soulstice bowl

Miriam Louisa Simons - Soulstice Bowl

 

It all began with a question, as usual.

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.

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Soulstice Bowl detail

 

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.)

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Soulstice Bowl detail

 

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.

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Soulstice Bowl, interior

 

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?

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Soulstice Bowl, interior detail

 

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.


bowls from bygone days


how was it for you?

 

I’ve been reading a great post from Maria Popova at brainpickings about the moment we recognise we are fated to become artists.

“How does one become an artist — not in a practical sense, not by some external measure, but by an invisible and intimate surrender to the creative impulse? It often happens in a single moment of recognition — a point of contact with some aspect of the miraculous in some aspect of the mundane, catalyzing an overwhelming sense of the unity of things and an uncontainable desire to emanate that sense outwardly; to share it, in some form, with others — whose otherness is suddenly dissipated by the very impulse.”

The article is about Patti Smith and her memory of this momentous recognition. It’s inspiring and wondrous. But it left me thinking, well, what was my big moment of recognition? How was it for me? Was it a single moment or did it unfold over time?

 

Wonderingmind Studio - Michael Leunig: Song

 

In my case, it was both. From tinyhood there was always an urge to be engaged in making for its own sake; I simply loved the way the world (and me as well) would melt into a timeless joy when I was ‘making things.’ In that innocent play I felt totally at home, totally ‘right’, fully fulfilled. (Years later I would realise that I’d always been driven by a mix of curiosity and wonderment – and that this mix had also driven the lifelong urge to understand that ineffable state.)

I was good at academic subjects, and at High School that meant focusing on language, math and science. But I was already seduced by the subjects deemed less worthy – by art and  craft and embroidery. I wanted to make, and to make art in particular, even though I didn’t really know what art was.

As a concession, I was allowed to take Art and Design as a ‘failing subject’ for my School Certificate (= O Levels) exams. What that meant was that if I failed in it, it wouldn’t matter because the other four ‘real’ subjects, which I would do well in, would carry me through. Since we had no proper instruction in Art or Design at my academically focussed school, I was set up to fail – I didn’t even know how to read the exam questions. And so it came to pass.

I was knocked back on my failure to answer the questions correctly. And that was my ‘tingle’ moment – that was when I raised my 15 year-old finger to the high priests of the art world and said stuff you. I didn’t have a clue what art was, I was ignorant of art history and criticism, I was a peasant kid in a tiny city at the bottom of the earth. But I knew what stirred my juice. It was the wonder of colour and the magic of making.

Yet even with that early recognition, it took decades for my via creativa to deliver me to full commitment to visual language as my mode of expression: to ‘out’ me as an artist. On the way I tried my hand at some amazing alternatives. Yet like an insidious addiction, the makings continued. And the hunger to be fully engaged in ‘art without apology’ was insatiable.

Eventually that hunger was satiated. There was no delivery to fame, although mini-fame fluttered for a while. I simply made my way by making, and by helping others know the joy of expressing with their own authentic voice.

It’s a long way back to that “stuff you” moment, the moment when that adolescent intuited that she would spend her life busy at an activity that for most of her friends and family (and society at large) would be both incomprehensible and worthless. Yet here I am, now in my 70s, and I wouldn’t change a thing. For me, making things turned out to be my holy pathless path, my Guru, and my gratitude is inexpressible.

I’d love to hear your own reflections: how was it for you?

 


Image: Michael Leunig, Song. I chose this image because it expresses so well the sense of wonder, fulfilment and sweetness that accompanies the visit of the muse (the little bird?)
http://www.leunig.com.au


True art does not look like art.
– Lao Tzu


no artist is pleased
creativity and autonomy


wider wonderment; deepening devotion

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons - Dana

 

It’s the first day of a new year. I have been a very infrequent blogger on this site over the past year, but the pot has never been off the simmer. This post has been crafted over months – months during which my studio practice has been slowly resurrecting itself after a long hiatus and finding its voice from a place so mysterious that there has been no hurried urge to share, to make explicit, its deep inward movement.

In hindsight, I recognise that this mysterious movement has always been the prime motivator of my art practice. My inquiry has always occurred within the simple activity of making things, and the things I make are the inevitable outcome of the unique mix of my abilities, experience, and the questions raised by my circumstances in time and place.

