The Garden within the Cityscape
Belinda Simmons, a Tokyo-based New Zealand pastel artist joins us in this edition of Spotlight.
Belinda Simmon’s career as an artist started very differently to the way most painters or illustrators begin on the road to becoming an artist. After leaving her home country and moving to Australia to study English literature, she became an engaged supporter of some of the strong arts movements that were happening in her University town of Newcastle, and the very artistically active areas of Redfern and Paddington in Sydney. ‘This was a time when the energy and growth in the air was palpable’ she recalls of the time. ‘I had never studied art formally, and was always envious of people who could create these incredible works’.
It was not until she was cajoled into picking up some pastels and asked to join in that she had her first experience as the creator, instead of the observer. ‘I had always been on the side encouraging the artists, all the while feeling that I was not good enough to join in on their activities’. Through the very special friendships that were formed in those early years, Belinda began her artistic journey, one that would also have some tragic moments which she says changed not only her perception of life on earth, but reiterated the important role art plays as intermediary and peacemaker in an increasingly isolated world.
1) Thank you for joining us today Belinda. Could you start by telling us about the road to becoming an artist. Did you always know you were headed down this path?
As a matter of fact, no I didn’t know that I was heading into art at all at first. I had a great deal of friends involved in painting, drawing, and sculpture, but I was a literature student at the time, and played the role of the onlooker. Then, one night everything changed. Some friends took me by the arm as you would a frightened child, gave me some colored pencils to work with, and it all began from there. I found a lot of freedom in beginning to sketch. I felt my mental block begin to subside. These people I had admired for so long were no longer ‘above me’, and I was one of them.
2) You have chosen pastels as your main medium of choice. Could you tell us about that decision?
I use both dry and oil pastels in many shades. This medium allows me a great deal of self correction, and when working with them, I feel the same sense of exuberance a teenage girl does with a palette of eye shadow! Prior to starting a piece, I go out and deliberately select just four colors to work with. This is usually sufficient in giving me what I need to begin working. I may add more colors in time.
3) Your work has a playful innocence about it. Tell us about the reaction to some of your pieces in Japan compared to exhibitions in Australia.
That’s an interesting question you pose there. Although I don’t claim to be technically brilliant at art, I do seem to have a natural knack for using themes which are very emotionally charged, such as reproduction, homosexuality, discrimination, and genetic engineering, and representing them in a playful manner. In Japan, the reception of my pieces has been utterly astounding. In Sydney, I would at times feel that people were coming along to my exhibitions for the free wine and to meet other people which is also brilliant, but in Japan, there is a different kind of connection being made with my work. I have always felt that the Japanese are very deeply connected to nature and the four seasons. In this respect, the colors I use have created some impressive reactions from people who spend their daily life in a fairly monochrome city world. I recently exhibited my work ‘The Last Big Gay Dinosaur’, (which is fairly self-descriptive) and the reactions people had were as I say, really astounding. I mean people came from far and wide to my show, and they were looking at the work for a long time, and laughing very very deeply. It made me realize that I want my work to be not unlike a small garden in the middle of the urban jungle. For such a simple picture to have had such a big effect, and to have given so much enjoyment, it was really very touching…
4) Could you tell us about the piece ‘Love Story’.
Love story is a piece with two characters. One girl monster is sleeping on the left, and the boy monster is on the right. Children absolutely adore this piece.
5) What kinds of themes inspire your work?
Well definite themes do recur in my work, and of these, the future, and nature are always important to me. But I am influenced by many things the world around me, from reading science fiction literature, or writing it (which I do), to just having a good day. Any of these things can bring the surge of creativity needed to bring out a really great piece of art.
6)How do you deal with artistic slumps? I.e. do you ever have any breaks from creativity?
I believe that artists are like the seasons, and you will suffer artistic frustrations. It is a natural stage in the creative process, and like nature in Winter, you will need to retract into yourself for a while to reform. But you can’t spend you whole life worrying about it. I have in the past questioned my skills and my identity, and felt the feeling of loss. But essentially, loss is a time of change, and that is important to realize when you are a creative person.
7) Finally, have you had anyone along the way that has been of significant support to you?
As an artist, I don’t think that you can rely on anyone else really for support. Support is something that comes from within, and encouragement from the inside. In my early days, three of the artists that I worked closely with died. I went through that time and couldn’t make friends easily for a long time afterward. But the thing is that at the time they were dying of AIDS, it actually had a deep impact on the way that we communicated with each other. When someone is dying, is the time that there is true honesty between people. It was a horrible time, but I lived through it. These days, the fact that I am painting means that I am alive. So my support comes from within.
8) Okay, lucky lucky last question Belinda.. What do you think you are meant to offer to the world of art?
I think essentially what I’m offering is an open zone, a place where people can communicate, focus, and enjoy. I’ve really enjoyed just bringing people together and delighting in seeing others benefit from the color and story of my work. I see my paintings as a garden in the middle of a largely grey cityscape. People come and take what they like from my work, and of course I take a little bit of credit for their pleasure…
We thank you Belinda for your interesting and insightful answers to our questions.