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]


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.]


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


life on the via creativa

My version of the via creativa isn’t a paved path.  It’s a journey.  The path opens up beneath one’s feet as one wonders about and explores the possibilities presented by life.  Life as-it-is, here and now, in this very moment.

I’m in awe of the movement of the via creativa in my life.  If I’m open and my mind isn’t yapping away telling me what I should do and how it should look, amazing ideas and possibilities arise.  Connections happen.  Questions form themselves.  Wonderingmind flowers.

Many years ago I studied traditional and contemporary textile surface design in Japan.  I often used shibori dyeing techniques in my work – both in wearable art and wall pieces.  Here’s an example of an early work:

 

ebbing---Leigh

ebbing : Leigh
900 x 550
arashi shibori, stitching, canvas, washi, silk cords, found object

 

In my notes for this piece I wrote:

I spent the winter of 1987 in a sleepy village called Leigh on the Pacific Coast.  The cottage overlooked the harbour where small fishing boats and yachts would anchor, and the water view reached over to Little Barrier Island.  The pattern produced by the arashi process brings to mind the ripples on the tide as well as the patterns left in the sand by the ebbing tide.

Years later I was fossicking through fabric scraps and came upon some more bits of the arashi shibori cloth I’d dyed during those years.

 

arashi

 

Hmmmm.  Wonderingmind liked the patterns; the way the indigo dye flowed in softly graduated tones from dark to light.  I’d been painting with acrylics more recently, layering them on textured canvas in a technique I call making love with light (thank you Daido Loori, Roshi).  Wonderingmind asked: what if the arashi patterns were transferred to canvas and I played with light upon them?