Untitled (From the Rapture series) by Shirin Neshat.
My beloved grandmother always said, "Nothing is true until it is experienced." This year I set out to discover what the word "intimacy" meant to me and how I could use it as a compass. As a result, I experienced ways of being and parts of self that have been buried for a very long time. I'm still in the thick of excavation, but these are some of the things I learned in the process. Not quite affirmations, these short verses emerged as a kind of manifesto, a declaration of desires, a map to a new way of relating to myself and others.
on live vs digital relationships...
on work and purpose...
"By exploring your innate creative urges, you develop a remarkably unique and fulfilling life, which has a positive ripple effect out into the world."
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative journey/work.
I was born and grew up in Toowoomba, Queensland. In my experience, living in a rural city lends itself to an idyllic childhood. I was surrounded by fresh air, space, freedom, nature, a slower pace, and that country town mentality that always leaves you with a special kind of innocence.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been creative, and explored this wildly as a child. I was the family artist, always drawing and painting. Art was my favourite subject at school and I often won art competitions for my paintings. I loved the natural world and my dream was to be an artist living in a forest with lots of pets. I still remember drawing a picture of my future self, in a lovely home close to nature, painting at an easel, with a dog on the rug, a cat, bird and fish. I’m almost there, got a few more pets to collect!
I grew up in a family of creative types; artists, painters, writers, illustrators, photographers, musicians, singers, directors, seamstresses, renovators and carpenters. My parents took me to art exhibitions often as a child, supporting my aunts who were practicing artists. I feel those exhibitions left a great impression on me.
Becoming a senior at high school, my art practice waned. Listening to my head instead of my heart, I began thinking of career options. Art was fun but didn't seem practical for a job. I gradually stopped making art and began solely marvelling at the art of others. In this process, I lost touch with my creative expression and felt like I had nothing original to offer. It wasn’t until I turned thirty that I started to feel a real pang to start making again. I felt I had something to get out, things to explore. There was a lot of upheaval and turmoil in my personal life at this time, and it seemed getting back into art was a way of processing it and coping.
I had returned to university and was studying anthropology at this time. The anthropology of material culture was of particular interest to me, and I felt very drawn to weaving. Everything about weaving attracted me; the history, tradition, mythology, the tactile nature of fabric, and the origins of the fibres used. One day I just bought a simple frame hand-weaving loom and went for it. I just taught myself and made designs that appealed to me. I expressed my love of colour through them in particular. I received such a positive feedback from my community and the larger public and I exhibited twice that year, which was a proud moment for me. I started selling online and sold to a store in the United States and had private commissions in Australia and abroad.
Then--abruptly--I lost my Dad. We were very close, his death was unexpected and the grief was overwhelming. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, to make sense of what had happened and process the grief. My whole world was turned upside down and the things I cared about no longer felt relevant. All I knew at this time with certainty was that I had this urge to create, to make things more than ever. I struggled with this for a while as everything in daily life seemed so trivial; I found it hard to eat, let alone make something as seemingly superfluous as art. But I could not deny this deep urge to create that seemed like my life raft at the time. It offered a way to put myself back together as I felt like a big part of myself was gone forever.
Dad had always encouraged my creativity, so it also seemed like a way to honour and connect with him even though his physical presence was gone. I now know the significance of art therapy, and that in some unique way, by exploring creative expression, challenging emotions and situations can be processed positively. The repetitive motion and the conscious and subconscious act of creating allows the mind and body space to heal.
In the thick of my grief, I started intuitively being drawn to other mediums and rediscovered clay. I didn’t know a great deal about pottery. I had, however, had a brief flirtation with it in junior high school that seemed to have stuck with me. I contacted a school in Brisbane and the first time my clay creation came out of the kiln, I was hooked. With a back log of pottery I have exhibited a few times locally and sold online. A few years into my pottery practice, I am now also getting back into my first artistic love, painting. I’ve completed a few works, but feel I haven’t quite found my voice there again just yet.
I’ve always been inspired by your ongoing experimentation with different mediums. Can you talk a bit about what "play" in art making means to you and how it affects your process?
Play means having fun, letting your thinking mind rest. Not overthinking the process, but rather letting go and working from a subconscious, instinctual level. At this point you are not attached to an end result. You can’t be attached because you don’t know quite what it is you are creating. You may have a vague idea to begin with, but the play takes the end result to a new level you cannot plan.
Having a very critical eye and perfectionist tendencies, it is often hard for me to just play. I’d say that ceramics in particular has taught me to play, as there is so much out of your control. As my teacher says, so many people come to pottery with these big egos about making perfect, in vogue ceramics. Pottery soon teaches you that you have to leave your ego at the door and start from scratch, playing with the clay until something comes together for you.
