideas and desires as a climber, it was the per­fect vision for expres­sion. there’s a line in the book where I say, “I write down lots of ideas. Many are use­less vile-troll-dung ideas. Some are not-worth-the-paper-they-are-writ­ten-on ideas. No mat­ter how wretched and point­less, our ideas are the truest things about us. Whether we have an idea to move the couch from this side of the room to the oth­er, change pants, change jobs, or change the world, ideas matter.”

The Clymb: As well as climb­ing, you took on sev­er­al com­mu­ni­ty projects as well, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Venezuela. What did you give back to these com­mu­ni­ties?
Before going to Venezuela, I asked the ques­tion — “what do the res­i­dents of Yunek need?” and with the help of locals, we found they need pow­er to keep their CB radio going. I was lucky enough to have Goal Zero as a spon­sor, so I came to them to devise a plan. They were very open to my ideas, and we deliv­ered a sys­tem for the Pemon locals. 

I also arrived with piles of art sup­plies for the chil­dren and we had a great time mak­ing art togeth­er. I end­ed up doing a project where I paint­ed people’s faces on their doors which got a lot of laughs. I’m no anthro­pol­o­gist, but I think the best thing you can bring a remote indige­nous fam­i­ly group is pride in cul­ture. I received advice to bring soc­cer balls and can­dy, but I just did­n’t see the long-last­ing impact as an approach that brought a sense of pur­pose and aware­ness that who and what they are or what mat­ters. Either way, every action we do in those places has an impact whether we want it to or not.

There’s this great shaman from the Ama­zon, Davi Kope­nawa that warns of too much impact from out­side vis­i­tors. In his book “The Falling Sky” he speaks of those “infect­ed” by tourists:

“They wear shorts, want to lis­ten to the radio, and think they can turn into white peo­ple. They strug­gle to bab­ble the white people’s ghost talk while some­times dream­ing of leav­ing the for­est. Yet they know noth­ing of what the white peo­ple tru­ly are, their thought is not yet opened. Try as they might to imi­tate them, it will not lead to any­thing good. If they con­tin­ue on this dark path, they will wind up drink­ing cachaça and become as igno­rant as the white peo­ple can be.”

The Clymb: Along with the film, you’re also releas­ing a com­pan­ion book. What does the book add to the film?
JC: Just like any book/film com­bo, the book is a fuller, deep­er sto­ry. It gives an insight to all my draw­ings made on the jour­neys. I strug­gle to pin­point which best reflects the whole sto­ry, but the truth is, they work in tan­dem. There are pieces in each that are not in the oth­er. They work as a team.

The Clymb: A com­mon theme in your work are maps and par­tic­u­lar­ly the idea of direc­tion, such as the car­di­nal direc­tions in ‘Drawn’ and the name of your cloth­ing brand-not-brand, ‘Merid­i­an Line’. What made you want to explore these themes?
I think there’s a con­stant when you are push­ing into new ter­ri­to­ry for your­self as some­one who trav­els- you have to engage with a map of some sort. I like the par­al­lels in life you find with a map. The more you unfold it, the greater the possibilities.

The Clymb: Is there any sequence in ‘Drawn’ that’s a par­tic­u­lar favorite of yours?
JC: My “moment” in the film is where I’m walk­ing “alone”, bare­foot in the mud in The Yukon. Its one of the few frames where I am all alone. It’s poignant for me and a real sense of pur­pose and soli­tude. Even though I could­n’t have done any of this alone, when it came down to writ­ing it all down and bleed­ing it out, it was my own story.

The Clymb: Were there any mem­o­rable moments that didn’t make it into the final film?
JC: Well there was a LOT of rock­fall, espe­cial­ly in Venezuela, but we chose not to over sen­sa­tion­al­ize it. There was one argu­ment in all four trips and it did­n’t get cap­tured. That was a bum­mer not to have on tape. Then there was the missed griz­zly and wolf footage. It all hap­pens so fast. Then there was that pool hall on the bor­der of Guyana… That one’s a secret. 

The Clymb: One final ques­tion: Is “The Tank” still run­ning?
JC: You’ll have to read the book to find out. 

Jere­my is tour­ing the book and the film across the Unit­ed States through­out the sum­mer. He shares his spec­tac­u­lar art­work through his Insta­gram page.