Silk scarves inspired by nature
At the Sydney Opera House, works of artistic excellence are presented beneath the sails of a building which is a sculptural work of art itself.
Artistic talent is now being showcased at the Sydney Opera House through a new platform—its shop.
Launched in July last year, the Opera House’s inaugural Uncovered retail mentorship program is giving local artists, makers, creatives and artisans the opportunity to showcase their Australian-inspired products through a three-month residency in the Opera House’s onsite and online retail shops.
Queensland-based artist Simin Contractor of SoulSilk has been selected for Uncovered’s Clothing and Accessories category.
We spoke to Simin about her Sydney Opera House Shop collection which features three hand-painted silk scarves inspired by Australian botanicals.
Where does the name SoulSilk come from?
The name has a connection to a dear childhood friend of mine that I lost to cancer about two years ago. I realised that life was a little too short to not do what I love and start painting again.
What is the ethos behind SoulSilk?
The ethos behind the company is to keep it one of a kind. Hand-painted and hand-made. I’m not a big believer in mass-produced products and fast fashion where you wear something for a season and throw it away.
The whole idea of SoulSilk is that each piece that I make becomes your identity, you can use it to enhance whatever you feel is your style. You’ve got this piece of painted silk and it’s something you can relate to and can keep for the rest of your life. You can put it on with anything, any time, it doesn’t matter what season you’re in.
What first interested you in a creative career?
As a child, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, Meher Contractor, who was a puppeteer and a painter herself. She used to paint on saris back in the day as well as teaching puppetry and creating beautiful leather shadow puppets.
She was my first point of contact when it came to art. She taught me the basics of watercolours, and taught me very strictly to never ever use an eraser! Because if you are going to erase you will make the same mistake again.
Her idea was; if you were drawing a line and it wasn’t right, put it aside and start again. That has come in very handy today because when you paint on silk you’re not allowed any mistakes. If you make a mistake that piece is gone, or you get creative and change the design.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from almost anything and everything. The first piece that inspired the whole Australian Botanical Collection came from being at a parking lot looking at Eucalyptus bark. The textures on that tree were so beautiful, the different shades of green, a little bit of brown and the washed out whites. I took a picture of it, came home, and pretty much the next day it was a scarf.
What first interested you in painting on silk?
Coming from the Indian continent there’s a lot of printing and weaving, but we didn’t have the concept of painting on textiles. It was something new, something I had to research how to get into. After many disappointing printed designs, I concluded that my product needs to be one of a kind, not mass produced.
I ended up finding a book in our university library called ‘Painting on Silk’ and it fascinated me. We didn’t have these specific dyes in India, ironic how years ago in 1999 I used to source the dyes from Australia.
How do you make your scarves?
The whole process starts with the silk being a blank canvas, so it’s all white. There’s a rubber-based medium called gutta which I use to paint outlines or dilute to make flowy forms.
The painting is not done with silk paints, it’s done with silk dyes. The dye runs right through the fabric which is where the gutta helps it not to go from one part of your design to the other on the silk.
How did you select the Sydney Opera House collection? Which scarf is your favourite?
The Opera House collection was chosen from my Australian Botanical Collection. All three pieces are my favourite. Keeping a selection of a variety, not just in colour but also in flora- the beautiful bright coral to red flame tree, the golden Acacia flowers and then the more earthy tones of Eucalyptus bark, seemed to be a good collection. They all drape differently, they all have a different look once they are on you, though, I have to say my favourite is the eucalyptus bark - it was the first piece that inspired the collection.
Why do you love what you do?
I’m not the kind of person who works well with machinery or technology. I don’t use the computer to create any of my designs. I’m more of a kinetic person who loves working with my hands. This process allows me that – from sketching on paper to translating ideas on to silk, even the washing and ironing - it’s the best form of meditation for me.
What does it mean to you to have been successful in your category for the Uncovered mentorship program?
This opportunity means a lot to me – it’s been about 17 years that I've been trying to get my foot in the door and make by work be seen in the Australian market as an artist and a designer.
It’s been a great learning curve. I’ve never had to deal with a large quantity of more than 15 pieces in Australia – Interaction with the lovely ‘Uncovered’ team and their step by step guidance has been invaluable.
To be recognised by the Sydney Opera House has not just been an honour but the perfect opportunity to showcase my work to fellow Australians and international tourists. I’m hoping SoulSilk takes flight from here.
Are you an Australian based maker? Find out more about our Uncovered program.