The nature of obsession in art….

Can there be art without obsession?

And if there is obsession without art, is that when the trouble starts?

Being over here in the US has given me time to reflect upon this.

My own obsessions are dealt with in my work. Worries that might otherwise make me angry, aggressive, unreasonable, are dealt with productively, with a positive, aesthetic outcome… and ability to look at it afresh…

Without exception, the art I love shows levels of a fixation to match my own… with materials and subject matter. Even when I think I have branched out, in hindsight, I discover I have not. I have discovered this week that the obsession takes many forms. Katherine Gullo’s patterns cover every surface of her house and work… EVERY surface.

Mike Flaxman’s birdhouses another case in point. Based on shapes and styles of Russian architecture, I found they spoke to me somehow… like a bit of me could live in one. He had one that Kathy had painted… Dear God what I would give to own that… or give it a home near me for a while… I felt inadequate. I take a badly constructed, pre-made shed, slap some glue and pre-cut fabric strips on it… yeah ok. Take a thousand steps up, construct a birdhouse based on Russian architecture, intricate in craft and inherent balance of form and then paint it with beautiful delicate geometric pattern and flora and fauna. Shed? Pfft.

Debra Eck, who has unbelievably generously give eleven of us artists a home from home while we have been in the US, has her own set of rules for engagement with her materials. An eclectic collection of paper goods ranging from ephemera such as store carriers and tea-bag tags up to hand made papers and vellum make it into her work, each handled expertly and stitched with an obsession to rival mine, but into the most amazing books, with complicated embroidered bindings.


The gallery my work is in shows signs of it too. The Dykeman Young Gallery in Jamestown, is in itself a lovely building. Michael Dykeman presides over it with incredible attention to detail. There is a little walk through corridor/wardrobe lined with vintage shoes, handbags, hats and ties etc… beautifully arranged, expertly lit. It almost tempted me to buy some girl shoes… almost… each item for sale is given its place, and treated gently. He has treated my work in the gallery with equal care.


To be with a group of people who get why something has to be a particular way, is reassuring and refreshing. They may not understand MY rule, but they understand that it has to be so.

On an American Experience note, I have today seen a herd of deer, a groundhog and Niagara Falls. I have eaten an onion sliced into a sort of flower shape, the root part still intact, battered and deep fried… delicious, but containing about a fortnight’s calories I’m sure… and the best steak I’ve eaten for years.

And Buffalo wings? Oh yeah.


(continued from last posting)

Oh but my highlight of the day, was visiting Katherine Gullo…


This cottage, again, wood clad, sat nestled between trees, back a little from the road, was a joy! From the second I stepped out of the car I knew I would love this artist. The door and window frames of the house were painted in brightly coloured patterns of zigzags and dots and triangles… but stepping into the place was like being slapped… instant gratification of the patterned kind! Every single surface, textile, object… covered in colour and pattern and deep deep joy. But it was not cacophonous at all… there was a harmony to it, a rhythm. I sat on a painted chair at a painted table, geometric pattern against sweeping branches, butterflies and caterpillars. My eyes roaming the walls, and furniture. The lines between textile, mosaic, ceramic and painted surface blurred. I don’t know how she does it but the woman is a genius. I have warned my husband I might paint some furniture when I get home… he has no idea…

She also had a shed, I’ll post a picture… filled with her work ready for the season to start. Bowls of ceramic fruit shapes, painted with completely enveloping pattern. A place of real joy… This artist has a big heart, a huge grin and carrot muffins to die for… her work is a total expression of who she is. I came away so inspired by her, her work and her surroundings.

On the way home, driving through Amish country, white houses with blue doors… all the same colour blue, the acceptable sort of blue, we saw children playing in fields. Boys in flapped front trousers and breeches, white shirts, black jackets and straw hats, girls in navy or black dresses, brown bonnets covering their entire heads. In the slopes between the trees down to the stream, were a group of dens built from branches, leaves and bits of canvas and bits and pieces. Their play derived from the landscape. My tour guide Mike saying “they leave less of a scar on the earth than we do”

We did call into an Amish quilt shop too. But to be honest I found it a little disappointing, as the quilts – most of them – seemed to be made for “The English” so had little of the plain charm I was expecting. I was intrigued by the use of machinery though… which I thought was eschewed… tales of tractors being used to do the work, drive the equipment, but not drive itself, so the whole thing being pulled by a team of horses, the tractor engine driving the ploughing mechanism. There has also been a relaxing of the telephone rule, as some of the community are now employed outside, they need to be contactable by phone. So a little kiosk is built on someone’s property, away from the house, and this is where the community telephone lives. It seems each little community has its schism, a break from rules as and when required, but then there are breaks away when some find it unacceptable.