I’ve never been interested in creating replicas of objects – human or non-human, or visual narratives about social and political issues, or in making explicit aspects of my own pathology. The ‘visionary’ output of my imagination never held any attraction. So what was it that compelled me to turn up in the studio year after year – regardless of whether there was an exhibition looming or not, or any commissions to complete?

It was, and remains, a mysterious attraction to something that occurs when I’m playing in a certain way with my materials without any intention to produce any kind of ‘art’ object.

“A certain way”?  This is hard to describe; it’s immaterial what technical processes I’m using, or what version of visual language I’m ‘speaking’. What is crucial is an attitude of innocent curiosity and a willingness to encounter – and be comfortable with – the unknown. And I can’t help but notice that to the extent that I’m absent (as artist, designer, controller, critic) creativity flows. My amazement at what shows up is as acute today as it was at the beginning of my via creativa.

Looking back over more than five decades of making things, I can see that I have always been preoccupied with icon making. Whether conscious of it or not, I’ve been making secular icons, altarpieces; expressions of wonder, expressions that in their eclectic and deceptive simplicity might have the power to affect consciousness – to close the gap between the observer and the object observed, even if only for a moment’s restful ahhhh … a little benediction of peace.

Although there were many occasions when I was informed that my makings had this effect, I had little scholastic reference to back up the concept until a book called Tantra Song landed in my lap, and I learned that for hundreds if not thousands of years, artists in Rajasthan, India, have – usually in anonymity and seclusion – created images specifically for the purpose of the transformation of consciousness. I learned the significance, in this context, of my own habitual use of certain symbols and colors – components of my work that had been turning up forever, without my conscious understanding of what they stood for in the lexicon of Yoga Art. My hair stood on end.

A second mind-shifter crept up on me soon after. For the better part of a decade I have devoted an enormous amount of time and energy (aka love) creating a cyber platform for artists and artisans who speak about their practice in terms of engagement or intimacy with the unknown: theawakenedeye.com  Over the years I have had the privilege of reading and sharing the heart-felt authentic expressions of many makers across a wide range of work – all sharing the sense that their practice is an expression of wonderment at, and devotion to, something much larger than themselves. Something that moves through them when they are empty enough, quiet enough, humble enough.

Recently I came upon an artist writing very explicitly and beautifully about her practice as “devotion to the unknown”, and I felt the earth move. There was an upswelling of a mountainous YES. It was like the ‘hundredth monkey effect’ – there was such a powerful shift. Her directness moved me to totally cease censoring my own real-time artist statements to make them conform to the currently correct version of artspeak.

(Many years ago, a Melbourne curator had advised me not to speak of ‘flakey spiritual stuff’ when dealing with galleries or arts councils. For decades, I’d felt split in two – my identity as a maker whose practice is wholly concerned with the unknowable source of creation was intact in the studio and online, but in real time I felt forced to dissemble.)

So here’s the truth: the crux of my work is devotion. Whatever happens in the studio is an act of devotion to the innate Unknowable. How could I not be in awe of the mystery that pours through these hands, this mind, when given unconditional permission, when not impeded by my own small visions and versions of what real art should look like?

It’s an act of awe and devotion, yes. But as the same artist pointed out – that’s not the whole story.

Devotion to the Unknowable doesn’t mean one stops questioning the great mysteries of existence. Actually, it generates and fosters this inquiry; such was the intention behind instruction in the Mystery Schools. We discover that the Unknown/Unknowable isn’t some kind of remote and sacrosanct object. It’s inescapably and seamlessly interwoven into our every perception, thought and experience. Just don’t try to define, systematize or organise it – it simply can’t be conceptualized.

But it can be expressed. And to my mind, this is the power and purpose of any creative expression, whether visual or poetic, performed or musical: its capacity to evoke that Unknown, to render it visible in its shimmering, evanescent, momentary wholeness.

Wholeness. There’s something that happens in the creative encounter that’s familiar to artists of all kinds. It’s a melting of the division between our seemingly solid separate self and the wild suchness of the world; a dissolving that brings an experience of utter wonder, of timelessness, of knowing that this is the way the world simply IS in its naked perfection.

