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

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

memento mori


Memento mori is a Latin phrase translated as “Remember your mortality”, “Remember you must die”, or “Remember you will die”; taken literally it means [In the future] remember to die, since “memento” is a future imperative of the 2nd person, and “mori” is a deponent infinitive.  It names a genre of artistic creations that vary widely from one another, but which all share the same purpose: to remind people of their own mortality.  The phrase has a tradition in art that dates back to antiquity.

It is rare for me to move into narrative, but this new work tells the story of a chapter of my life that was intimately concerned with mortality – specifically that of my much-loved parents, but including others as well. I had never before been so closely involved with people who were living through the final stages of their life. It was both sobering and inspiring, and I use the term to title this work in the sense that profound awareness of one’s mortality can motivate one to “seize the day” in a very positive way.


Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, Memento Mori

memento mori, 2011
private collection, Queensland, Australia
920 x 920

off-loom weaving, stitching, collage, assemblage, painting

water hyacinth fiber, modelling paste, canvas, acrylic paints, rayon ribbon
acetate, fragments of straw sun hat, silk tissue paper
images of own artworks, cut and woven

– – –

The story unfolded in Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia.  Every component of the work tells part of that story. I will list the symbols and leave it to the viewer to ‘get the picture.’

Three ‘strokes’ of red ribbon:  Mum, Dad and me.

The two ‘drapes’:  Mum and Dad.  Mum on the left, overlapping Dad slightly; she survived him for nearly a year.

Silk tissue paper:  They were both in their 80’s when they moved to the Bay, and past 95 when they died.  Their skin was so fragile it reminded me of ancient papyrus.

Straw sunhat fragments:  The sun and the heat were hard on them (and me).  We had to learn to seek shade rather than sun, which, coming from a temperate climate was a hard habit to break.

The rolling waves:  Hervey Bay’s beauty is renowned.  The Coral Sea laps quietly, gently; we enjoyed many beach walks together before they became less mobile.  Waves also speak of the inexorable tide of life – we come, we go.  All returns to the ocean of creation.

The stitches with red ribbon:  These two strands of ribbon, meeting and tying in the middle, represent my dear friends M and R, whose home was often my refuge, and whose loving support and loyal friendship helped keep me sane.  They generously commissioned this work.

The woven strips of older works:  My art practice was largely over-shadowed by the task of supporting Mum and Dad’s wellbeing.  While the creative life continued in other ways, studio work was virtually impossible.  However, one’s previous work is always busy in the sub-conscious – weaving itself into new ideas and questions.

The background:  The threads of Life are wondrously interwoven and usually inexplicably so.  Parallel to that rather philosophical reference is the simple fact that for much of the decade I felt like a basket-case … yet much was ripening within.  At the end of the decade I was no longer the person I had taken myself to be.  Another death had happened – one that had nothing to do with mortality, but that opened up a fresh vista on life and creativity.

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

ema for aotearoa

textile | transformation


Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons - Ema for Aotearoa


Painting on silk, laminating, collage, assemblage
Silk Habotai, canvas, card, fishing net, fiber-reactive dyes
305 x 610

An ema is a votive or prayer tablet commonly found hanging at monasteries and temples in Japan.

The central motif was inspired by an exhibition of Maori cloaks, or kahu; the cowries and fishing net speak of the sea and its generosity. The fiery background refers to the volcanic undercurrents that create such havoc in these ‘shaky isles’.

