On being an artist - Esther Simonis

Published 17 November 2021 in Interviews

Interviewed by Artfundi

What does art mean to you?

Art and creativity I believe are just as important - even more crucial - than only academic learning in schools and colleges. Making things with your hands or producing something that reflects your ‘voice’ in creative ways is vital for a person's wellbeing in life. Making choices and decisions I believe come more easily for creative people in my opinion. Companies are often in need of creative people to bring in new ideas and perspectives in order to facilitate organisational growth and development.

As an artist, do you see the world differently - and if so, how?

Artists are usually super sensitive and are aware of things around them and are able to consider various perspectives, weigh up different options, and make choices accordingly. As they are so easily influenced by their surroundings, creative people are attuned to experiences and feelings of love, pleasure, excitement but also loss, aggression, distrust, etc., and I think we experience these emotions more intensely than others.

Were you born an artist or did you become an artist?

Both I think! As a young creative girl growing up, I used to collect things in nature, display them to show their beauty, textures, colours. I used to make houses with thick blankets with lots of ‘rooms’, underground hiding places, or archaeological ‘caves’.

My studies and especially the years during which I completed art printing at Unisa under the teaching of my excellent artist/teacher, the late John Clarke continued to shape me as an Artist. I specialised in Collagraph printing techniques, achieving different textures with handmade German paper. Archaeology was my passion for years and as a result, I could lose myself in these ‘excavation’ techniques.

What motivates you to create?

As a very curious and positive person, I will always see the beauty in things around me and notice interesting items that I could use in my art-making. "Will this fit in a large collage?" or "What about using this texture in the ‘art story’ in my mind?".

I experience life as a journey of discovery and I'm passionate about creating a representation of this journey that could outlive me and bring a similar joy to others.

My art is not political but I am very much aware of people suffering and being mistreated. My artworks tell ‘stories’ and I will often ask myself questions: "How will this artifact enhance what I want to say or aid in expressing - a thought I want to stress?". The ‘rawness’ of the African landscape motivates the backgrounds of my work so often. It has been a strong motivating theme in many of my artworks.

Who is your favourite artist and why?

I consider Anselm Kiefer as my favourite artist and also the artist that influenced my art the most over a long period. He worked with concepts of war in most of his huge black and white textural artworks. Kiefer is drawn to various and unusual media due to their symbolic representation of strength. Natural materials such as straw, earth, and tree roots reference both time and patterns of life, death, and decay for him. Lead also has richness for the artist both as a medium and subject matter. His interest in civilisations, history, and knowledge is obvious in his work as well as the use of a text in different ways. He often expressed his sense of guilt over the atrocities of the holocaust in his artworks. Later in his life started using vibrant colours and often has colourful flowers in his works – which also reflects aspects of my contemporary ventures.

Does your art help you in other areas of your life?

I agree with this in many ways. As a missionary and teacher in African countries like Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, my creative skills could be fully utilised. I also taught hundreds of ladies in Soweto for years, how to start and maintain their own preschools near their homes. My creativity came in so handy when they get to know how to teach the little ones themselves in creative ways. Encouraging children to specialise in doing art or crafts will always be a priority of mine.  


What is your artwork exploring underneath everything?

Archaeology was always, as I can remember, one of my greatest interests, to excavate personally underground was then such an important phase - to discover other civilisations' ways of living and to dig up some of their utensils.

At Maresha, not so far from Jerusalem in Israel, I was one of a team of archaeological assistants to do daily digs at an underground site. The Jewish people were hiding from the Romans and lived there in about the second to the first century B.C.E. When I recovered a piece of artifact from a perfume bottle I was so excited - I realised that during those times there were also ladies using perfumes! As a ceramist, I knew that clay utensils are usually the only substance that remains as clay artifacts because of their indestructibility.

What do you believe in and does this reflect in your work?

As a Christian, I want my artwork to have a positive impact on people. I also believe that one must be honest as an artist and reproduce and represent the impacts on your life at different times and the circumstances as well as the current issues surrounding you. I worked with concepts related to war and conflict and life in underground catacombs and battlefields. The way people survive and retaliate stays important to me. As I traveled a lot in African countries, I did a lot of 'Birds Eye View' artworks, as I view people’s activities from above so often. I do research afterward about the living conditions of those peoples before producing artworks. 

My artworks usually reflect a story or narrative I have followed and researched.

What’s your favourite living artist's quote and why?

The founder of Manhattan Arts International, Renée Phillips, is an artist, a health professional, and a leader I admire greatly. I agree with her belief that -

“art is a powerful catalyst for enhancing the well-being of individuals, society and the environment”.

I also believe that art has the power to heal, inspire, and create positive change in the world. I participated in two of their online exhibitions of which ‘Inspirational Art in Mixed Media' is still running.

Quoting Renée Phillips:

“The medical profession has come a long way in recognizing the healing benefits of art. My hope is that someday the arts will be considered as significant and essential in everyone’s lives as breathing fresh air, eating clean foods, and engaging in physical exercise.”

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