The central character in my novel, Casting Shadows, is an artist and collector. Although neither her mother nor her siblings recognise her objects as such; this is probably true for many artists whose fascination overtakes their homes and then their lives. Until recognised as a collection, and let's face it, the collector can take on the appearance of a compulsive obsessive — someone with a medical condition that needs attention; a hoarder. You won’t be surprised to learn that Freud linked collecting to difficulties from childhood linked to a profound sense of loss from ‘elimination’ — toileting, if that makes it any clearer.
Distinctions are hard to make between someone with a worrying propensity to collect smoking pipes, skulls, string, or human shrunken heads (I'm thinking Pitt Rivers here) and might rightly cause concern for their family until, years later, this obsessive collecting begins to have merit and the stature of a national collection. There was a television programme about what individuals kept in their expensive storage units. One young man who had inherited an enormous, dilapidated stately pile (soon to be sold) kept everything. Friends came to help him clear the house and huge barn, but he couldn't bear to part with anything, you could see the struggle he was having and how frustrated his friends were. When they went to his storage unit and opened biscuit tins they found they contained dust swept up from the floors of the family mansion. He made the point to his friends that had he been a well-known artist this ‘collection’ would be a source of interest and perhaps exhibited. He’s right it would, but it had yet to be conferred with that status and I doubted he would ever find his dust exhibited anywhere illustrious.
I am actually an obsessive clutter clearer, in all but one department, which I will come to later. At the end of summer I wash and store my summer clothes and unearth my winter wardrobe from boxes. This charming ritual makes me assess what is dated, old or unworn and should be despatched to the charity shop. I display objects of beauty with enough air and visual space surrounding them so that their unique qualities are appreciated, cramming objects together does them a disservice, unless they are all of the same type, like the collection of elephants in the SCVA exhibition. The one department that I struggle with is anything on paper, and while I regularly try to address this problem I am no nearer a solution. Writers are attracted to words in whatever form. So I have copies of my own writing, (manuscripts being the bulkiest) and cuttings folders, these contain my research papers for novels and then there are the ideas folders, puffed up and stuffed up with snippets from newspapers, magazines and scribblings from my own notebooks. Then there are lesson plans and handouts. Last week I found a ‘beginning’ a paragraph that I wrote when teaching at SCVA last year and within a couple of days I had fashioned a short story from it, so they do get used. I recently heard Alan Bennet remark that he had thirty notebooks with snippets of conversations and ideas and that he had decided to stop keeping them as he was unlikely to use all the material, but then he commented on something overheard he felt compelled to write down. So he isn’t free of the notebook, not yet and neither am I. I believe writers should always keep a notebook with them. I think perhaps the cuttings could go, but… I don’t quite have the courage, not yet.
I am slightly obsessive about my notebooks and pens. I write in a manila ‘Kraft’ reporter’s notebook from Paperchase, I file into manila folders also Paperchase. Although annoyingly, I began with folders from Muji and then moved to East Anglia where Muji are thin on the ground and so I have folders in differing shades of manila. My pens must be Pilot G-2 07 gel with black ink. So you can see that I have cultivated a little obsessional behaviour of my own.
On Wednesday we dive into the collections of Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Sol Lewitt, Edmund de Wall, Howard Hodgkin and Peter Blake – the obsessive in me can’t wait.
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You can see images from the exhibition on my Pinterest board ‘ART’ (Pinterest could have been designed for collectors.) https://www.pinterest.com/seasideseasons/art/