This is a simple prayer for protection from nature’s excesses.

misfits & memories

aroha awaroa aotearoa


Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons - Aroha Awaroa Aotearoa

aroha awaroa aotearoa
Nelson, Aotearoa-New Zealand
1000 x 900

painting and dyeing on silk, laminating,
shirring, hand and machine stitching
silk Habotai, card, recycled cardboard,
laminated papers, sea shells, acrylic paints,
fiber-reactive dyes

England was home-base for the 90’s – a wonderful period of educational work and travel.  There were several visits back to New Zealand to visit my family, but only one that was long enough to complete a work.  The long grayness of the English winter had deepened my appreciation of one of my favorite places in New Zealand – Awaroa Inlet on Golden Bay. When I returned to the area to spend some months in Nelson, a profusion of joyful memories of sun-drenched childhood holidays spent beach-combing in my shirred ‘cozzie’ all came together in this piece.

wandering and wondering


The last post, about thigmomorphogenesis and the Gurukala Botanical Sanctuary in Kerala, India, unleashed a host of delicious memories of time spent in India. Time spent teaching, offering workshops, making art – and wandering, absorbing. It prompted me to post a few more items about the joys of being a nomadic artisan.

I’m starting with  a piece from – appropriately – India.  A while back I posted a piece from India titled hand of suttee, and earlier, two pieces from the earthworks series. There are many countries included in the nomad collection and almost 100 works in the collection, so sharing the joy could span a fair few posts. Today’s one features one of my favorite subjects – windows.

An innate curiosity has meant that travel has played a big part in my life. I’m one of those people who are more at-ease on the road than at home. But I don’t travel to paint; it’s rare that works are completed within the context that inspires them.

I travel to absorb, to immerse myself in other languages, beliefs, realities. I spend time in places rather than passing through. This immersion yields surprising impressions – often years later, when I reflect on my visual and written records and feel moved to express some form of synthesis.

For me, the essential impressions seem to need the geographic gap and gestation time in order to surface, and when they do, they often arrive fully formed. I simply assemble them.


Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, window - Uttarkashi

window – Uttarkashi
Uttarkashi, India
450 x 1330

painting on silk, card and wood
collage, assemblage
washi, hemp twine, recycled cardboard,
wooden panel, mosquito gauze
acrylic paints, dhoti lengths,
fiber-reactive dyes, wooden window catch

Doors and windows interest me wherever I travel. Perhaps it’s the way they speak of openings, of new and unfamiliar views and perspectives. During a long retreat up in the Himalayan foothills I would often wander along paths that wound through simple rustic villages. The ‘window’ works that were inspired on those walks were pieced together using items scavenged, mostly, from the countryside. The painted silk panels were added upon my return to Bangalore.

nomad collection

and then along came Lu


Miriam Louisa Simons: detail from scroll - Lu

Lu,  220 x 220 

Detail from scroll  (980 x 355)
torn khadi papers, stainless steel gauze, acrylic paints
lurex threads, textured canvas, ceramic tile fragment


I dug out my Zen and Taoist texts, poked around online encyclopedialand, and found that Mu and Ku are Japanese words with – to the uninitiated – apparently similar meaning.

Mu: lit. nothing.  Space, emptiness, clearness, transparency.

Ku: lit. sky, space, mouth.  Three-dimensional void, sunyata, emptiness.

Wu is a Chinese Taoist word.  Lit. not have, without.  Commonly used to indicate not-being, creative quietude, letting-be.  Not too far out of step with Mu and Ku, it seems to me.

Then I looked up Lu.  Unsurprisingly it’s a shortening of Louisa, and guess what?  It means famous warrior and light.  I don’t know about the warrior bit, but I love the light.

And I love the way my work teaches me all I need to know.

a kakemono called ku

a kakemono called ku


Miriam Louisa Simons: detail from scroll - Ku

Ku,  220 x 220

Detail from scroll  (980 x 355)
torn khadi papers, gauze, acrylic paints, lurex threads
pottery fragment, textured canvas


How do you pull a name out of the wordosphere to title a work that has no conceptual basis?

Often artists resort to “Untitled” or a cluster of letters and numbers that would look more at home inside a computer’s database. I’ve resorted to using “Untitled” a handful of times, but mostly I find that the work will tell me its name – and its story too – if I am patient and empty.

The scrolls that I’m posting details from at present reeled their names off like tiddlywinks as soon as they had found their format – ie, the kakemono or scroll.

Mu. Ku. Wu.

And Lu.

Hmmm, thought I, what means this?

and then along came lu