Being too ordered and regimented in general can kill creativity. I believe that there has to be an element of spontaneity and play in art, or it isn’t quite art. Well, art in the real sense of the word. I feel that true art comes from a very spontaneous and unordered place that you can never plan for in entirety. The art is not only the end product, but the process as well.
In your eyes, what’s the unique beauty in each medium you’ve explored? How has each one brought out different parts of yourself?
Contemporary weaving practice has a unique beauty of being so closely linked to the origins of textile production. The loom, especially the simple frame loom I use, is such simple technology, it is not so different in practice as it was back in its origins globally. I find a deep kind of ancestral lineage to it that is hard to put into words; it is a practice that women have done all over the world for such a long time, and I feel some deep feminine connection to it, making me feel a part of something larger than myself.
I also find deep meditative practice in it, more so than the ceramics on the wheel and painting. There is so much space for repetition of stiches, depending on the design, that you really go into another place mentally. You are there physically but you aren’t in your thinking mind. If you let your mind wander too much, you easily lose a stitch and it takes you right back to where you started as you unravel to begin again. It keeps reminding you to stay on task and be present but not overthink. Weaving, like all art forms, becomes a moving meditation that allows space to heal, process and express.
The anthropologist in me also loves learning about the different traditions of weaving and the mythology surrounding it. Particularly that of the Native American traditions and the mythology of the ancient Greeks. The spiritual aspect of weaving grabs me. I’ll never forget the day I was reading about basket weaving in Australian Indigenous tradition and the words "a basket is a song that you can see" tugged at something deep inside of me. The spiritual, ritualised act of weaving an object used in everyday life. Something that modern day textile production has lost, as is the case for mass produced, soul-less pottery. This ritualised art production seems to revitalise the soul and evoke more than the end product.
Being subconsciously drawn to clay at the time of my grief is interesting as I am now consciously aware of its very grounding nature, being made of the very earth itself. Ceramics seems to build a community around it more than other techniques I have tried, maybe by the very nature of the equipment involved and the communal idea of sharing wheels and filling big kilns for firing. The ceramic community I now have around me has enriched my life and provided unexpected support when I have needed it. There is something about people coming together over something so ancient, creative and grounding to make objects used in daily life by everyone. This communal aspect is a therapy unto itself.
I started my ceramic practice very ungrounded, I fought with the clay on the wheel and soon found that I could not centre the clay unless I was centred in myself. It seems to pick up on your emotions and embody it. The kneading and preparing of the clay for throwing or hand building, the compacting of the clay particles, became a moving meditation in mental preparation for creating from a balanced, centred, and present place. It is warming up the clay but it is also warming you up to create and connect with the bit of earth you are about to transform. On bad days I could not centre at all and make anything on the wheel. Good days were prolific.
Lately I have been hand-building large vessels, using hand-rolled coils. The hand-building is a very different process to wheel-throwing, you can create uneven shapes and connect with the clay in a different way. I find it similar to weaving in the intentional creation of designs, with the meditative aspect of repetition with each roll created, joined and smoothed. In this simple technology, there is also that connection in hand-building to primitive forms of vessel building that appeals to me, just as hand-weaving did.
Ceramics has taught me to let go of the end product more than anything. I had to learn to let go of my need to control and know how everything was going to turn out; something that was very difficult for me but a great practice that seems to mirror life somewhat. So many things don’t make it, especially in a communal space where things are easily broken or don’t survive the firings for one reason or another. Where pieces are in the kiln, and how hot the kiln gets, all effects how something will turn out. Then you can get your beautiful piece home, it can become your favourite bowl that you use every day, and one day you drop it, and it is gone. You can never really create one exactly the same ever again; clay is always changing, glazes are always changing, as they are materials coming from the ground in different parts of the world at different times. It has quelled the perfectionist and control freak in me somewhat, allowing me to go with the flow, be more open to things turning out differently than I had planned, sometimes better than I could have imagined.
The expressive nature of paint and brush strokes is very different to the weaving and pottery. It is more intentional, you can use colour and brushstrokes more purposely. The paint picks up emotion in a different way to the clay. You can be ungrounded and emotionally off kilter in painting, and get that emotion coming through your work, in a way that works and represents just that. I’m now drawn to the use of colour, texture and imagery in painting, and finding a voice there again. As a child I intuitively drew and painted stories and characters I created. My painting of late is more decorative and aesthetically pleasing. I am intrigued by the psychology of colour and the spiritual aspect of painting.
I might become more of a storyteller again in my painting as time goes on. I’d like to do more portraits and convey the essence of a person in a work. I don’t really look at books or take classes to learn to paint. I just figure you can sort that out for yourself by experimenting and just getting started. It's that play we mentioned earlier, and in this play, maybe find a way that is unique to you by purely following your experience, rather than that of someone else.
Who and what are your muses, and why?
