Thordis Niela Simonsen talks of a writer and painter's tangible and dream-like journeys
Thordis Niela Simonsen is a modern renaissance woman: a teacher, photographer, writer, painter and creative guide. In her latest work, "Building on Memory," Simonsen takes a performance approach to sharing and interpreting her book Dances in Two Worlds: A Writer-Artist's Backstory. This Saturday and Sunday, November 10 and 11, Simonsen will present the live piece -- part discussion, part conversation, part exhibition -- at the Denver Woman's Press Club.
In advance of these performances, Simonsen talked with Westword about her second home in Greece, the ancient structure she bought in a village and spent decades restoring, and the writing workshops she hosts on the other side of the world.
Westword: Can you talk a little bit about what audiences can expect from your upcoming performance, "Building on Memory," that you'll be presenting this weekend?
#133, oil pastel, Thordis Neila Simonsen.
Thordis Neila Simonsen:l, Well, let me read you something that I was writing this morning, as it may be a good launching point:
"Building On Memory is an adventure story; it's about living life by stepping out into the world and exploring it. That world encompasses the physical reality -- whether in backyards or local byways or those farther afield. For me, Greece is an example. That world includes one's inner landscapes as well -- those realms we enter in our dreams and those situations we enter into by trusting our intuition. For me, purchasing a house in Greece and restoring it by hand, when it was the most outrageous thing a person could do. That experience, more than any other, accounts for the dream-like reality of my life; restoring the walls and roofing the house (which I had to pay someone else to do) has opened up many windows of understanding for me.
"The other great source of insight and adventure for me has been the world of creative self-expression -- originally photography, and now writing and painting."
This last year, I read a quote -- unfortunately, it is anonymous to me. It was on the back cover of a book called Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes and it just so captures what it feels like has been happening to me -- this interaction between my life in the world and my life in creativity. My visual images and my word images are exemplified in this quote -- "The ways in which art mirrors life, and then turns around to shape it."
This is what I am so totally fascinated by. I restored a house in Greece, stone by stone, and in the process of that, I started painting. I made paintings that are based in Greece -- I was here (in Denver) but they just intuitively fell onto the paper. A painting of my house, for example. Long after I made it, I see that it expresses something that I put down in words. It was something that someone told me: a woman, Krisula, in the village (of Elika in Greece) who was born in my house (told me) her mother set stones on the earthen floor of the kitchen where she labored and delivered (her.)
I had no idea she was born in my house -- it was standing there, roofless, for years. I said, how do you feel about me restoring the house? And she said -- and this is part of the program -- "Oh, I tell people, an American girl bought it, and she fixes it by herself. She give life to the house again. It will give light."
In this painting, the last thing I did was to put yellow in the doorway. I looked at it a long time later and thought, I put light in the house. This was what she was talking about. That makes me think about why I do this, and what do we mean by light? What's the light in my life? How is this house a metaphor for my movement toward light in my life?