Put A Face On It [on DR Thursday]

kdot sketch

Strange times. The ukulele band that used to meet every Wednesday evening on our back deck now gathers on Zoom. The time delay makes it impossible for everyone to play and sing together but everyone has adjusted, adapted, and accepted the obstacle; the out-of-sync noise we make is beautiful because we are making it together. For me our noise has become an affirmation of the best of humanity in a time of celebrated ugliness: people are capable of reaching the essential when they want to. It is not the sound of the music that matters, it is the togetherness that is necessary.

It was a rough morning. We’ve been trying to find a way to safely go to Colorado to visit Kerri’s daughter and my parents. It’s been over a year. Kirsten wrote and asked us not to come. “It’s a COVID hotbed here,” she wrote. “With how cautious you guys are trying to be it doesn’t make sense to go to a place where people don’t care.” She lives and works in a mountain town, a tourist destination. “All the respectful tourists stayed at home like they’re supposed to so we have all the a**hole ones here, lol.” In the store where she works, people yell at her when she asks them to put on a mask. “It’s the law right now,” she wrote.

People, as we know, are capable of missing the essential. All across this land they are capable of not caring. The latest projection of pandemic deaths in America by November stands at 208,000. That grim number drops by an astounding 45,000 if, today, people started wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing their hands. If people, today, started considering the impact their actions have on the lives of other people.

45,000 lives. 208,000 people. Those numbers are derived from the best science, from data – you know – the stuff we choose to ignore. The real trouble with numbers is that they don’t have faces, they are without story. They are sterile. Their family groups do not mourn when one goes missing. A simple number: 45,000.  Never was there a massacre so simple to prevent.

Celebrated ugliness. An demonstration of all that is wrong with us.

The music is out of sync. People are capable of reaching the essential if they want to. But first, they must want to. It is the togetherness-in-action that is necessary, even if our togetherness means to agree to stay apart, to mask our faces. Caring. It is an affirmation of our humanity.

Without that, what is left? Numbers. Just numbers.

[This is a sketch of Kerri conducting one of the Zoom rehearsal. It is next up on the easel. The canvas is already primed and the charcoal image is in place.]

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SKETCH

 

 

seagull in fog website box copy

 

 

wings copy

winged

 

 

 

winged ©️ 2018 david robinson

Sing [on KS Friday]

sing

The story is famous in these parts. It goes like this: when I met Kerri I told her that she needed to know two things about me: 1) I don’t sing. 2) I don’t pray. She gave me a sideways knowing look and said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

I had some very-traumatic-early-in-my-life-singing-experiences. Lots of shame and humiliation led me to an adamant preemptive proclamation with my musician-soon-to-be wife: I do not sing. No way. Don’t even ask. I’ll watch from the sidelines.

Of course, within a few months, she had me in a ukulele band, a choir, and a band. It turns out I like to sing. The problem, she taught me, was not in my capacity to sing, it was in how I hear sound. I hear an octave up. She taught me how to hear. I am now a confident parasitic singer (i.e. I sing just fine with others, just don’t ask me to sing alone).

I’ve spent my life teaching people to see. How beautifully ironic (or perfect) that I needed to learn to hear.

Early in the saga of Beowulf, he is caught in a swarm and blinded by bees. Because he was blinded, he had to develop other senses; his heightened senses were critical in combating and defeating the monster Grendel. Late in his life, he retired as a beekeeper. He not only made peace with bees, they become his allies. At the very end, his bees are his greatest strength. They defeat a dragon plaguing his kingdom.

The great stories are with us for a reason. They can help us navigate and craft our own life stories. For instance, the greatest wounds can be limits or they can lead to new and vital gifts. I’ve learned from Beowulf that the path you take – limit or liberation –  depends on the story you argue for, the focus you choose. When I met Kerri I was arguing for my limitation. I do not sing. Period.

Another recurring theme in the great stories goes like this: when you are ready, the right teacher appears.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SING

 

ks website header copy

 

picnic table website box copy

 

 

shaman ©️ 1993 david robinson

Fill In The Thought Bubble [on DR Thursday]

sketch with frame copy

I sit in the truck and wait while Kerri goes into the building to work. I’m not allowed in so I use my time to sketch or work on other projects. Big Red is my mobile studio.

I was flipping through my latest sketchbook and found  this on the last page. I laughed because I’d forgotten about it. It is from the early days of the pandemic. I LOVE YOU. NOW STAND BACK. It captures the ever growing mountain of contradictions that tumbled-in with COVID-19.

