incartamento

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.

I have written previously about a few works from that precious time at Casa Columbina.  See, for example, one Italian summer,  farfalle, and saying the unsayable.  Also see this page in the ‘nomad collection’: Italy

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.


Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 1

salvaged cardboard
khadi paper
acrylic and oil paints
resin stains
the letters
old drawings and photographs
gauze
beeswax
butcher’s twine and other threads
butterfly wings
shoelace

215 x 240 x 65mm

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 2

It can be opened vertically as a book, or horizontally as a box.

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento, detail of letter bundle

The letters, wrapped in khadi paper, stitched, bound with butcher’s twine and sealed with beeswax.

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 3

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 4

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 5

 
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.


 

forest sutra

nomad collection | technique mixte
Uttarkashi, India

 

I am helplessly seduced by
solitude, silence, stillness
but sooner or later
I get horny for creativity.

 
Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, forest sutra, Uttarkashi, India
 
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*


*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.


kami-no-chaya

wonderboxes | nomad collection
Kyoto, Japan

 

Miriam Louisa Simons, wonderbox series - kaminochaya

 

painting on textured card and watercolor paper, assemblage

cardboard box, Arches watercolor paper, shade cloth, threads, twig, watercolor and acrylic paints, canvas board

460 x 460


This piece began as a watercolor study in the upper garden (kami-no-chaya) of the Shugaku-in Rikyu Imperial Villa in Kyoto.

I loved the pond with its border of perfectly rounded stones, and the way their forms were echoed in the carefully clipped azalea bushes.


wonderboxes


saying the unsayable

 

The inexpressible is the only thing worth expressing.
Frederick Franck 

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, la madonna blu

la madonna blu
Scaletta Uzzone, Piemonte, Italy
400 x 850
painting on silk, laminating, collage, assemblage
silk Habotai, fishing net, shells, sand, sequins,
fiber-reactive dyes, acrylic paint, gold metallic paint

– – –

this is my way
to make visible, to voice
the unknowable mystery of creation
this womb of light and love –

this is my way
with color, texture, rhythm
small earth-spun miracles
and a devotional heart

this is my way
to say the unsayable

– – –


Federick Franck’s to-do list

Frederick Franck at the awakened eye

Pacem in Terris


nomad collection: Italy


form and emptiness

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, washi bowl

washi bowl
Kyoto, Japan
Japanese washi, silver threads, cardboard stand

 

I find the fragile beauty of  Japanese handmade washi irresistible and came home from Japan laden with sheets of all kinds.  Actually it’s much sturdier than it appears.  Not quite strong enough for bowl-making, however.  How could it be stiffened, strengthened?

I decided to do some research and unearthed an old Chinese recipe used to stiffen silk for flower making.  A few dozen experiments and many failures later I had devised a recipe that enabled me to make bowls using just one layer of washi.  The diaphanous quality of the paper was preserved, and the bowls held their shape. Stitching sometimes appears, but seldom for construction purposes.

The bowls each have their own small base, and a storage box – just as do traditional tea ceremony bowls.

Why bowls?  To spend time in Japan, to participate in the rituals of tea making, serving, and drinking, is to enter another entire mindscape.  Coupling this with contemplation on the paradox of form and emptiness is a deep and profoundly awareness-enhancing practice.  Bowls can be potent teachers.


More bowls
Nomad Collection: Japan


offering to aizen-myoo

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons - wonderbox series: offering to Aizen-Myoo

offering to aizen-myoo
460 x 460
dip-dyeing, braiding, painting, stitching, assemblage
Japanese washi, indigo dye, cotton threads, bamboo stick, cardboard box

 

Hiroyuki Shindo’s indigo vats are set into the ground in groups of four in the traditional manner, with a small hibachi at the center of each group to keep the earth warm in the freezing winter months. [See song for Shindo-sensei]

The organic vats are fed with saki, rice bran and honey.  Indigo dye-baths are similar to a yoghurt culture – they are alive and they must be fed.  They are sensitive; kept happy they will produce a range of blues from soft turquoise to the deepest tones of a moonless night.  Eventually they will become exhausted, the quality of hue they produce will deteriorate and they will die.  Then the residue will go on the garden.

