just DO!

 
I belong in the age group that witnessed the rise and the too-short shining of the star that was Eva Hesse.

She was w-a-y outside the box right from the start.

If Paul Cézanne was the “father of us all” according to Picasso, Hesse was the mother of us all. According to me.

The images I’ve chosen are lesser known examples of her work that particularly appeal to me; the quotes come from correspondence between Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt.


 

I think art is a total thing. A total person giving a contribution.
It is an essence, a soul..
In my inner soul art and life are inseparable.

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Eva Hesse - collage

 

Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping …  Stop it and just DO!

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Eva Hesse, Right After, 1969. Silver gouache and pencil on paper, 22-1⁄4 x 15 inches

 

Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool.  Make your own, your own world.

If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety …

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Eva Hesse, No Title, 1969. Gouache, watercolor, silver and bronze paint on paper, 21-3⁄4 x 17-1⁄4 inches

 

You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty.  Then you will be able to DO!

Try to do some BAD work – the worst you can think of, and see what happens, but mainly relax and let everything go to hell – you are not responsible for the world – you are only responsible for your work – so DO IT.  And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be …

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Eva Hesse, No Title, 1967. Ink on graph paper, 10-7⁄8 x 8-1⁄2 inches

 

I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts.  But when you work or before your work you have to empty you [sic] mind and concentrate on what you are doing.  After you do something it is done and that’s that.  After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going.  I’m sure you know all that.  

You also must know that you don’t have to justify your work – not even to yourself.

 


For more information about Hesse:
http://www.theartstory.org/artist-hesse-eva.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Hesse

And my sincere thanks to Marcie Begleiter for sending this link to a wonderful article about the correspondence between Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt:
Sol LeWitt’s Advice To Eva Hesse Is What Every Creative Person Needs To Hear
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/eva-hesse-letters-sol-lewitt_562f79ede4b00aa54a4b18d8

Marcie Begleiter is the director of the documentary film Eva Hesse, which premiered in May this year at the Whitney Museum of American Art. You can read more about it here:
http://www.evahessedoc.com
and here:
http://hyperallergic.com/207327/finally-a-documentary-about-eva-hesses-life-and-work/


Images sourced from the public domain.


what are you afraid of?

 

Hallie Bateman: What are you afraid of?Hallie Bateman: What are you afraid of?

 


Hallie Bateman’s website and blog


I love the way a deeply insightful illustrator, such as the astonishing Hallie Bateman, can employ such economy of line and shape to communicate profound wisdom. In this context a picture is certainly worth a thousand words.

What is the relationship between fear and creativity? Would you say they are mutually exclusive? Where does that leave the one who thinks they are afraid, or who imagines they are creative?


when the artist disappears, creativity radiates


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


the high purpose of purposeless play

 

The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all.
– John Cage

My mind has returned, these past months, to the delights of playing without purpose in (and out of) the studio – especially embracing aspects of chance in my work.  Early in my career as an artisan I played with processes that were very fickle – applying wax, winding, clamping, dipping fiber in dyes, bleaching, discharging and manipulating textile surfaces. These processes were instrumental in showing me the hidden gift in the “goof-up”. Eventually, as I relaxed with the unexpected ways that the process would defy my expectations and spur my curiosity, I came to regard the unexpected as pure magic. Those “failures” would always open a door onto what might be possible if I surrendered my expectations and pushed the process a little further…

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons: EarthWorks Series, detail

earthWorks series India.
Khadi papers, textile fragments, coconut twine,
thorns, pigments from walls, mud

 
In India I folded Khadi paper and buried it in mud for days.  When I unearthed the folded wads of paper I was enchanted to find that there were lines and tones etched into the surface by the action of the earth and water – and sometimes a worm had left evidence of its journey or a hearty meal.  In the work above, this was just the beginning of my journey – there would be rubbing, collage and stitching added before the work reached its resolution.

