So there I was, happily holed-up in a casa di campagna, a country hideaway near Alba in Piemonte, Italy. Beautifully restored by Swiss friends, it was a rustico offered to me for a summer’s studio practice. They knew that my teaching work left little time for my own artwork; they also appreciated how important it is for a teacher in any field to be personally engaged with their subject.
But this little piece stayed in the shadows – perhaps because, at the time, it was too personal, something made for my eyes only, something made to help bring a chapter to a conclusion. You see, a long relationship had come to an end, and although it was a mutually agreed and (mostly) mature winding-up, there was debris. It took many moons for the debris to settle, and making this piece definitely helped.
I simply couldn’t toss out my ex-partner’s letters. He wrote beautifully. We shared so much: questions, ideas, travel, art. I wanted to honour both our years together and the traces left in his letters. I wanted to make some kind of a container for these letters, something simple and rustic, only using materials found at hand.
As I was playing with possible formats, my Italian neighbour popped in. I tried to explain what I was doing and she tried to understand… she spoke no English and my Italian is beyond pathetic. Eventually, she conveyed her understanding that what I was doing was “wrapping it all up”, making a dossier or file… and that Italian word for it was incartamento.
Oh, I liked that word – it fit my purpose perfectly, and in true Italian style it rolls off the tongue like honey.
Fast forward a couple of decades. My memento comes out of hiding and a dear friend who knows how to drive a camera expertly documents it for me: thank you, Carol Brandt.
acrylic and oil paints
old drawings and photographs
butcher’s twine and other threads
215 x 240 x 65mm
It can be opened vertically as a book, or horizontally as a box.
The letters, wrapped in khadi paper, stitched, bound with butcher’s twine and sealed with beeswax.
And now, all these years later, the quiet pleasure of having this memento matures like fine wine. It gives off a bouquet of gratitude and appreciation for the experiences shared, the learning and depth of feeling that flowers within intimacy. I prop it up and smile.
The capacity to make is nothing less than alchemy.
When I began to paint and create my art, I did not know where I was headed as an artist. Yet what remained important to me was that I was beginning my calling as a painter. After I began painting and working as a priest, the idea came to me to create works that could benefit the members of my community.
It always seemed to me that the public was constantly being asked to support either museums, or other cultural institutions. So I decided to take that theory and turn it on its head and use my art to support my community. I do not receive payments for my art, all the monies go directly to my congregation to help others in need.
– Father Bill Moore
I so appreciate Bill Moore – the Bill bloke, without the Fr., or the Dr., or even the Mr. He knew his calling, even though it was a double-header. He was able to acknowledge that his purpose lay in two directions: he was both a painter, an artist, and he was a priest, a mouthpiece that could inspire and point his congregation towards a sensitive, refined experience of life.
Which came first or was more significant? Why would it matter? What mattered was that he honoured his two-headed calling.
But there was more. He surrendered his calling to his flock. He uses his art “to support” his community. This is an uncommon altruism. My heart thrills to this.
Then there are the paintings with their invitation to touch, to gaze and graze. These are works that I find soul-satisfying on so many levels.
I always want to have a peaceful resolution, even if the painting is full of energy, life and movement, I always want to evoke peace, tranquility and calm. I always want to organize this energy.
“Father Bill imbues his art with a deep spirituality based on who he is,” says Mary Felton, who represents Moore’s work at Galerie Züger in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “His process is to walk up to a blank canvas and see what [the] Spirit wants him to paint on that canvas.”
I think in many ways, people are hungry for poetry and music and art. I think we have a deficiency in our spiritual diet.
My art has made me a better priest, and my faith has made me a better artist. We live in hurried times and are inundated with countless images. We have the capacity to immediately access a staggering wealth of information.
Through my art, I’m asking myself and those that would explore it to slow down. To look, touch and consider the essential colors, shapes and textures that can feed our souls.
I hope my paintings serve as an invitation to enter into the mystery of being fully human, and to face our fears and the challenges of life with dignity and grace.
– Father Bill Moore
Mary Oliver articulates to perfection the way everything in the world appears to stand between the artist and his or her commitment to their passion – creative engagement with they-know-not-what. Don’t we all experience this: the expectation from our N&D, or our colleagues – and ourselves too – that we can simply blink and materialise in the silent, open, receptive posture that invites our muse? That we can zip from chore to chore, demand to demand, and fit our engagement with creativity into time-slots in a diary? But it doesn’t work that way. And this, we find, is what those whose allegiance is to a tick-tock, product-driven, left-brain interpretation of creativity can never understand.
