Thordis Niela Simonsen, American, 1944-
#50, tempera, 1989, 35 x 23 in.

thordis niela simonsen

Works by 2-dimensional artist Thordis Niela Simonsen include black/white photographs, tempera paintings, oil pastel paintings, and monotype prints.

artist statement

All my life, I had looked at visual art printed in books and exhibited in museums. And most of my life, I wished to study art. But throughout my childhood, my mother told me not to study art, just do it. “Draw a horse the way it looks to you, not the way someone tells you it should look.”   So I majored in biology, a subject I loved. By steering me away from learned techniques and artistic conventions, my mother protected my creative freedom. And when I finally did pick up a brush, every swath of color became an outburst of song.

Thordis, Mr. Josh Bailey, Alabama, 1979

I first stepped into the visual arts in the 1970s as a documentary photographer with a penchant for photographing people. When my need to connect more deeply with my subjects prompted me to record their stories on tape as well as film, I realized that visual and verbal images make good bedfellows. (Reference my first two books, You May Plow Here: The Narrative of Sara Brooks, W.W. Norton, 1986 and Dancing Girl: Themes and Improvisations in a Greek Village Setting, Fundamental Note, 1991.)


Thordis, #66, tempura on paper, 50 x 38 in., 1992

In the 1980s, my desire to turn the lens inward superseded my urge to focus on others. I shelved the tape recorder and grabbed my pen, retired my camera and reached for a brush. I began painting with a Jungian art therapist and continued with a process painting facilitator, both of whom encouraged me to dismiss rules and silence judgment in order to draw from the mysterious fathomless place where intuition and ingenuity intersect—the wellspring of creativity.

Thordis, #165, monotype, 10 x 8 in., 2010

My artwork reveals a rich life experience that includes the stone-by-stone restoration of a house in Greece. Color and movement make apparent a level of vitality that I do not otherwise easily express—even in writing. Combined with autobiographical vignettes in my third book, Dances in Two Worlds: A Writer-Artist’s Backstory (Fundamental Note, 2011), the paintings proclaim the life-sustaining power of creative self-expression.

I invite viewers of my artwork to approach it in the same spirit that I have created it—not with analysis and judgment, but with openness and curiosity.

Thordis Niela Simonsen
Salida, Colorado, 2021