I have so many muses. There is so much inspiration in this world that I am in daily wonder. It makes life so exciting. So many amazing people have walked this earth. Some of my key muses are Frida Kahlo, Juliette De Baircali Levy, Margaret Mee, and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Frida Kahlo, although a pop icon more than ever these days, I first discovered as a young woman. Her wildness spoke to me in a deep way. I was a pretty self-conscious, shy girl, who was also deeply wild inside. I was in awe of her rebellious, courageous nature. The way she walked to the beat of her own drum, in a time when that wasn’t as easy as it is now. Which, by the way, is still something that takes a lot of guts to do today. Her passion spoke to me, her love of Diego Riviera and the life she chose for herself. Her art extended into how she lived her daily life, her home, pets, garden, and clothing.
Kahlo overcame such obstacles to live an unconventional and alive life. The fact that she was a painter, and such a unique one, was just icing on the cake for me. I’m inspired by how she incorporated her cultural background and lineage into her interpretation of art. Her work mixed German-Mexican ancestry, with primitivism, indigenism and surrealism using bright colours and dramatic symbolism. She challenged what life for a woman was like in those days, in such a radical way, with a legacy that lives strongly to this day.
When I came upon the documentary on Juliette de Baïrcali Levy, Juliette of the herbs, I felt another deep resonance. My Dad had told me he had seen this documentary on SBS one night, and that it made him think of me and I would love it. Years later, I was in Italy and working on a farm when I came across the DVD in the house. I couldn’t believe my luck. Luck or synchronicity. I watched it and was in awe of this down-to-earth, gentle but powerfully knowledgeable woman, full of love for animals and the natural world. She was an English veterinarian but found the general practice lacking. She observed the nomads, gypsies and farmers of Europe, finding that they and their animals shone with health.
She took her two afghan hounds and went travelling with the Romani. She learned herbal knowledge from those who lived closest to nature, preserving their way of life in the books she wrote. She became a pioneer in holistic veterinary medicine in her beautifully understated way. She spent her life travelling the world and living predominately as a nomad, eating from the land, sleeping under the stars, living and learning very closely from nature and those who knew it best. She died in her sleep at 96. Juliette lived a remarkable life, following her love of nature in a gentle but also wild way. I have a deep reverence for nature and have always had a strong desire to be a herbalist. The life of a gypsy speaks to me and I have mirrored it in my own way to this day, so to me, Juliette’s life is a fairy tale.
Margaret Mee astounded me when I first found her book Flowers of the Amazon. An English rose of a woman, Mee connected with the local people of the Amazon to travel deep into its basin, documenting the plants and flowers there as a botanical artist. She is known for using scientific accuracy but artistic beauty in her works, adventuring into the wildest places on earth with her passion for plants and efforts to conserve the jungle before it was gone forever. Mee was the first to draw attention to the effects of deforestation in the Amazon basin, using her botanical art as her medium. Again, a gentle woman, with a deep love for the natural world, living an extraordinary life. Fearlessly pursuing her unique passions and in doing so, leaving a beautiful legacy behind her.
Georgia O’Keeffe is another muse. I saw her paintings in the flesh for the first time a month or so ago at the Making Modernism exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery. Although this work I had seen in books several times, the real thing left me deeply moved. O’Keeffe chose to live an unconventional life, her art was everything to her and she chose it fearlessly. She was not afraid to try new things and experiment, even though at times she doubted herself and questioned her works' acceptance by the public. However, she forged ahead creating her own unique art as it came to her, that is revered to this day, long after her death. I love that she was not like women of that time, she was so unique and walked her own walk. She also had a deep reverence for the natural world and found a spiritualism and communication in colour and art practice that resonates with me on a deep level. Her connection to the New Mexico desert, a place that spoke to her and became her spiritual home, also speaks to me as I feel a connection to that place in such a way.
As I explore my key muses, I see the common thread; wild but also gentle women who chose to live the unconventional lives that make so much sense to them, which many others would be too afraid to live. I see a reverence for nature, deep creativity in the way they lived their lives, and their craft. They all left legacies behind them that live on after their death and have impacted causes bigger than themselves through following their passions. They inspire me to live the life I dream of, that is not as conventional as those around me. I have struggled with my idea of life as opposed to what society imposes. That it is okay to walk a different walk to others. That my life has to feel right for me, and not to please others. That by exploring your innate creative urges, you develop a remarkably unique and fulfilling life, which has a positive ripple effect out into the world.
What advice would you give to other inspired souls who want to explore their own unique expression?
