A compulsion to create: For artists, the creative process

National Post (Canada)
May 4, 2004 Tuesday Toronto Edition

A compulsion to create: For artists, the creative process can be
inspired by many things, but for those who obsessively separate their
M&Ms into colours or compulsively pop bubble wrap, a new exhibit
celebrates the results

by Helena Payne

BOSTON – A Boston artist has dedicated a museum exhibit to the type
of behaviour that causes some to separate their M&Ms into colours,
pop bubble wrap until there is no more plastic to crush and focus all
their attention on the most minute detail out of pure obsession.

The exhibit at the Boston Center for the Arts is called OCD — as in
obsessive compulsive disorder. Curator Matthew Nash said it’s not
about an illness but how the creative process can be driven by a
series of obsessions and compulsions.

“You should see my studio,” said Nash, who has shown his art in
Boston, Chicago, New York and Italy.

He is one of the people who separates his Skittles, M&Ms and Reese’s
Pieces into separate containers for each colour. He used the latter
two sugary goods to create his art for the OCD exhibit, which lasts
through May 9 and features artists from New York, Pennsylvania and

Using the Halloween-like colours in the candies, Nash made a grid
that forms the images of soldiers, planes and other war-related

“The obsession of this is having bins and bins of M&Ms and hoping
when you’re done it looks like something,” Nash said.

Nancy Havlick has bins with objects separated by colour, but they’re
filled with sugar eggs. In an attempt to fuse her multicultural roots
— English and Armenian — with her American upbringing, she decided
to start her own tradition.

With the sugar eggs, Havlick creates “rugs.” Make no mistake, they
aren’t to walk on.

The eggs are coloured with a mixture of spices and foods often used
in Armenia, including mahleb, sumac, almonds, apricots, paprika and
rosebuds. She organizes them in decorative patterns on the floor.

“I’m deciding my own tradition. Rather than looking backwards, I’m
forging ahead,” Havlick said, laying one of the eggs in its position.

Havlick said she didn’t recognize her obsession with making sugar
eggs until she realized she has been doing it for a decade. But she
has also realized another fixation: carving out an identity from her
multiethnic past.

In her parents’ generation, Havlick said, it was much more common to
assimilate to the American culture rather than celebrate differences.
“My mother wasn’t cooking Armenian food. We were having hot dogs and
hamburgers,” she said.

The sugar eggs have become her own way of bridging the past to the
future and “to control the chaotic feelings” of life, she said.

Many of the exhibitors wanted their art to express something about
both the creation process and the result.

New York artist Jason Dean wanted to conquer bubble wrap after
working for an animation company where he did a lot of packing. So he
decided to make it an art project and see how much time it would take
for him to pop the largest roll of bubble wrap he could find.

That roll and other smaller ones are mounted on a wall of the exhibit
like paper towels above a kitchen sink. There is also a six-hour
video that features Dean’s “popping spree.”

“I kept thinking that they were a lot louder,” he said. “It just
sounded like fireworks and I kept thinking that someone is going to
question this odd sound.”

Joseph Trupia, another New York artist, used office supplies to make
drawings called What I can do in 40 hours and What I can do in eight

Another work in OCD shows 600 photographs of rear ends.

“It was kind of a silly thing to do at first and it became a document
of the process of looking,” said Boston artist Luke Walker of his
gluteus photography.

Norfolk, Va., artist Jennifer Schmidt became fascinated with the
repetition of filling in ovals on test score sheets.

“The idea of the artwork showing evidence of repeated activity is
something we see in a lot of different forms,” said Martha Buskirk, a
fellow at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in
Williamstown, Mass., and author of The Contingent Object of
Contemporary Art.

The clinical disorder is even more consuming, said Diane Davey, a
registered nurse and program director of the OCD Institute at McLean
Hospital in Belmont.

“Obsessive compulsive disorder is really defined as someone who has
unwanted or disturbing intrusive thoughts and who engages in a set of
behaviours that are meant to sort of neutralize the thought and help
them to feel less anxious,” Davey said.

Davey said an exhibit like OCD might help someone to question his or
her own behaviour and seek help if necessary.

GRAPHIC: Color Photo: Chitose Suzuki, The Associated Press; Matthew
Nash stands in front of his artwork, Children’s War, at the Boston
Center for the Arts. Nash is the curator of an exhibition by artists
with obsessive compulsive disorder.; Color Photo: Chitose Suzuki, The
Associated Press; Nancy Havlick installs her sugar egg rug as part of
the OCD exhibit.