For our muse is a jealous lover; she demands sustained attention and even, dare I say, devotion. She isn’t easily coerced into our studio – or whatever creative playground we inhabit. She doesn’t respond to invitations but turns up willy-nilly. She seems averse to any kind of expectation that she will show up merely because we do… yet we must show up, regardless. We must show up and we must stay. And sooner or later, in our dedication, passion and sincerity, and with our “hunger for eternity” we will realise that our engagement is not just with some mythical muse, but with the ceaseless primordial creativity that is powering the whole glorious show.
This offering is reblogged from voxpopulisphere where it was posted with the title “The Artist’s Task”. The content was originally featured on brainpickings. I’m sharing it here because Mary’s observations cause my head to nod (and their expression in her unmistakable voice is a treat), and because I have a feeling that you – yes, wondrously creative you – will appreciate it too.
It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.
But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist.
The world sheds, in the energetic way of an open and communal place, its many greetings, as a world should. What quarrel can there be with that? But that the self can interrupt the self — and does — is a darker and more curious matter.
Certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary; it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.
Say you have bought a ticket on an airplane and you intend to fly from New York to San Francisco. What do you ask of the pilot when you climb aboard and take your seat next to the little window, which you cannot open but through which you see the dizzying heights to which you are lifted from the secure and friendly earth?
Most assuredly you want the pilot to be his regular and ordinary self. You want him to approach and undertake his work with no more than a calm pleasure. You want nothing fancy, nothing new. You ask him to do, routinely, what he knows how to do — fly an airplane. You hope he will not daydream. You hope he will not drift into some interesting meander of thought. You want this flight to be ordinary, not extraordinary. So, too, with the surgeon, and the ambulance driver, and the captain of the ship. Let all of them work, as ordinarily they do, in confident familiarity with whatever the work requires, and no more. Their ordinariness is the surety of the world. Their ordinariness makes the world go round.
In creative work — creative work of all kinds — those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward. Which is something altogether different from the ordinary. Such work does not refute the ordinary. It is, simply, something else. Its labor requires a different outlook — a different set of priorities.
No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Still, there are indications. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen. It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes solitude. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker. It isn’t that it would disparage comforts, or the set routines of the world, but that its concern is directed to another place. Its concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of the formlessness that is beyond the edge.
Of this there can be no question — creative work requires a loyalty as complete as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity. A person trudging through the wilderness of creation who does not know this — who does not swallow this — is lost. He who does not crave that roofless place eternity should stay at home. Such a person is perfectly worthy, and useful, and even beautiful, but is not an artist. Such a person had better live with timely ambitions and finished work formed for the sparkle of the moment only. Such a person had better go off and fly an airplane.
The working, concentrating artist is an adult who refuses interruption from himself, who remains absorbed and energized in and by the work — who is thus responsible to the work… Serious interruptions to work, therefore, are never the inopportune, cheerful, even loving interruptions which come to us from another.
It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.
There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything. The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.
There are very few things I can say about my work that are better than saying nothing.
– Ralph Hotere
I was still very young and totally naive about “art” when I first met Ralph Hotere’s work head on. Looking back, I can’t help but marvel at that encounter. It shifted my brain. It was when I first understood that art had little to do with the materials used (in this case, weathered corrugated roofing iron) and recognisable forms of the portrait or landscape variety. What a shock, a revelation and a liberation in the same instant! My own art education, and the opportunity to visit major art galleries in New Zealand, Australia and further afield would unfold much later. So it was entirely by some intuitive capacity that I understood what the revelation meant – at least to me.
Hone Papita Raukura (Ralph) Hotere and I lived in the same small New Zealand city – Dunedin. He was well known and turned up at functions both formal and informal. I was always a little in awe of him because as yet I had no language with which to enter into a conversation about his creative life. These days it would be different, but were he still alive he’d probably be as reluctant to talk about his work as he always had been.
The revelation Hotere unveiled for me was a shift from thinking that art is about materials and techniques and objects that can be placed in historical/conceptual categories, to understanding that it is, rather, an immaterial communication, a relationship in which the viewer needs no explanation to deeply feel the artist’s intent.
Like another well known New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon, Hotere had a powerful way of including text in his work, a way that transcends the trap of the illustrative or decorative. His words are pictorial elements in their own right, not mere memes. During the late 1960s he struck up a relationship with the New Zealand literary worldwhich would come to full fruition in subsequent years in collaborative works with New Zealand poets including Cilla McQueen, Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare and Ian Wedde. In 1979, he used his friend Hone Tuwhare‘s well-known poem Rain to produce Three Banners with Poem, for the Hocken Library at the University of Otago in Dunedin.
