Global convulsions like the COVID-19 pandemic cause widespread anxiety and fear. As a way of mitigating this, many of us have become obsessed with ways of taking some kind of control in our lives— with gardening, canning, cooking, and sewing (especially masks). These modest gestures towards self-sufficiency are positive, because being able to do things, and do them well, is rewarding. Anyone who continually works with their hands can confirm that, especially artists and craftspeople, who live the truth of the positive effects of creative obsession.
Having an obsession is not quite the same as being obsessed. An obsession, an abiding passion and interest for a thing or things, is often positive, or at least harmless. The idea of being obsessed however, has a tinge of desperation and a suggestion of lack of control—one thinks of Captain Ahab’s search for the white whale, and we know how that ended. The eleven artists included in this exhibition may share an obsession, but the works on view are evidence of the opposite of a lack of control. And while they are definitely positive expressions, they are hardly “harmless,” that is, if you consider the risk of having your habits of perception interrupted and your expectations fulfilled in a manner that you couldn’t have anticipated. No one will be harmed by these obsessions, but you may be surprised.
Fine craft, like any art worth the name, has always had an element of obsession: each artist has to master varied techniques and struggle with often difficult materials and processes. They must do so in a manner that keeps them interested and engaged in the long hours from conception to production, all the while striving to make something that viewers will find equally compelling. Success is never a given—failure is an all too familiar studio companion for every artist and craftsperson.
The artists in Creative Obsessions have also been challenged by the present times: with the increased isolation brought on by COVID-19, interruptions in their supply chains for materials, and the disruption of their normal routines. Some have chosen to respond directly to the issues of our day, while others have redoubled their focus on their materials and the specific technical and historical processes in which they think. And it is in that thinking that their varied obsessions bear fruit. Creative Obsessions highlights the probing questioning—of techniques and materials, of local and global issues, of historical and cultural contexts—that define the work of eleven of PEI’s most accomplished fine craftspeople.
The exhibition is organized by the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in collaboration with the PEI Crafts Council and guest curated by Ray Cronin and Sarah Maloney.