Based in Penryn in West Cornwall, artist Mimi Robson specialises in printmaking and meditative ink drawings. Both of her practices are a harmonic balance of discipline and spontaneity, characterised by energetic and contemplative inky marks.
As we reopen the doors of our shops this week, a series of large and gestural fabric drawings by Mimi suspend from the windows. Inspired by the rhythms of the seasons, the collection of cloth hangings bring an air of energy to the shop, creating a flowing harmony as they move freely in the breeze.
We find a moment to talk to Mimi about the process behind the installation and the rituals and routines that flow into her artistic practice.
"My visual stimuli is often shifting bodies of water, endless ocean swells and the ancient geological forms of the coastline. All these elements are in constant motion and their movements draw my attention to the nature of existence."
What tools and materials do you use to create your prints and drawings?
Over the past year, throughout the Covid pandemic, my practice has really simplified. Without access to the printmaking studio where I have worked for the past 10 years, I have been restricted to paper, ink and brushes. Like all limitations, it has led to growth and discovery, and the calligraphic influence in my work has been more focused and enriched.
I use a selection of Japanese papers, Shoji and silk or hemp-based papers, which are delicate and translucent. The crisp brilliance of the paper amplifies the energy of the marks made on it, of which I usually use a pine resin-based ink.
As with the traditional Zazen calligraphy, each piece I create is approached with an acute focus and the concentrated gestures become a meditation. They focus on the quality of the brushed line, and the line reflects the state of my mind. Each inconsistency is a moment of distraction, every mark a reflection of my mood - agitated, peaceful, longing, content. For me, this simple way of working, with humble tools, allows for a more thoughtful exploration of the earth's forces and human nature.
Are there rituals and routines you follow in the studio?
There is a lot of preparation which I like to ritualise. I prepare the paper, cutting it to size and smoothing it out to relax the fibres. Mixing the inks and creating an open, empty space in which to move and make the marks. When approached with a sense of ritual, these preparations feel like a cleansing act - one that attunes my focus.
When the mark making begins, there is some preparation for that too. There is a stillness that needs to be settled which can differ from day to day. Sometimes it's a few deep breaths, and other times a meditation. Sometimes I even shake about to throw off stagnant energy. Mostly the marks are quick and intuitive, but some take a long time to contemplate before executing.
"Each inconsistency is a moment of distraction, every mark a reflection of my mood - agitated, peaceful, longing, content."
How does living by the sea in Cornwall flow into your work?
The landscape and atmosphere of the Cornish coast has always been my inspiration, and I feel so fortunate to live here and tap into that inspiration every day. My visual stimuli is often shifting bodies of water, endless ocean swells and the ancient geological forms of the coastline. All these elements are in constant motion and their movements draw my attention to the nature of existence. I believe the perspective the coastline offers cultivates clarity and creativity.
Can you talk about the rhythmical quality of calligraphy?
Traditional calligraphy is done in rhythm with the breath, a life energy breathed into the stroke. With this comes a rhythm through the body, the rising and falling of the chest is mirrored by the rising and falling of the brush. The movement is not of the wrist but of the whole arm, anchored by a steadiness in the core. In this way, the mark comes from the whole body.
Something I revere about calligraphy is its timelessness. Its fluidity and dynamism reflects the seasonality of nature, life and time. Calligraphy has a certain resonance with the part of our consciousness that is attuned to these subtle rhythms, cycles and memories.Tell us about the window series you have created for TOAST.
I wanted to create something which was very simple so that the movements of the marks would be striking but also compliment the TOAST collection.
The collection of hangings are each inspired by the dizzy rhythm of Spring. Everything feels alive and infused with an eagerness to grow and flourish and be expressed. I hope for this dizzy quality to be amplified by the movement of the fabric in the window space, as well as the movement of the marks on the fabric, as well as the movements within each stroke.
When making the marks I thought of the seasonal energies of spring; the upwards growth of new seeds and bulbs, the gutsy winds as the weather patterns change, endless rising and falling. Spring tides, and the brilliant warm sun, which is dappled through new foliage.
What were some of the main challenges that you faced?
Like everyone at the moment, the restrictive time of Covid added its challenges to the project, especially to the sourcing of materials and working remotely from the space the work would eventually exist in.
A personal challenge came from the scale of the works and translating my usually two-dimensional marks into an installation. Although the marks themselves are drawn onto a flat surface, they become something else when moving through a space. This became something I really loved about the work. Discovering how well the fluidity of the marks translated to fabric and their interplay with light and movement was a joy.What’s next for you?
I have many off-cuts of a beautiful silk hemp fabric I have been using for the TOAST displays, and so I hope to continue to create a collection of small fabric-based pieces.
I am looking forward to soaking up the glorious spring weather and to continue challenging its rhythms into new work and rituals.
Photography by Tor Harrison.
You can view Mimi's calligraphic installation in the windows of our shops for the duration of spring. We very much look forward to welcoming you back safely.
If you would like to try your hand at calligraphy, our Calligraphy Set comes with a water-based Japanese ink that has been traditionally made in Kyoto, a handmade bamboo calligraphy brush and 8 sheets of recycled cotton rag paper, made by hand by artisans in India.