In memory of Simon

By Hans Dybkjær

White bird. A recent example of Simons pure and simple designs. (Diagram).

The night before May 20th 2013 Simon Andersen died. This is a brief account of a great origami artist who had some inner demons, but who first of all was a warm, humouristic, and interesting friend.

Simon was born in Dublin, December 11th 1946. His father died early, but his mother Ruth married again, with Jack Lowy, and got three more children. For a number of years the family lived in Denmark where Jack was professor of biophysics at the University of Århus. Simon lived most of his life in Denmark. He married Annie and got a daughter and later a granddaughter he unfortunately never got to see. In this period he also published the poems Melusine & the Nigredo which got the London Poetry Society award in 1979. Afterwards he met Agnete who had lived in Japan as a child and who shared his interest for origami. They married, and she gave him his name and 7 happy years where they among other things had an origami gallery together at Langeland up to 1990. Both Annie and Agnete loved Simon, and in both cases it was his own mind that forced him to move on.

Like his family Simon was creative and highly gifted, and in addition he was explorative. In his youth he was close to his 6 years younger brother Gideon who tells:

I knew Simon for close on 60 years. Throughout those three-score years, Simon and I took many journeys together, real, mental and spiritual. We journeyed through Europe with a small bag each, he with his guitar and I with my violin (he enjoyed playing a lot but he wasn’t a great musician). We went on intellectual journeys cruising through the world of ideas (he never stopped studying all his life). We went on spiritual journeys where we opened our minds and ventured out into unchartered spaces to experience “otherness” together (he was never afraid to break boundaries). We also went on many walks, starting with night walks exploring an unchartered and forbidden suburban landscape over the fences and through the back gardens of Dulwich, London and ending with meanderings through the billowing wheat fields of Thy, North Denmark. We never stopped exploring everywhere we went, every idea we encountered, every possibility we imagined. Our friendship and brotherhood was always intense and went to the bone.

Quite as long I didn't know Simon. We first met in the start of the 90ies at the renowned Thoki Yenn's Danish Origami Center. Simon was eminent at origami and opened a world where origami as art was serious, and where origami was not only the ability to fold after complex diagrams, but rather to understand the paper and shape sculptures. Something of which I only slowly begin to understand the deeper meaning.

Apparently a relatively happy time with the community of the society, exhibitions at libraries, teaching children and others who excitedly would follow his magic.

But it was not the destiny of Simon to sustain a stable life: He and Thoki Yenn inevitably disagreed. I did respect and like both Thok and Simon, but they are both dead now and the causes for their disagreement will never be fully revealed. My guess is that Simon could not really align his uncompromising obsession with origami with the rest of the world, while Thok did not have patience with Simon's frustrations. Anyway, as a consequence Simon moved in exile in Northern Jutland, in a house 1 km outside the village Sterup, 14 km or 45 minutes from Brønderslev, and 450 km or more than 7 hours from Copenhagen. Simon's life as an eremite had started.

In 1995 Thoki Yenn closed down the origami centre, and as nobody else took over, my origami was put aside for the next ten years. Only in 2006 I took up origami as a serious hobby again (for personal reasons), created and established the Danish origami society The following year the homepage had quite many visitors, and an acquaintance of Simon asked me on his behalf to write to Simon. The contact was re-established.

Then followed 6 years of intense communication. Usually about and with origami, but also about deeply personal and philosophical topics. More than one meter of letters, written in a flourishing and impeccable Danish, and later also in English. Moreover several boxes of origami models that Simon sent to me, both for explanation and for archiving. Some of them may be seen on these pages, the rest awaits that I find time to photograph, describe, reengineer, understand, diagram. Materials for a long time of research and work.

Simon understood paperfolding at a deeper level than anybody else I have known here in Denmark. Some are able to construct more complex models, but nobody surpassed Simon when it came to expressiveness or sculptural comprehension. His own regret about his unique masks was that he would fall in love with the female faces. Part of his understanding was the combination of origami with the metaphysical and spiritualistic which provided an understanding not only of shapes, but also of colours and combinations of paper elements. Many models contain the bright colours of the rainbow, not in the simple modular origami nor in the clumsy use of two pieces of paper to achieve e.g. four legs, but in the combination of widely different and independent components to a greater whole.

Simon knew precisely when to be gentle with the paper and when, how and how much to apply brute force. His methodological analyses are superb, both of his own and of others' models. Which creases, which decisions, which colours and materials, everything viewed from the aspect of what served best the soul of the model. Always able to cast new light on my models, and always ready to accept critique of his own models.

Simon cared much for the idea of the Danish school of fold. This covered both the idea of a design direction, about the clean and economical (in a construction sense) models. And the idea about creating a series of simple teaching models that could guide new initiates into the world of origami.

Simon did not own a computer and rejected to use one. At a time he bought a phone. Once he called, shy and hesitant, none of us felt comfortable with phones. Twice during those 6 years we saw each other, once I visited him. Thus the primary exchange between us was letters, and if other people wished to contact him, they sent me an e-mail which I forwarded to him by snailmail, and then they and he could begin communicating. Only few others visited him, Gideon, Sam Yada, and a neighbour who was good for a talk over a beer and who willingly removed snow with his tractor. But altogether not enough for a creative force like Simon.

Unfortunately Simon's obsession of origami haunted him in his relationship with other people. After establishing contact he would typically, and generous as always, send a box of adoring, original and usually new models. They would excitedly write back, and Simon would daydream about all what they would invent and create together. However, naturally people do have other issues than origami and Simon in their thoughts, and when they did not answer back swiftly enough, he would write them a fierce, offending letter. Then they would contact me for a an explanation, and I would write both them and Simon. He was aware of and understood the problem, but almost nobody would or could maintain the contact with him.

Over the years I have detected that many people out there know of Simon, but also that they have shied away form his demanding obsession of origami. His thoughts and work thus has not even remotely got the acknowledgment they deserve. Despite that several of his models are known and beloved. I hope Simon's pages may grow more pictures and diagrams, and that his origami in time may achieve the place in history it deserves.

The greatest origami artist of Denmark is dead. It is an honour to have been his friend.