On the facing page of the sketchbook, I wrote 3 haiku:

Screen Shot 2020-07-01 at 11.20.28 AM

Sketchbooks are like archives or a diary. If I wrote a book about this time I’d call it Weird Calculus. Every decision, even the smallest, is awash in contradictions and placed on a sliding scale of risk.

Since I drew this sketch, we’ve thrown ourselves against a hard wall of conflicting beliefs. We play a deadly game of racquetball with so much intentional misinformation. Data denial. We’re 4% of the world’s population and we’ve managed to fight ourselves into a full 25% of the world’s infections. That’s quite an achievement.

Were I to draw this sketch today, a mere 3 months later, the thought bubble might say: I LOVE YOU. NOW WAKE UP!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about STAND BACK!

 

seagull in fog website box copy

 

 

 

now stand back ©️ 2020 david robinson

sleepers ©️ 2014 david robinson

Expect Nothing [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

happy copy

The man was about to begin hiking the Appalachian Trail. The interviewer asked, “What do you expect it will be like? What do you expect will happen?” The man replied, “I try not to have any expectations. I want to be open to what comes along, whatever that might be.”

It’s a spiritual practice. Make no assumptions. Release all preconceived notions. Open to what is and not what you think should be. Have the experience first, make meaning second. All good advice for attempting presence: that place we fully occupy but rarely visit.

Making meaning. It’s what people do. Wrap an experience in a story. Wrap it in a blanket of belief. Often we muffle the experience in a heavy cloak  before we’ve had it.”It’s going to be hard.” “I don’t think they will like me.” Or, “This will be the best!” “I’m going to crush it!”

Joe used to call this high-dream/low-dream. Imagine the best. Imagine the worst. Like a magical invocation. Either way, an expectation is set. The story has begun and imposes a slick layer over the happenings. The story bleaches the experience-space, that full range of color available between the high and low.

It’s no wonder we can’t find compromise in our current nation-story.

I watch DogDog in the morning. He can’t wait to race outside. He barks for no other reason than it feels good. He sits in the sun. He chases birds with no hope or expectation that he will catch one [he wouldn’t have the vaguest idea what to do if he actually caught one]. DogDog does not know there is a pandemic. He does not care about people politicizing mask wearing. He holds no expectation for the direction of the day. His to-do list is blank. He is happy going on errands. He is happy sleeping on the cool tiles.  He holds no grudges. He makes no judgments. He holds his story lightly. He is happy both before and after he eats. Sometimes he even tastes his food. Above all, he is happiest when we are happy.

Open to experience, DogDog has much to teach me. He has much to teach the world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HAPPY DOING

 

 

shadow des plaines river trailwebsite box copy

 

 

 

The quote “happy doing something, happy doing nothing” comes from an article about Augie the dog.

Pull It Apart [on Two Artists Tuesday]

lettuce copy

The thing that I didn’t write about last week, in fact I avoided, was my latest brush with coincidence. It went something like this: I’ve been moving the Prometheus paintings for years. They are big paintings! Three canvases, each 4ft x 8ft. They require a truck to move. I’ve shown them. I’ve stored them. When I moved to Kenosha they literally could not fit into my studio in our house so Brad and Jen were kind enough to store them for me.

Truth? I thought that someday I would again perform the symphony for which I painted the series. I wrote and performed the script. I painted the pieces to accompany the performance. I thought they might someday have a second life. Over the years, Yaki and I have tossed the idea around once or twice but it always fell into the maybe-someday-abyss.

Jen and Brad are doing some renovation and I needed to move the paintings. I brought them home and they lived in our dining room. I offered to donate them to the PCO – the company that produced Prometheus. I approached several organizations that might be interested in visual statements borne from literature and  performance. The paintings are too big. So, finally, last week, I pulled them apart. Took them out of the frames, disassembled the panels so I could move them down the stairs. The frames went into the garage. There was something cleansing about acknowledging that these pieces were done. I sighed with relief when dropping the illusion that they might someday see the light of day. Two of the panels are hidden behind a tall cabinet in our sitting room, still too big to make it down the curve of the stair into the studio.

The next day, Yaki called. “I want to do the Prometheus,” he said. “But, can we pull it apart? Can we make it more relevant to what’s happening today?”

I laughed heartily. “Yes,” I responded. We can pull it apart.”

Sometimes space must be made. This universe abhors a vacuum. It seems all of my life lessons these days are about letting go of what was. Letting go of how things used to work or who I represented myself to be.

Can I pull it apart. Yes. Done and done. “Cultivate your serendipity,” Quinn used to say.