Whether you think it or not, you are a creative. Everyone is creative in their own unique way. Some of us allow it and explore it while others fail to see it in themselves; it is there the whole time, just waiting to get out. Art is not just about mediums such as painting, drawing, ceramics and textiles, for example, there is an art in the way you live your life. By pursuing your unique passions, whatever they may be, your very life becomes a work of art and creative expression. By exploring your urges, your deep resonances, you can follow a path to an authentic life that is uniquely you. By not exploring these bursts of expression, you block this channel and something will always feel off to you until you let it out. Please have the courage to explore them. How you explore them can only be uncovered by you, but starts with the first step of acknowledging them and letting them out into your life and the world.
Roisin currenlty lives in Brisbane. She holds a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Anthropology and Indigenous studies from the University of Southern Queensland. She is currently studying Art & Health through the University of Tasmania, with a view to studying the connection between art, craft and mental wellbeing in an anthropological honours study next year. Her work can be found online and in exhibitions locally.
Follow Roisin's work and play on instagram at @roisin_dubh and @roisin_dubh_designs
+ + THE MUSE SPOKE is a mini-interview series with inspiring women that embody soulful, bold, and creative self-expression. + +
Art by Dale Frank
"I was angry with my friend:
A few months ago I felt a strange sensation that I’d come home to die, in the same way a wild animal retreats from the world to a final resting place. For a brief and somewhat hilarious moment I thought I might actually be dying (because hey, I’m a little bit "Nina Proudman" neurotic). But I soon realised that instead, a part of my psyche was set for demolition. A part of my being that has been with me for as long as I can remember. A part of my self that is now at odds with the woman I am growing into.
This part of me is the “nice girl”. I’m sure she is recognisable to many: The people-pleaser, the yes-woman, the peacemaker and the door mat. The girl in me that says “yes” when the woman in me really means “no”.
Over my lifetime I have collected more noes than I can count. Each time they would rise to the surface of my throat, I’d carefully catch them before they threatened to escape. I then placed them into a tiny cellar at the centre of my body. Occasionally, I could hear them pleading to come out. They might sometimes slip into my thoughts and emit a passive-aggressive response to someone’s transgression. Or they would feed me with the idea that running away from the world is the best way to avoid having to swallow more noes.
But this tiny cellar can only hold so much. I can feel its doors are beginning to bulge at the hinges. There is a loud knocking of noes, raging to get out, like a deafening choir that I can no longer silence. All together now I can hear each of their once muted pleas...
No, I do not want to be touched that way. No, I will not work overtime for free. No, I cannot help you right now. No, I will not allow you to physically threaten me. No, I won’t stick around while you verbally abuse me. No, I won’t continue in this role unless you pay me accordingly. No, I will not suppress my sexuality to fit in with social norms. No, I don't want your presumptuous advice or belittling opinion. No, I won’t keep quiet so as not to rock the boat. No, I won’t swallow my feelings in order to keep the peace.
For this calm sea is an illusion. Saying "yes" to keep the peace ultimately creates a war within myself, which then spills out into all my relationships. Dumping repressed rights into the corners of the soul creates a poison that leaks out into every estuary and ocean.
Five Bells by John Olson
It’s pretty clear that learning where my boundaries are is the preventative remedy for this toxic fall out. For so many years I thought having good boundaries meant being cold to the world and dead to myself. I confused it with shutting people out and closing off my heart. It was only recently that I found my understanding of what healthy boundaries might look like through metaphor.
I imagined my heart as a house. In order to keep out unwanted visitors, I had previously believed that I needed to keep all the doors and windows locked. Indeed, this kept me safe to some extent, but in the meantime, all the indoor plants were beginning to shrivel in the darkness. The walls were becoming mouldy with emotions that couldn’t breathe. A thick layer of dust accumulated over the windows so I couldn’t see clearly anymore. All creative life within me was withering away.
This is not the answer. So instead, it makes more sense to me to build a fence around the house; to work out where the natural borders of the land are, and to place a guardian at the gate. This woman will be warm and welcoming, but she will also be discerning. She is not afraid to turn away any person or situation to which she cannot give a whole-hearted "yes". But in doing so, she allows me to keep all the doors and windows of the house wide open, so that I may feel the caress of the breeze and the sweet-scented invitation of the flowers. The sun can then shine into my heart, and I can return its gaze with a loving reflection.
Because while letting go of the "nice girl" may sometimes require a fierce loyalty to one's edges, it doesn't equate to becoming a heartless woman. The mature version of nice is not indifference but wise compassion, and for that, we need to feel safe enough to open ourselves to the world and act from a place that is not riddled with the bitter venom of unacknowledged rage.
Cherise Lily Nana is a mythopoetic writer, facilitator and rites of passage guide based in Naarm (Melbourne), Australia. Her essays on archetypal symbolism and the mythic imagination have been published in Dumbo Feather, Paradiso, and CosmoMuse, and in 2019 Cherise was a panellist at the Bellingen Writers Festival. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Art History) and a Graduate Diploma in Professional Writing.