Wilma Simmons, aka Empress Wu, is a Newcastle (AU) mixed media and textile artist. Her work is diverse, informed by her life experience and heritage. As a fellow textile artist who is also interested in the intersection of art and social justice, and the potential to create change, her work speaks to my heart.
Wilma is also a beautiful example that it is never “too late”, and that you can pursue an artistic career at any time in your life.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your creative practice.
I am a mixed media and textile artist because what I do makes me happy, and ‘reminds me that I have a soul.’ It took me a long time to take up an art practice. I worked in a diverse range of jobs, before settling to school teaching and administration as a career. I think we are all born artists, but it takes some of us longer to develop and in my case, not until my “retirement” in 2005.
Some of the artistic highlights of the last few years have been:
- teaching creative workshops at various levels and in diverse places;
- exhibiting, solo and collaboratively;
- an artist residency at Studio Artes (supporting artists with disability), and
- co-ordinating community art programs including a village women’s project in Papua New Guinea and an anti-domestic violence project with Timeless Textiles Gallery.
My art works are “handmade treasures”, inspired by special people, interesting places, my Asian heritage and multicultural literature. I like working with a mix of materials, especially naturally found and recycled objects. New works evolving from my message stick art dolls have monopolized my time recently, as I completed a very large installation related to local Newcastle history. I hope that my art celebrates diversity, with a harmonious mixture of techniques, materials and ideas and will encourage others to create.
What is your greatest creative achievement
Co curation of and participation in The Stitched Up Project 2017, 2018. This is an exhibition of twenty-four artists worldwide, and a community art project of seven large volumes of stitched /embroidered books. It gives a voice to the 193 girls who were ‘inmates” at the Newcastle Industrial School 1867-1871 – fibre art bringing to life the work of local historian, Jane Ison.
What is your first memory of being creative?
Sewing sequins onto my sister’s dance costumes, and making paper dolls with a school friend – too long ago …
Who or what inspires you?
Amazing everyday people and their stories, literature and social history, and my cultural background.
Is there anything special you do to get into the right mindset and get the creative juices flowing?
Daily art practice of some sort – just 15-30 minutes each day. I try to set an exercise for a month. It can be just taking a photograph every day for a month, making a small paper collage, a daily sketch of something in the house, in the garden, a stitch a day. There are endless possibilities but they all work to improve one’s creative mindset and artistic skills and confidence.
How do you deal with creativity blocks?
I look at my old journals and sketchbooks or art magazines, visit a gallery, talk with other artist friends. Recently, I wrote a “spine” (intentions and motivation) for a series of works. I printed this out in large print and had it in front of me. As I struggled a bit with the work, I kept seeing it and reading it over and over – this got my focus back
What is one tip you would give other creatives?
Enjoy what you do and “play” – have fun.
What is your favourite, colour, book, song, food and place?
My favourite colour is red. I love to psychological thrillers – any of the Minette Walters early titles, and strangely enough, Shakespearian comedies. Favourite music classical – Mozart and Vivaldi, contemporary Graceland Album by Paul Simon. Favourite food is Asian and anything my husband cooks. And the best place in the world, Home!
Wilma’s work can be seen in the upcoming group exhibition at Timeless Textiles “Crossing Borders” from 3 to 28 October. You can keep up to date with what she is up to by following her on Facebook and reading her blog.