It’s the unexpected and uninvited occurrences in the studio that excite me the most. I’m not at all temperamentally suited to production-by-design. What’s more, I’m far enough along the via creativa now to have learned that genuine creativity has little to do with the known. Or with innovation of old ideas. Or with work repeated ad infinitum because it was acclaimed and commercially successful in the past. I’ve come to be convinced that creativity and play are a “goes-with”, as Alan Watts would say. Play is the heart of the matter, and it’s time we made fun of it, as children do. I love Laurence G Boldt’s description of playfulness as a “kind of rascal”:

Playfulness is the dew-fresh, childlike spirit of wonder.
A roving, wandering, wondering, “what if” kind of a rascal.
Unconventional, lightning flash, sailing through the cracks…

 
If play doesn’t come easy for us we can easily sidestep the “get-serious” inner critic by resorting to chance. We can surrender every decision to the roll of a dice, the selection of a random card, or the way the sticks fall using the I Ching. We can invent our own aleatory devices, and be genuine in our commitment to obey them – just for now, just while we’re playing. (There’s no need for anxiety, the critic will still be there when we stop our game!)

It seems to me that the creative life is actually one big game of chance – whether one’s an artist in the studio or a gardener in the backyard, or a family-absorbed young mother. Chance rolls a situation under our feet; we meet it with open curiosity. We make a gesture, which chance plays with before serving us another … chance.  There have been a few renegade artists who have made the use of chance a formal aspect of their work – in music composition and performance, in writing, and in visual art; I am particularly inspired by the work of John Cage. Influenced by his studies of Buddhism, Indian philosophy, and the I-Ching in the 1940s and 1950s, Cage incorporated “chance-controlled” elements into his ground-breaking work in all media, including watercolors, prints, drawings, and scores.

The function of art is not to communicate one’s personal ideas or feelings,
but rather to imitate nature in her manner of operation.

– John Cage

 
For Cage, nature’s “manner of operation” was purposeless play. Although he embraced randomness with the use of chance operations, he insisted that this “helped him make choices”, as the crucial ingredient in the process was finding the “right questions” in the first place. In the context of painting, for example, “What colour palette?” “What tools?” “What options for layout?” The painting below is the result of random composition dictated entirely by chance; the outcome is serenely contemplative.

 

John Cage: HV2, No 17b

John Cage, HV2, No 17b

 
Maybe I am such a play-enthusiast because there was little allowance for it in my childhood years, when creativity was constrained by the need for productivity and usefulness – in other words, purposefulness. But there’s another reason: it was the best strategy I ever came upon as a teacher of art and design. Whether my students were working towards formal exams, or taking art subjects for the love of it, they all responded to the encouragement to play – and indeed, one of the enduring effects of playing with chance (they reported) was that they learned to find the right questions. And that’s a great life-skill, wouldn’t you agree?

It is play, not properness
that is the central artery, the core,
the brain stem of creative life.

No play, no creative life.
Be good, no creative life.
Sit still, no creative life.

The impulse to play is an instinct.

– Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 


making fun of play is one of the ebooks in my empty canvas – wondering mind series
(free download)


http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/jul/10/john-cage-composer-drawings-exhibition


alchemy meets maker’s mind : a retrospective glance

 
At the close of my three-month daily details project last year I wrote a post titled  curiosity and wonderment.

It reminded me of a little piece I’d penned by that name – years ago – to accompany a slide presentation and discussion of my work to students.  (Yes, it was that long ago – slides, not powerpoint!)

Putting it on a page, with a few illustrations, seems like a good way to fatten out my artist’s statement. Here’s an excerpt.


Curiosity.  Wonderment.  Amazing that one’s via creativa could be summed up in just two words.

Plato said that philosophy begins with wonder, so perhaps that makes me some kind of philosopher – but I’m not sure what kind.  Certainly not the academic kind; I have always found it tedious to have to remember and regurgitate the ideas of others when there is a whole universe of places to find ideas of my very own – both in the wonder-full world of nature and the curious recesses of my own brain.  And especially in the way these two inter-act when I am freely and playfully making things.  Perhaps that means I’m some kind of a practical philosopher, but still I’m not sure.  Must we be categorized and pigeon-holed under labels such as philosophers, or, for that matter, artists?

It is play, not properness
that is the central artery, the core,
the brain stem of creative life.