And, what on earth does this have to do with lettuce? I’d never planted it before. I’d never planted anything before. 20 gave us the boxes. He told us what to do. Growing lettuce – growing anything, it seems – takes some patience. And, some luck. Sunshine and attention. From the seed, if it is tended and mostly left alone -given space – something good will grow.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LETTUCE

 

lettuce website box copy

 

Treat The Origin [on KS Friday]

it's a long story copy

Yaki called. He wants to dust off our Prometheus project and give it another whirl. The Creatures Of Prometheus is one of Beethoven’s early works, a ballet that is nigh-on impossible for a contemporary ballet company to afford. Besides a symphony, it requires  scores of dancers. Twelve years ago, Yaki asked if I would write and perform a narrative – a storytelling- that would weave together the movements. It lives among my all-time favorite collaborations. Yesterday he asked, “Can we update it? Can we make it relevant with what’s happening in the world today?’

My first thought: it’s already relevant! It is a creation story. Prometheus is given the task of creating human beings, a man and a woman. Although he is instructed to make them dull and crude, he creates them to be beautiful, to see and appreciate their connection to the earth from which they were made. Angered by his disobedience, Zeus punishes Prometheus by corrupting the new creatures; he fills them with fear and division. He twists their fear into a lust for war. He makes them dull and crude. Now, Prometheus waits for them to remember and recover their original sight, to remember their capacity for pure seeing, fearless living. To drop their madness and return to their senses.

My second thought: people are notoriously incapable of grasping metaphor. It’s the Zeus thing in practice. The update has to be a direct statement. It must leave no doubt and puncture the commitment to dullness. “Gear down!” as Kerri constantly reminds me.

“How can Prometheus speak to Black Lives Matter?” he asked. We are both artists in the later stage of our career.  Yaki added, “I want my work – my art to really speak to what’s happening today. I want it to help.”

I’ve been sitting in his questions since we talked yesterday. We are standing again at a moment in time when change is possible. We are also standing at the moment when the system, a living thing, a wizard of recreation, will fight to maintain itself. Consider: we had this moment with the abolition of slavery and the system responded with Jim Crow. Segregation. Institutional racism. We had the moment again with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and the system responded with a draconian judicial/policing/incarceration apparatus, disproportionate tax structures…segregation by legislation (again and again and again).

In our current moment, in this latest moment, how can we make the necessary changes that are not merely the existing system putting a new face on a 400 year old mechanism? Real change requires steps in unknown directions [the rule: if you know where you are going you are merely re-creating what already exists]. How can Prometheus speak to that?

We focus on behavior when we need to stare at the underlying structures. Behavior, as Robert Fritz reminds us, always follows the path of least resistance – the sub-structure determines the path of behavior.

In the story, Prometheus is in it for the long haul. He knows his creatures are made for beauty and will inevitably see beyond their made-up fear and return to their source. They will one day stop listening to the fear mongers and race baiters. They will wake up and recognize that they are not made to be dull and crude and divisive. In fact, quite the opposite. They were made to appreciate and participate in the creation of beauty and betterment. Nature.

Prometheus is in no hurry. He waits for his creatures to remember. He plays the long story. What will that look like?

 

 

IT’S A LONG STORY is on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S A LONG STORY

 

treehole website box copy

 

 

 

it’s a long story/this part of the journey ©️ 1997/2000 kerri sherwood

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson

Draw A Blank [on DR Thursday]

canvas copy

A white canvas. Or is it a blank canvas? This could be a finished piece of art or a scary beginning. Having the 20th century of art firmly in the books, art historians weigh in, saying “yes,” it could be complete. It could also be inception. As confusing or clarifying as it might sound, the determining factor is the artist’s intention.

In 1918, the Russian artist Kazmir Malevich painted Suprematist Composition: White On White. White, he believed, was the color of infinity. It recently sold at auction for $15 million dollars.

In 1963, Ad Reinhardt painted his Abstract Painting, at first glance a black canvas that reveals itself as a symphony of shades and tones. He called his canvases “pure, timeless, ideal, transcendent.” His paintings sell at auction for millions.

Yasmina Reza wrote a play, Art, that explores the question “What is art? In it, friends debate and debase the $200,000.00 purchase of a completely white painting.

Does this sound crazy? The artist decides the reality? Beginning or end? Is it the artist’s intention or the eye of the beholder that gives meaning and value to art? Both?