High up on the studio wall sits a little altar with a dip-dyed washi kimono and other offerings.  I ask Shindo-sensei about this small shrine.

“The first dip in the fresh vats at New Year is always offered to Aizen-Myoo, the protector of the vats,” he explains. The small dip-dyed kimono was Shindo-sensei’s first dip for that year, and the other offerings of riceballs and saki are replaced daily.  This very contemporary Japanese artisan takes no chances …

This is my small offering to Aizen-Myoo, tucked up in a wonderbox*.  The washi was dyed in Shindo-sensei’s vat, and the background cloth is a fragment from a Kyoto market.  The cotton threads braided to make the ‘rope’ were also dyed with organic indigo.


* My wonderboxes are little altars where the small and often overlooked miracles of life get to find a home. I’ve been making them for as long as I remember – the earliest ones were hidden inside shoe boxes and you had to peek through a tiny hole to view them.


song for Shindo-sensei

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, song for Shindo Sensei

song for Shindo-sensei
Kyoto, Japan
550 x 920

ai-zome (indigo) and shibori dyeing
hand-woven ramie, bamboo, cotton cord,
found object

Hiroyuki Shindo is internationally famous for the indescribable indigo hue he achieves from his fully organic vats. (So organic that when they are exhausted, he uses the residue to fertilize his organic vegie patch.)

During my sojourn in Japan on a Study Fellowship from the NZ Arts Council I joined him for a workshop at his home in Miyama, three hours from Kyoto, learning some of the idiosyncrasies of biodynamic ai-zome dyeing: feeding the smelly green vats with honey, rice bran and sake, offering prayers to the deities that watch over the vats, wallowing in wonder at the quality of the color that appeared on the cloth as the air reduced the dyestuff…

In the work shown above, the background fabric is hand woven ramie, dip-dyed in one of Shindo-sensei’s vats. I worked a shibori border on the piece of cloth that would become the panel. The small red object is a silk-wrapped prayer votive from a temple shrine.

 

Shindo-sensei’s ai-zome vats

 
Ai can mean indigo blue or it can mean love. Watching Shindo-sensei at work and seeing the results of his patient labors, one has the sense that, in his life, the two meanings merge into one.
 


Shindigo Space 07
Hiroyuki Shindo – aizome and shibori

 


Shindo-sensei’s home in Miyama


offering to aizen-myoo
nomad collection: Japan


I came to paint the shutters

This post is for James Hardiman, who was there, and who has just reconnected with me via this blog. Wondrous!


Location: a 17th century Presbytère alongside its ancient church in the Normandy countryside at Hiesville. The owner, a dear friend, had offered me the opportunity to spend some weeks there concentrating on my studio work, in return for painting the external shutters on the house.

Said shutters turned out to be legion. They had to be taken down, hardware removed, stripped, sanded, undercoated, painted (two coats), hardware replaced, and re-hung. They were solid wood and weighed a ton. I worked on them in the ancient barn amongst centuries-old sawdust and litter. Did I have any energy remaining for ‘studio work’? Joke.

I took myself and my frustration off to the nearby beaches for long solitary walks.

It was there – as well as in the old barn – that I discovered the bits and pieces that eventually came together as four works which would eventually join the Nomad Collection.

Any carefully conceived and planned pieces were, as usual, utterly sabotaged by the wonder of what lay around me and the ever-unpredictable creative process.

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, the artist's path

the artist’s path
[I came to paint the shutters]
Normandie, France
835 x 400

painting on textured board
collage, assemblage
objets trouvés: wooden slab, sawdust
iron staple, wooden slat blind
text fragments, cement, pva glue
acrylic paints


Nomad Collection: France