No play, no creative life.
Be good, no creative life.
Sit still, no creative life.

The impulse to play is an instinct.

– Clarissa Pinkola Estes

As a small child I never demonstrated any artistic interest in reproducing objects, people or landscapes in any medium.  But I was endlessly fascinated with, and always busy, creating things – all sorts of things. Especially things that involved some kind of alchemy.  Things that altered the everyday, that changed my usual way of seeing the world in some way.  I’m recalling the shoe-boxes I’d fill with little treasures and cover with colored cellophane then peek into through little viewing holes under different kinds of light.  Or things that were made by transforming simple materials – like turning lengths of yarn into forms by crocheting or knitting or knotting.  Or things that changed color when I put them into buckets of dye, or left them buried in Dad’s compost heap, or under spawning mushrooms in the bush.

 Miriam Louisa Simons: earthWorks series

detail – earthWorks series
folded, buried, distressed khadi paper, found objects

I began my professional life as a classroom teacher.  It was a perfect fit for my personality and my love of teaching has never waned.  But I soon discovered that being contained within educational institutions was hazardous to my creative life.

I branched out on my own, set up my own designer label producing art-to-wear.  It was a perfect outlet for my creative passion at the time – completely self-taught, I manufactured every stage of each garment myself from concept to completion.  Pattern design and sewing, textile surface design, modeling, marketing and sales all fell under my one-woman banner. […]
 

Continue reading here:
curiosity and wonderment [the page]


my brush is my suijo

 

I’d never attempted a self-portrait

until the day

I drew my breath

 
In John Daido Loori‘s must-have book for artists of all persuasions, The Zen of Creativity, he writes about the way shakuhachi maestro Watazumi Doso Roshi regarded his flute as a tool to monitor his authentic integration with, and expression of, the Life Force.

[The] ability to be free in his music was the result of Doso’s life-long, unrelenting commitment to the discipline of the breath. He actually wasn’t very interested in the shakuhachi as a musical instrument.  He called his flute suijo, which loosely translates as “concentrated breathing tool.”  Doso saw himself not so much as a musician or entertainer, but as one who is totally devoted to developing his life force – chi – by utilizing and strengthening his breath.  The bamboo flute was simply a tool for that practice.  He said once, “Since I must have some way of knowing how my breath is doing, I blow into a piece of bamboo and hear how it sounds.”

The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life by John Daido Loori  (1931 – 2009)

This intrigued me. For many years now, part of my own art practice has been to use a single, horizontal brushstroke to express the exhalation of my breath.  It’s a contemplative practice I’ve written about before on this blog (see the links below), and one that continues – whatever the vagaries of my life.  It’s clear to me that my breathscribe paintings are my suijo, my “concentrated breathing tool”.  They show me how my breath is doing. Which in turn reveals what my mind is doing. And that tells me everything about how my Life is doing.
 
 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, Breathscribe Series, Desert Breath

 

More helpful advice, this time from Watazumi Doso Roshi himself. It applies equally well to artist and musician, singer and dancer, indeed, to all of us as we embrace genuine authenticity:

So in that sound you have to put in your guts, your strength and your own specialness.  And what you are putting in then is your own Life and your own Life Force.  When you hear some music or hear some sound, if for some reason you like it very well; the reason is that sound is in balance or in harmony with your pulse.  And so making a sound, you try to make various different sounds that imitate various different sounds of the universe, but what you are finally making is your own sound, the sound of yourself.

Watazumido Doso Roshi (1910 – 1992)

 

My outer life has vanished,

but love’s breath still breathes for me.

– Hafiz

 


how many ways can you draw quiet?
California breathing
breathscribe series


untitled – silk banner

textile | transformation
Hampshire, England

It often happened during the years when I was teaching art at Brockwood Park School in Hampshire, England, that my own artwork had its origin in classroom activities.

My keen group of students were learning how to paint on silk and other fibers as part of a fiber art program. They also wanted to explore off-loom weaving processes.

I had a wonderful stash of painted silk color samples from studio experiments in earlier days, and laminated them onto canvas to make ribbon strips. In the attic I found a discarded window blind made of narrow pieces of wood – these were painted using light-reflective acrylics.