As Jean and Wendy said before me… it is going to take a while for all this to settle in, the effects of this week to filter through and show its effects in my work and thinking…

A great great day.

Big grin.

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The tour was amazing…

Went to the Octagon Gallery in Westfield… lovely little gallery in the basement of the Patterson Library, showing a range of regional artists’ work… fell in love with some pedestal ceramic bowls with feet, fun, brightly coloured… easily pleased, me!


Then Chautauqua Institution community, which reminded me of Portmeirion. Although its conception more organic than that place, it had a claustrophobia about it, small cottages that had been gradually built in place of tents originally for a methodist camp, now totally ecumenical, but economically exclusive now. Visiting it out of season was interesting, some of the houses open and beautiful, brightly painted with lovely fret work, wood clad exteriors, open porches. Others, being protected from the weather blowing in off the partially still frozen Chautauqua lake, are tented, reminiscent of their beginnings. Tailor-made closely fitted canvas, covering just porches, just the lake facing frontage, or in some cases the entire cottage. Thomas Edison’s cottage was entirely covered. Any construction work has to be done off-season, so it was a hive of industry. The institution itself now hosts all manner of community activity, courses, arts etc. Interesting place….


Also, holding the sign outside to its word we pulled into the drive of the Portage Hill art gallery, off season open by appointment or chance! Good to see a high quality selection of regional arts and crafts of all varieties… chatted for ages to the owner and artist Audrey Dowling… I say chatted… I whispered occasionally… my voice still rubbish, and being nursed carefully in the hope I can actually do more than whisper at the artist talk this evening!


We also visited Sharon Bartoo, a weaver… An amazing woman, showing obsession in artists and craftspeople the world over knows no bounds. We all say to each other, “are you mad?” as one artists obsession and attention to detail seems ridiculous and unreasonable, yet our own perfectly normal!


Well… bit of a dilemma…

Here I am in Jamestown New York, with all these events planned for me, and the little tickle in the back of my throat that I thought was because of spending so much time in airports and on planes, turns out to be raging throat infection of some sort I can barely speak above a croaky whisper. I’m so cross! I haven’t travelled 4000 miles just to creak and groan at people, I have come to be erudite and eloquent and witty, I have come to seduce them all with my work and my gorgeous English accent!

I’m being taken on a lovely tour of the area today, taking in all sorts of artists and artistic venues… fabulous! I am going to try to do so without talking. Those of you that know me, will know this will be virtually impossible!

Yesterday was amazing though… is there anything more flattering than talking about yourself and your work and people being interested and listening, and asking questions? I visited the gallery for the first time, and encountered my great coat in the way it is meant to be seen. I saw it afresh, and I liked it. It has grown in importance again. I love this piece of work. It has gathered people around it and it seems they like it too. I spoke to a few visitors about it and soaked up the compliments. My body is probably now paying the price for my inflated ego.

Also, went to a recording of a local radio show of a live music gig. This trip is pressing all my buttons… saw Austin “Walkin’” Cane play the blues. Magical.

Thanks Jamestown… especially Debra Eck (and Glenn) and Pat and Mike… whose generosity to an unknown stranger seems to know no bounds!


This time tomorrow I’ll be in Paris, waiting for my fight across the Atlantic to be reunited with my coat.

I am curiously, at the moment at least, not at all stressed about the journey. I think this is partly because I am responsible only for myself, but mostly because I am so excited!

It seems to have come about through serendipity, chance, coincidence…

One minute I’m reading Wendy’s blog, then I send her an email, and a few months down the line, I’m packed and ready to be off!

My friend Bo says that God is in the coincidence. I don’t know about that, but serendipity is a culmination of things that happen, I believe, because you have put yourself in the position to make them possible. You have to say yes to things, you have to talk to people, be nice to them, help them, have faith in them. You also have to know who and what you are, in order to say yes to the right things… and… no too. Saying no to the things that don’t fit can be more difficult, but just as crucial. I have to know what sort of artist I am, so I’m in the right place, doing the right things. This way, onlookers also know what I am and who I am.

If I’m doing what feels right, if I have established principles and practices, my path is clear, and I am open to opportunities. My view isn’t cluttered by the wrong stuff, so if there’s a lovely little tangent, I can zip along it, and back again… spurred on and inspired.

Open and clear. That’s my Spring resolution.

It makes for a light heart, and puts a spring in my step.