Rain, 1979. Oil and enamel on unstretched canvas, 2440 x 985 mm.
Collection of A. and J. Smith, Auckland.
I can hear you
making small holes
in the silence
If I were deaf
the pores of my skin
would open to you
should know you
by the lick of you
if I were blind
special smell of you
when the sun cakes
when the wind drops
But if I
should not hear
smell or feel or see
you would still
wash over me
What, I asked myself, is my purest intention regarding my art practice? What is my highest aspiration? It might sound a touch heady, but I do think it’s good practice to occasionally revisit one’s focus and intent, because these things change as time passes. I am now in the lovely position of making for the sheer wonder of it; concerns with selling and exhibiting no longer invade the playground. So what drives me to make, now?
Mulling these questions was juicy and productive, like shining a light into the dim corners of my experience, spotlighting the details and seeing how everything has interconnected to bring me to this perspective, now.
Once I had clarified my overview (about which, more later – maybe) and recognised that my intentions for my work and my life were identical (surprise, surprise), the next question presented itself: How could I make a container to hold these intentions? It occurred to me that the container should be made out of something I’d created in the past, to symbolise the way one’s via creativa morphs and meanders over time. I also wanted it to be constructed in a way that reflected my journey from textile artist to … whatever I am now.
I dug deep in the boxes of bits and pieces that make up my studio ratpack. (I keep everything: my belief is that everything is on its own journey – paper, canvas, thread, pigment, brushes – and I’ve lived long enough to see how those journeys are often linked to my own in unforeseeable ways. Often many years pass before those links become evident, and I’m always grateful that I didn’t toss too soon.)
As I write this I regret not having taken photos of the two semi-circular pieces of pulped paper with embedded crochet that surfaced as candidates for my container. They had, in fact, been a big bowl made circa 1987 in New Zealand. My nomadic lifestyle meant everything had to be easily stored, so I had cut the bowl in half then soaked and pressed the pieces flat. That was thirty years ago.
Now I cut the two pieces in half again, then soaked and pressed these four quarters of the original bowl into a plastic mixing bowl from the kitchen. Paper pulp is such a pliable, forgiving, merciful material! In a few days the form was dry. I removed it from the plastic bowl and reinforced the overlapping quarters with wire stitches. The interior was painted, and the exterior given a touch up.
You’re a very fine bowl, thought I, placing it on the little stand I’d made with a circular plastic pipe cap from the plumbing department at the hardware store. (It was covered with paper mâché and painted to match the bowl – thus a little secret space was created under the bowl. I love secret spaces.)
But that wasn’t the end of it. The bowl was hungry. My vision hadn’t included writing my intentions down; it was enough to have unearthed and clarified them. But now the bowl was whispering and I was listening. There should be offerings, it said.
So on the Summer Solstice the third phase of the project began. I wrote my most important intention down on a scrap of Japanese washi and rolled it into a tiny scroll. Into the bowl it went, and each day for a full six months it was joined by another little scroll. They began as intentions and soon included blessings and prayers and praises – whatever thought or feeling turned up to be offered during my morning contemplation time.
On the morning of the Winter Solstice, the last scroll went into the bowl. Life had neatly arranged a new project, one which I recognised to be an exquisite response to the intentions I’d offered up six months earlier. In the company of mind-shifters Peter Kingsley and Michael Brown I began a transformative inner adventure of such significance that I now think of my life as pre- and post- this journey. And from this new perspective who knows what will express in the studio?
I’ve never been drawn to ritual, even though my relationship with objects borders on the metaphysical. But my soul bowl, a container with an unforeseen ability to speak into my heart and elicit its deepest longing, is clearly a ritual object. Surging into creation at one Solstice and ebbing at the next, it is one of those life-happenings that keep me infused with awe and awake to the immensity of the unknowable.
Miriam Louisa Simons – Soulstice Bowl, 190mm high x 260mm diameter. Pulped Arches watercolour paper, gold lurex thread, wire, acrylic paint, Japanese washi, various threads. 1987 – 2016
Peter Kingsley: pre-Socratic scholar and student of the Sufi path, whose book Reality demonstrates (among many other things) how the ancient Greeks gifted us a system capable of bringing a human being to the experience of reality. What would it be like to be fully, continually aware of all of our senses – and what’s more, to be aware of that very awareness? How can we “come to our senses”, be fully and maturely wideawake? peterkingsley.org Michael Brown: one the most wise, humble and generous human beings I’ve come across, who gave me contemporary tools and support material to independently excavate the archaeology of that energetic terrain – at the vibrational level: a never-ending adventure into integration. thepresenceprocessportal.com.