I don’t have things to say
I simply have questions to ask
and things to make
as the possibilities unfold
The act of creating, its mysterious flow and the surprises it brings as I lose myself in its play, has always been the driving force behind my practice. I’ve never been very interested in replicating an existing object or landscape; setting out to express a narrative or to put forward certain concepts or commentaries in visual language seems to be counter-productive if one is exploring creativity, which by definition excludes the known.
The subject matter of my work consists of four elements:
– the tools and processes of my particular craft
– the materials at hand
– the field of my experience and knowledge
– an innate curiosity
These elements come together in unplanned, unexpected ways as I play, and in their expression I meet my object. If my part in the birthing of that expression is free and uncontaminated (by notions of what others might approve of, for example) the work sings, and its audience – which includes myself – absorbs something which I could never have contrived to create.
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 find myself urged 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.
A floating central square or rectangular shape often appears in my work. This format – and also that of the vertical scroll – reflects my love of Japanese art and my studies in Japan. I was profoundly affected by the sparse, elegant harmonies of Japanese design, as well as by the subtlety of tonal and textural interplay with light.
I confess that 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, it’s now evident that this weird disappearance of the ‘artist-self’ and the accompanying sense of gracious ease in the way the work flowed – a blessing which seldom occurred elsewhere in my experience – was the catalyst for a lifelong spiritual inquiry. If I wasn’t responsible for the work that unfolded during the creative encounter, what was?
Exploring this mystery led me through several distinct life-chapters – I think of them as stages on the via creativa. 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 dreamed up 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 present, but became increasingly elusive and erratic as commercial pressures mounted. Since its presence brought such a profound and inexpressible sense of wonder and rightness, I resolved 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 creation may – or may not – come to play.
I’d like to think that my work, even when displaying riotous color, expresses profound quiet.
I am preoccupied with order, connection and stillness in my life, as these seem to provide the context for creativity to flower.
With that flowering comes a sense of quiet joy.
My work turns on that joy.
– miriam louisa simons