I never know what will happen when I walk into my studio. I may have a list of tasks to attend to, but when it comes to the empty canvas I’m brain-dead. I’m on my knees without a prayer – empty and ready. I’ve spent decades maybe, pondering questions that can’t be answered with words; they are folded up in my heart. It may be today that the Unknown makes an appearance in form. If not today, well, I’ll be back tomorrow just in case She shows up, and is in the mood to make.


Image – Wonderbox series, Dana, Miriam Louisa Simons


Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan, by Franck André Jamme


beginner’s mind is mind that is free to wonder

 
Being objective about my work is somewhat tricky because when creating is happening I seem to ‘disappear’. This has always been a mystery for me. Looking back, I notice several stages of fascination or inquiry as I explored this mystery.

In the beginning, as a child, there was simply the delight and joy of making things. Pure play. Innocent wonder. Then, during the years of my education, the criteria invented by those who knew what ‘art’ was ‘all about’ crowded in and I attempted to make my ‘things’ fit those criteria. I began to explore the intellectual arena called aesthetics. And the mystery faded, quietly, almost without notice.

For over twenty years I made my living creating wearable art. The magic of creativity was there, but it was increasingly elusive and erratic. Since its presence brought a profound and inexpressible sense of wonder and rightness, a sense of utter blessing which never occurred elsewhere in my experience, I began to stalk it. As I did so, it led me away from concerns with financial success, with exhibiting, and even with peer acceptance. It took me into the selva oscura, into exile.

The creative encounter had become my teacher, my guru. It took me to places all over the world where I would be involved in creative education, where I would meet others whose over-riding passion was the mystery of creation. It kept me on the road for decades practicing, teaching, inquiring. It ensured I’d never become locked into making a certain type of art product; if I fell into habit or repetition it simply disappeared. It was replaced by tedium.

Eventually the via creativa led me back to square one. I had spent decades forgetting that I knew everything I needed to know about creating (just play!) and gathering up an arsenal of concepts and conclusions about creativity. Now I had to forget everything I had learned.

It wasn’t so difficult. Play is the key to beginner’s mind, and humans are hard-wired for play. (Although the wires can become rusty and tangled sometimes!) Beginner’s mind is mind that is free to wonder. No conclusions, no prescriptions, not even any intentions. Just space, in which creativity may – or may not – come to play.

– miriam louisa simons


when the artist disappears, pure creativity radiates


the reach of your compassion is the reach of your art

 

Today is my birthday:  sixty six wondrous orbits of the sun.  Many people comment that Life seems to turn up the screws around one’s birthday time, and it’s certainly been the case here.

About a month ago wonderingmind studio began being dismantled.  Materials, paints, equipment disappeared into cartons.  Some found their way to the art department of a local school for autistic kids.  Some went to a charity that organizes art and creativity events for city youngsters.

Works-in-progress and completed pieces came down off the walls.  Shelving was flat-packed, books sorted and passed on.

It was like packing up a life – which is exactly what it was.

And what a timely opportunity to take stock!  I was over at Zen Dot Studio recently and found that its author is also in the midst of moving house.  I loved the way she had penned her thoughts and observations about the moving process and all that it reveals, and wished I’d had more energy to blog my own.  But it was all too exhausting at the time.

It’s one thing to move from one home/studio to a new one and quite another to pack up a life without knowing when – or where – it will emerge from the boxes again.  My boxed life has gone into a storage unit.  My unencumbered life is moving on.

It demands to be let loose again; the circumstances that constrained it for the past decade (caring for precious parents) have changed.  There have been long months in that intense and deep place called Griefland, which I have come to understand is really a place of R & R.  And of adjustment – to absence.  It heals.  Allowing the energies to bubble to the surface of the lifestream, embracing them and loving them, has worked wonders.  The stream enters deeper waters, vast, silent, unknown. I know this ‘place’ – I call it the via creativa.  Another chapter begins …

Joseph Campbell wrote that the reach of your compassion is the reach of your art.  I feel that the gift of this past decade – the gift my ancient, beloved Mum and Dad gave me – was the swelling and bursting open of a heart that had become pretty dried up by life’s apparent disappointments.  From a shriveled up pea it has slowly unfurled into a quivering flower.  Its perfume is Compassion.

How will it express itself?  Will there be more art-making?  Perhaps.  Meanwhile, it is reaching out to simply share.  And so, I scribble on this little blog.