It is breathtaking when you recognize that artists do not create from thin air. Artists reflect the society in which they live and work. 1918 was the end of a world war. It was the beginning of a global pandemic. Who could blame Kazmir Malevich for exploring infinity? Of wanting to reach beyond an external reality that was horrific?

I stare at my blank canvas. It is an invitation. A call.

I/We live in a time of absurdity – farcical abstraction from observable reality. Angry bubbles. Insulated information tribes. Data collection more valuable than gold. We are reducing ourselves to so many numbers. What’s your credit score? Your personality rating? Perhaps I should fill my canvas with zeros and ones? What would you see?

Mostly, we constantly weigh our interests against values and values lose every time. Weird calculations creating ludicrous reality. Yesterday, for instance, 3000 young people packed into a mega church during a pandemic – in a virus hotspot – to cheer a demagogue; they were told they were safe because there was a new and special corona virus killing air system.  The pile of farces grows higher and higher. The propaganda machine grows louder and louder. How rich a field for an artist to explore! The most individualistic nation on earth creating lemmings who will believe anything.

What should I paint? Do I want to comment on the ridiculous? The obscene?

I find myself understanding Kazmir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt as I never have before. Look beyond the angry horror story. I do not want to spend my precious few years on this earth meditating on the ugly abstractions, the made-up-in-the-moment divisions. The blank surface of my canvas calls me to look beyond the noise. There is so much to love in this passing moment. Change, real change, is always in this direction.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on BLANK CANVASES

 

 

 

picnic table website box copy

 

 

all my loves/the draw sunsets ©️ 2020/2017 david robinson

 

 

Read Marc’s Notes [on DR Thursday]

marc chagall quote copy

One of my most prized possessions is a handmade notebook, stitched together by a young DeMarcus Brown, mentor of my mentor, in a time before corner drugstores and readily available school supplies. It is filled with the fading pencil notes Marc made when he was a student learning about color, probably in 1918 or 1919. It occurred to me as I wrote that guesstimate of time that he was scribbling notes about color during a pandemic.

It reads like an enthusiastic discovery of miracles. On page one the word COLOR is triple underlined. “Light is a form of radiant energy transmitted by wave movement through SPACE and is perceived VISUALLY. Opposite is DARKNESS. Qualities of Light: 1) Physically – Life giving. 2) Mentally – Intelligence. 3) Spiritually – Divine Wisdom.”

From Marc, on page one, on day one of his study of artistry, I learned that color is life giving, intelligent, and a source of divine wisdom.

“Objects reveal light.  All forms and substances REFLECT or ABSORB LIGHT. THINK OF COLOR AS LIGHT REFLECTED.”

There are other words and phrases: vibration, proportion, visual sensation, light is individualized by its contact with substances into color. COLOR is Light PROPORTION.

All of this awe is written in block letters on the first two pages. His enthusiasm is palpable. As you move through Marc’s notebook of discoveries, his writing shifts to cursive, he matures in color and intention. His passion intensifies. He is beginning to see.

Toward the end of his notebook, in his growing sophistication, you’ll read these phrases:  “Train our eyes to DEGREES of Neutrality. Establish relationships of Intensity. Hue. Value”…and a reminder “vibrating surface!”

The stitching that holds the notebook together is impeccable. Beautiful. Careful. Considered. It took him time to make his notebook. It mattered.

I can’t help my metaphor mind from finding a universe of guidance in Marc’s notebook for a nation that perpetually struggles with color – or, ironically, the negation of color. The fear of color relations. A commitment to a narrative of dominance, this or that but never both. A palette of loss. We’ve limited our color study to a polarity and eliminated the infinite shades of possibility in the picture we might paint. Insistent chiaroscuro.

What happens when the door of possibility opens? When change, that big blank canvas, sits on the easel?

In the middle of his 90’s, Marc gave me his paint brushes, his paint box. “Use them!” he said, “Don’t save them for remembrance.” He knew I was sentimental. “Reverence is off limits. These are not meant to collect dust on a shelf.” He laughed, “Use the damn things. Don’t be safe!”

Color. Vibration. Relationship. Proportion. Life Giving. Intelligent. Divinely Wise. Walk into the unknown. Learn to see.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about COLOR

 

their palettes website box copy

 

 

 

Give It Away [on Very Flawed Wednesday]

BMI music moves our world copy

There’s a yearly ritual in our home that I have come to dread. The arrival of the BMI statement. Broadcast Music, Inc., one of the performing rights organizations (royalty collectors) that track and collect royalties for the worldwide play of Kerri’s music. If I could hide the envelope and feel good about myself I would do it.

