I’d never attempted a self-portrait
until the day
I drew my breath
In The Zen of Creativity, John Daido Loori’s must-have book for artists of all persuasions, he writes about the way shakuhachi maestro Watazumi Doso Roshi regarded his flute as a tool to monitor his authentic integration with, and expression of, the Life Force.
[The] ability to be free in his music was the result of Doso’s life-long, unrelenting commitment to the discipline of the breath. He actually wasn’t very interested in the shakuhachi as a musical instrument. He called his flute suijo, which loosely translates as “concentrated breathing tool.” Doso saw himself not so much as a musician or entertainer, but as one who is totally devoted to developing his life force – chi – by utilizing and strengthening his breath. The bamboo flute was simply a tool for that practice. He said once, “Since I must have some way of knowing how my breath is doing, I blow into a piece of bamboo and hear how it sounds.”
- The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life by John Daido Loori (1931 – 2009)
This intrigued me. For many years now part of my own art practice has been to use the single, horizontal brushstroke to express the exhalation of my breath. It’s a contemplative practice I’ve written about before on this blog (see the links below), and one that continues whatever the vagaries of my life. It’s clear to me that my breathscribe paintings are my suijo, my “concentrated breathing tool”. They show me how my breath is doing. Which in turn reveals what my mind is doing. And that tells me everything about how my Life is doing.
Advice from Watazumi Doso Roshi that applies equally well to the artist and musician, the singer and the dancer – indeed, to all of us as we struggle towards genuine authenticity:
So in that sound you have to put in your guts, your strength and your own specialness. And what you are putting in then is your own Life and your own Life Force. When you hear some music or hear some sound, if for some reason you like it very well; the reason is that sound is in balance or in harmony with your pulse. And so making a sound, you try to make various different sounds that imitate various different sounds of the universe, but what you are finally making is your own sound, the sound of yourself.
- Watazumido Doso Roshi (1910 – 1992)
To conclude – a fragment from the beloved Hafiz which neatly sums up my life these days.
My outer life has vanished,
but love’s breath still breathes for me.
textile | transformation
It often happened during the years when I was teaching art at Brockwood Park School in Hampshire, England, that my own artwork had its origin in classroom activities.
My keen group of students were learning how to paint on silk and other fibers as part of a fiber art program. They also wanted to explore off-loom weaving processes.
I had a wonderful stash of painted silk color samples from studio experiments in earlier days, and laminated them onto canvas to make ribbon strips. In the attic I found a discarded window blind made of narrow pieces of wood – these were painted using light-reflective acrylics.
The wooden sticks and the silk ribbons came together in a pattern discovered in one of the texts we studied – it’s a very old Chinese pattern symbolizing the ebb and flow of the Tao.
The weaving was eventually mounted on a length of painted bamboo matting.
1780 x 650
painting on silk, off-loom weaving
silk Habotai, canvas, wooden sticks,
acrylic paints, fiber-reactive dyes
miriam louisa simons
In the 70s and 80s I was working in textile surface design – at first creating one-off designer garments and ensembles, and later making pieces for walls to wear.
In 1987 I received a generous Arts Council study grant to work with master indigo dyers and shibori artisans in Japan.
At an exhibition of his kimonos in Kyoto I was almost unable to stay on my feet in front of the beauty and power of the works. They were simply breathtaking. I came home with a treasure of a tome, resplendent with glorious photographs of these silk masterpieces.
Years later, when working with toxic dyestuffs was a thing of the past and I was delighting in the possibilities of tube colors, pastels and brushes, I decided to make a study of a panel from one of Kubota-san’s kimonos.
It was the beginning of a new series of paintings – the ‘aquascapes’.
360 x 820
acrylic paints on textured canvas
mounted on canvas covered panel (not shown)
homage to Itchiku Kubota
miriam louisa simons
[Imagine my delight to be 'Featured Artist' in the new issue of ONE: the magazine.
Since the editor used a tiled version of this aquascape as the background to my page, it seemed timely to post it here, with a little background information.]
I want to introduce you to Monica G Martinez, who writes, and shares her artings on the beautiful blog ink +chai. I have already featured Monica’s blog in a previous post: arting happens.
For this edition of the occasionally-appearing *friday favorites* let’s get a little closer:
I’m a daughter of the wild winds.
My roots extend into Spain and Italy. My youth unfolded in Australia, I lived in England for 12 years, then atop a mountain in Montenegro for 5 years, and now, returned to England, on the edge of Dartmoor.
I soak up life through travels, arting, befriending the shadows, culture, astro-psychology, the written word, and heeding the incessant caw and hum of nature.
Behind my melancholy and/or seriousness, lies this. How refreshing it would be, to be capable of expressing this vibrancy within, and not be taken as inauthentic. But I am clumsy. And others crave from me other things.
And so my art speaks where my mouth fails.
~ Monica G Martinez
Source – ink + chai website
Click on the screenshot to enjoy Monica’s blog.
I am helplessly seduced by
Sutra is a Sanskrit word that can mean thread, (sew, stitches) or spiritual teachings. Since I was on retreat at the remote Krishnamurti Uttarkashi Retreat at the time, both meanings are relevant to this piece.
Walking in the high Himalayan forest I was enchanted by the pieces of bark that would fall from the trunks of huge trees and lie scattered on the forest floor like small sculptures in their own right.
I had no art materials or equipment with me. Everything used in this piece was either scavenged from the roadside, under the trees, beside the River Ganges, or bought in the village market.
340 x 900
stitching, gilding, assemblage
khadi paper, hessian sackcloth, threads, river stone, old cotton dhoti, recycled cardboard, tree bark*
miriam louisa simons
*Bark from the Chilgoza Pine – Pinus Gerardiana – which is native to the northwestern Himalayas. The fragments in this piece were gathered in forests near Uttarkashi, northwest India. Chilgoza Pine is a cousin of the Lacebark Pine (a native of northeastern and central China) and is also found in Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan.
Making things, making art, is a dance of discovery. A mark is made on the empty canvas. A movement arises, freely improvised. The body moves. Tools are picked up. Gestures in color, form and texture unfold. Mind is poised, empty, innocent, and endlessly wondering.
Welcome to wonderingmind studio!