Artist in Focus: Susan Boyle

What happens when someone with your name becomes famous? Ugallery artist Susan K. Boyle tells her story to The Guardian:

The other Susan Boyle

The global success of the Britain’s Got Talent star has had an unlikely impact on one unassuming Texas artist.

There is, you might think, room in the world for only one Susan Boyle. But you would be wrong. The American artist, Susan K Boyle, was living her quiet, unassuming life in the pretty hill country of Kerrville, Texas, when a friend sent her an email.

"It was a link to Susan Boyle’s YouTube performance a few days after her audition," recalls Susan K. "I thought she was wonderful - what a beautiful voice and what a compelling story. But I thought it was just an interesting coincidence, nothing more."

Except that back in 2002, Susan K Boyle had set up a website, susanboyle.com, to display her artworks. That site had been rusting in cyberspace for a couple of years - until the Britain’s Got Talent finalist sudenly came to the global consciousness last month, and something rather strange happened. “A journalist called me and said, ‘Do you know your site is getting 1,800 hits per hour?’ I had no idea - I hadn’t upgraded the site for a couple of years.” Yesterday, she calculated the cumulative total of hits to be more than 172,000.

Susan K’s website shows her figurative line drawings and head studies in oil. Like her namesake, she has got talent, though not the sort to irrigate Simon Cowell or Amanda Holden’s tear ducts.

And then the madness, as it does in such cases, began in earnest. “A couple of Susan Boyle fans emailed me to say they thought I sang beautifully. Another thought I sang beautifully and liked my artwork! Among the emails were inquiries for price quotes on a couple of my art pieces. However, I have had no sales as a result of this. Yet.”

So is Susan K expecting a surge of sales as a result of the sudden celebrity of an unglamorous though sweet-voiced woman who lives on the other side of the Atlantic? “That would be too weird, wouldn’t it?”

Next, she started getting calls and emails from people wanting to buy her website’s domain name. “One guy, within a minute, had increased his offer from $100 to $500,000. I’m not sure how serious he was, but that sort of thing is very strange to happen to someone like me.” She consulted a company called Sedo that sells domain names and, following their advice, has now put her web address up for sale for a cool $25,000. She hasn’t sold it. Yet. (She has moved her artwork display, though, to sboyleart.com).

Surely she’ll be rooting for her namesake to win tomorrow night’s final? “I haven’t heard the other finalists, so I can’t say.” Admirably diplomatic - but Susan K now has a pecuniary interest in the other Susan’s success. According to Sedo’s director of business development, Nora Nanayakkara: “The value of the domain name really depends on the sustainability of Susan Boyle’s popularity.”

I ask if Susan K’s life story is as heart-rending as her namesake’s. “I don’t know much about her biography,” she replies. I’m thinking of the fact that the 46-year-old singer from West Lothian claimed - apparently as a joke - never to have been kissed, at least until Piers Morgan made her life story even more harrowing by kissing her backstage last week. “Oh, I’ve been kissed,” Susan K replies finally.

The 64-year-old from Kerrville is an art major who has drawn and painted throughout her life, while working mostly in the airline industry. “I was a stewardess, as they were called in the 60s, for PanAm. I left just before Lockerbie [the PanAm crash in 1988].”

In addition to Susan K’s new website, her work can be seen in a show called Turning Point at the Hill Country Arts Foundation in Ingram, Texas, from 6 June. She is understandably eager for the media circus (ie me calling her at the prearranged time of 7.30am from London) to move on, so she can walk her “lovely old dog” and then get back to her art.

After the interview, she sends me a disarming email: “Please be kind to me in your article. Another outfit in the UK wrote about me yesterday and made me sound stupid AND greedy - and they hadn’t even spoken with me!! Egads!”

For the record, Susan K Boyle is neither of those things (and I’m always a sucker for a woman who exclaims “egads”). She is, like her namesake, a breath of fresh air. The last thing the “other” Susan Boyle says sounds sweet coming down the line to this celeb-crazy nation. “I am an artist and am happiest in my studio working on my art. I don’t deserve, or want, fame”.

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