The BMI envelope evokes a dark cloud. Kerri clutches it and disappears into a corner of the house where she meticulously adds the numbers. With each number, her inner emotional rubber band winds tighter and tighter and tighter until it approaches the snapping point. I hear mutters and curses, “Listen to this,” she shouts to no one, “27,000 plays and I made a whopping 6 cents! 50,000 plays and get this! I made 6 bucks! Six whole bucks!!!”

I stand by, phone in hand, ready to dial the medical rescue squad. If her exclamation is ever followed by hysterical laughter, I’m dialing. I swear it.  “Are you alright?” I call out as part of the ritual. There is never a reply, just more clicking sounds from her phone calculator. Click, click, click…More mutters. More frustration. More anger. She is no longer adding numbers, she is adding abuses. Stacking her fury. She is consciously stoking her discontent.

I lose her for days in the black BMI cloud. Ritual anger. Hot fire.

In the old world, these numbers would add up to a very healthy living, a very successful career. In the new world, the numbers mean Apple Music and Spotify and Rhapsody and SoundCloud and YouTube…are making a healthy living on her music and the work of other independent artists. The artists are circumvented from realizing the profits of their work.

“You know it’s coming,” I tell her, “so why put yourself through this every time? You aren’t going to change it.” My ritual appeal.

She doesn’t acknowledge my question. She doesn’t acknowledge my presence. Click, click, click…”Oh Great!” she exclaims! “I’ve had a decrease! Last time it was .00079 and now it’s .00074! OF A CENT!”

I go to the far side of the house where DogDog is hiding from the dark and angry storm. We sit together, DogDog and me, phone at the ready.

The thing is, I agree with her. It is not fair. It is not right. It is a sign of the times that the organizations intended to protect her rights are active participants in selling her out. They make more money by ensuring that the artists makes less. Far less. “It costs them more per penny to send me the check than I’m getting per performance play!” she writhes. “Ten Times As Much!” She’s done the calculation; her indignation is numerically exact.

It is also not healthy to obsess on it. They’ve literally taken her livelihood. For several weeks each year she freely gives them her sanity. She drop-kicks her peace out the door. Her health suffers. Her heart breaks. And, for some reason, she waits with anticipation for the next letter to come so she can descend into darkness and rail again at the injustice. It’s as if the BMI letter is the only real, last remaining validation to her artistry. Over a million people enjoy her music each year.  The red hot anger is her only remaining thread to that deep rich pool of creativity.

In the meantime, she refuses to go into her studio and compose.”Why Bother!” she shouts to no one listening. Click, click, click…

She has, of course, given them far more than they have taken. During one of these rituals, the rubber band will snap as happens to all artists who turn against their artistry. After the snap, after I dial the phone and the good people come to take the pieces away, I will play her albums – all of them – and listen to the life-giving beauty that came from that deep creative pool before she could no longer see beyond the BMI betrayal, before she allowed the clicking numbers to parch her wild abundant artistry.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BMI

 

black box copy

 

Doubt It [on DR Thursday]

AtTheDoor13 jpeg copy 2

In our vast catalogue of projects-that-went-nowhere is a single panel cartoon proposal we called At The Door. A dog and a cat at the door. One wants to go out and explore the world. The other is content to stay forever inside in a known and predictable world. One dreams of adventure, the other dreams of lunch. The progressive instinct meets the conservative impulse.

Because it was largely existential and mostly not funny, we were certain that it would never gain traction. We developed it anyway. Why?

One of the great mysteries of an artist’s life is the Riddle Of Attraction. Why are some pieces popular and others are not? The crux of the riddle is this: what I consider my best work usually collects dust on the shelf while the pieces that I think inferior fly out the door. Kerri and I write everyday. We have a ritual call-and-response when we write something that we feel is meaningful or has real depth. I’ll say, “That’s a really good post.” She’ll reply, “That means no one will read it.” And, inevitably, it is true. The maddening moment comes when we post work that feels lacking and it is read widely across the globe.

There can be only one logical explanation: we must be the worst judges of our own artistic expression. We must have an inverted relationship with what has value and what does not when it comes to our own pieces. It must be true that artists are the last to objectively see their work. It’s a terrifying notion; if I think it is awful, it must be good. If I think it is good, it must be a delusion.

And so, we happily wrote and drew a cartoon with a dog and a cat at the door. Both critters looking out on the big world, one pulled to it while the other is repelled. It seemed like a bad idea so it just might have been good!

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AT THE DOOR

 

 

dogdog babycat paws touchingwebsite box copy