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, Silk Banner

 

The wooden sticks and the silk ribbons came together in a pattern discovered in one of the texts we studied – it’s a very old Chinese pattern symbolizing the ebb and flow of the Tao.

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, Silk Banner - detail

A closer look.

The weaving was eventually mounted on a length of painted bamboo matting.
1780 x 650
painting on silk, off-loom weaving
silk Habotai, canvas, wooden sticks,
acrylic paints, fiber-reactive dyes


nomad collection: England


aquascape : homage to Itchiku Kubota

paintings
Queensland, Australia
 
aquascape series, copyright miriam louisa simons

 

In the 70s and 80s I was working in textile surface design – at first creating one-off designer garments and ensembles, and later making pieces for walls to wear.

In 1987 I received a generous Arts Council study grant to work with master indigo dyers and shibori artisans in Japan.

It was in Kyoto that I learned about the ancient technique of tsujigahana, researched and redeveloped by Itchiku Kubota.

At an exhibition of his kimonos in Kyoto I was almost unable to stay on my feet in front of the beauty and power of the works. They were simply breathtaking. I came home with a treasure of a tome, resplendent with glorious photographs of these silk masterpieces.

Years later, when working with toxic dyestuffs was a thing of the past and I was delighting in the possibilities of tube colors, pastels and brushes, I decided to make a study of a panel from one of Kubota-san’s kimonos.

It was the beginning of a new series of paintings – the aquascapes.

360 x 820
acrylic paints on textured canvas
mounted on canvas covered panel (not shown)

Private collection, Hawaii


[Imagine my delight to be ‘Featured Artist’ in the new issue of ONE: the magazine.
Since the editor used a tiled version of this aquascape as the background to my page, it seemed timely to post it here, with a little background information.]


art does matter

 
Why do I love Patricia Sullivan’s blog Art Does Matter?  I love the mix and variety of art and craft she features – jewelry, sculpture, painting and the oft-neglected fiber arts. I enjoy reading her perceptive reviews of exhibitions in her neighborhood (Philadelphia) and other important shows in the US. I find the way she writes about her own practice and creative process both enlivening and inspiring.  And I love the way she has been a loyal supporter of this little blog over the years.  If art matters to you, Art Does Matter is a blog worthy of a place on your blogroll.

 

Patricia Sullivan - Widget Locket #3

Patricia Sullivan: “Widget Locket #3: Homage to Art Nouveau”
chased/repoussé sterling silver, patina, plexiglas, archival paper
hand-fabricated chain/clasp, 21″ x 1.75″ x .25″, 2013. Photo: P. Sullivan

I design and typeset the two-dimensional interior news’ widget piece in Illustrator and draw out the decorative motifs that I chase and repoussé in silver. The 2-D graphic piece is printed in color on archival paper and set inside behind clear plexiglas that I hand-saw and polish to snap-fit into the octagonal-shaped oxidized silver locket body. Because I use materials like metal, paper, acrylic and sometimes fabric in my work, each jewelry piece becomes more of a mixed media composition that’s actually a wearable container for our recollection of soon-to-be-outdated technology.

Patricia Sullivan - Widget Locket #4

Patricia Sullivan: “Widget Locket #4: Homage to Mexico”
(front and reverse detail) Photo: P. Sullivan

… this locket’s chased patterning is derived from the history of the decorative arts of Mexico, such as the elaborate patterns found in ceramic or copper/tin tiles. I use chasing and repoussé on metal (a technique common in the history of Mexico’s metalworking genre) to create a beautiful exterior on the locket. Once the locket is opened, it reveals text that is printed on archival paper designed and typeset in Adobe Illustrator. The paper is cut and pressure-fit tightly into the locket’s rear octagonal piece and set behind polished Plexiglas hand-sawed to fit the exact shape of the locket. The entire locket body, hand-fabricated sterling silver oval chain and hollow-constructed silver clasp are oxidized to give this piece a darker, more “age-old” overall look.

[Notes sourced from Patricia’s blog. Click on the screenshot to read more.]

Patricia Sullivan's blog - Art Does Matter