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

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

hand of suttee


Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons - Hand of Suttee

hand of suttee
Varanasi, India
640 x 510

painting, collage, gilding
burning, wrapping

canvas board, wooden frame, bindis,
henna template, key, gold thread,
gauze bandages, gold leaf, nails,
dhoti fragment, acrylic paints

On the funeral ghats beside the Ganges in Varanasi one sees hand prints left by the women who, while very much alive, joined their deceased spouse on the funeral pyre.

I’m told that this practice – suttee – is outlawed in India.

But that it still happens.

one Italian summer …


Another piece incorporating objets trouvés, this time from Italy.

The canvas was originally the ground for another work which had failed to please me. It ended up in the bathtub to have all its texture and pigment soaked off. The stains and markings that remained had possibilities.

A battered old market basket was picked up amongst grape vines near Alba. It was cut, pressed flat, and like the canvas waited for years in the studio for its destiny to unfold.

One day the two got together. They liked each other. Along came some stitches and shells and sticks to join the fun – and this was the result.


Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, casa columbina

casa columbina
1000 x 880
staining, stitching,
distressing, collage, assemblage;
recycled canvas, acrylic paints, woven market basket fragment,
linen thread, sea shells, bamboo sticks

Many works in the nomad collection incorporate, or are entirely composed of, found objects.

earthworks in India


Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, earthWorks series 1

earthWorks series 1
640 x 510
Folding, burying and distressing paper, stitching, collage;
Khadi papers, mosquito gauze, cotton cords and tape,
hemp twine, coconut twine, old hand-embroidered and woven textile fragments,
thorns, cowry shells, earth pigments, powder pigments
scraped from walls of village dwellings, pva glue


After I published the last post – about Deb Haugen’s organic art – it occurred to me that I too had a series of works that could be called “organic art.”

While teaching art and design in India it became apparent to me that many of my students couldn’t afford the cost of expensive art materials.  How could I make them curious about the possibility of only using items that were very cheap at the village markets, or that could be found lying around?  It was an interesting challenge for me as well!

I call these pieces ‘earthWorks’ because, after folding the local hand-made Khadi paper, I buried it in the mud for some days and allowed the natural pigments to stain the distressed folds.  There was also some rubbing and pounding involved!  The finished pieces speak of many aspects of the Indian culture – including its pervasive hand-made crafts and the way everything is folded up for storage.


Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, earthWorks series 3

earthWorks series 3
Rishi Valley
640 x 510
Folding, burying and distressing paper, stitching, collage;
Khadi papers, mosquito gauze, cotton cords and tape,
old hand-embroidered and woven textile fragments,
thorns, pva glue, earth pigments,
powder pigments scraped from walls of village dwellings


nomad collection