Glance Sideways [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It came as quite a shock. Our beloved plant, Snake-In-The-Grass, was hosting a community of Gnomes and Faeries. We haven’t actually seen the Gnomes and Faeries – they are notoriously hard to spot. They are not fond of human beings since we are famously territorial and also so easily eschew our imaginations. Fearing all things “wild,” we generally erect fences and street lights, build dams and make management plans for “nature.” If we could see them, I suspect we’d notice how often they roll their eyes at us.

When I was playing the role of consultant in public school systems, I took note of a central mandate of the adults, playing the role of teacher or administrator: clamp the imagination of the young people, those imaginers playing the role of students. The students would enter the system with wide-open imaginations, free from limitation, and the oldsters found it necessary to kibosh or contain that wide-open meadow. This is not meant to disparage those actors playing the role of adults; when young, they’d been recipients of the imagination whammy, too. They were simply carrying on the tradition. The imagination is apparently considered a wild-thing so necessary of damming.

Dammed imaginations do not die, they distort. Imagination, as a wild thing, will run in circles when put in a cage. It will gnaw its leg off when caught in a snare. It will invent monsters and madness as it paces to-and-fro. It will get angry as it descends into madness. You might say that millions of Americans are gnawing their legs off, angry at the swirl of dark imagining run amok in their caged craniums, seeking reasons and someone-to-blame for their dark imagining. The caged imagination will lead all the lemmings over the cliff with the shout, “Where we go one, we go all!” It seems that we are awash in imprisoned imaginations howling to be freed.

I took it as a positive sign that the Gnomes and the Faeries took up residence in our house under the good protection of Snake-In-The-Grass. While the world outside our doors goes deeper and deeper into the cage-of-its-own-creation, the world inside our house seems to have become a refuge, a safe haven, for those beings still alive in their imaginations.

David recently wrote that he was dedicating himself to being a better artist. He’s been making art with his son again, a wild imaginer that has pulled his daddy (and me, too) out of our cages and into the open meadow. I can’t wait to see what David will do next. Who he will now become. What role he will shed. He’s already a great artist so the possibilities are…wild.

I confess that I regularly wander into the sunroom and glance sideways at Snake-In-The-Grass. Sideways – so they say- is the only way we humans can catch a glimpse of the Gnomes and Faeries. I want them to know that I’m looking.

read Kerri’s blog post about TINY MUSHROOMS

Listen To Claude [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In his 60’s, the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet went blind. Cataracts were removed, restored his sight, but also changed his capacity to see color. He painted in blues because he couldn’t perceive red and yellow. He was not fond of the paintings that he produced. He painted what he could see. Historians, on the other hand, credit his blue paintings as an important link to abstract painting.

We never really know the impact of our actions or our work.

The path paralleled a stream. As we walked up the mountain, she stopped often and took photographs. The sun on the water was enticing so she aimed her camera at the stream. “Look!” she said, showing me. “These look like abstract paintings!”

“They look like Monet,” I said. “Gorgeous.”

Whether they know it or not, artists are always having conversations with their artistic ancestors. I was amused at the idea that Kerri and Claude were having a chat. The world of a master painter, living before ubiquitous photography, meets they eyes of one who sees and quickly captures.

I was also amused that, through Kerri’s picture, Claude and I were having an exchange. “I love your blues,” I say. Claude responds, “Ah, but it’s the reds and yellows that make the blue so vibrant. Contrast principle,” he winks.

Excited, she returned to the stream to take more photos.

I turned my face to the sun. I breathed in the mountain air, the aspen leaves fluttering. I have not finished a painting since the pandemic began. “I feel empty,” I say to Claude.

“We paint what we see, ” Claude whispered. “Sometimes we simply cannot see.”

“Yes,” I said, “I am blind. But my cataracts are not in my eyes.”

“No,” Claude replied. “You are not blind, you see well enough. You’ve closed your eyes.”

“Lookit!” Kerri smiled, “These are so cool!” She shows me more water close-ups, a symphony in orange, blue and gold.

“Don’t worry,” Claude smiled. “When you are ready, you’ll open your eyes again. You’ll see a whole new world. New colors and shapes. More than blue.”

“You think so?” I ask.

“Isn’t it beautiful!” Kerri glowed.

“Do you see?” he smiled and faded into the photograph.

“Yes,” I laughed and nodded, “It’s really beautiful.”

read Kerri’s blog post about MONET WATER

images of water © 2021 kerri sherwood

Attend To The Quiet [on KS Friday]

My studio is a place of quiet. Inside and out. It is the place where I go – where I’ve always gone, when I need to recenter myself of exit the crazy-brain. Lately, my studio has been blown to bits. Water has been a near constant invader, either from the ceiling when the pipe broke in the spring or from the floor when roots clogged the sewer main. Twice. It seems as if water wants me to take a break from painting. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Each time the water rises, the paintings rise, too. We scramble to move everything up the stairs. Mostly, they are stored on blocks so live protected above the rising tide – but pulling up carpet or clearing space for the plumbers has meant a perpetual studio deconstruction. Kerri stubbed her toe – okay, broke her toe – on one of the bigger paintings that now populate our sitting room. It’s a maze of paintings out there. Yet, she is wise. She’s insisting that we leave the paintings where they are, scattered here and there. At least for now. At least until we can clear out and rethink our space.

Kerri is much more sound sensitive than I am. I am much more spatially sensitive than she is. The sign on our deck, “Shh” addresses her need for sound-quiet. It’s all about space-quiet for me. Space-quiet means open space. It’s been that way all of my life: if there’s too much stuff, I shut down.

The water, as it turns out, is trying to tell me something. Lately, when I go down into the blasted-apart-and-now-empty-studio-space, I can breathe. I feel it every time I descend the stairs. I breathe. My space had become too impacted. Too many paintings, too many tables, too little space. “Shh.”

I’ve often written about the time, after I moved to Seattle, that I burned most of my paintings. I needed space. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was tired of hauling and storing paintings. I didn’t know what else to do. I needed air and fire brought it to me.

And, so, the water pours from the ceiling. It bubbles up through the floors. Again. What feels like a catastrophe comes with a cautionary message. No fire is needed this time. To attend to the space is to attend to the quiet. Stop. “Shh.” Breathe.

SILENT DAYS on Kerri’s album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL, available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about SHH.

silent days/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

Compose [on DR Thursday]

Many years ago I attended a workshop facilitated by Sam, a brilliant landscape painter. I was delighted and amused when he demonstrated his technique. Rather than paint what he observed, he took great pleasure in rearranging the elements. He moved the trees, altered the hills, relocated the barn. He laughed while mixing up his elements. His eyes sparkled with mischief. Rather than a workshop on painting, the day became an exercise in joy-in-art. Seeing and playing with what we see.

This morning I read that the word ‘composition’ means “putting together.” Definers-of-art-terms associate composition with freedom. “The artist has freedom when choosing the composition of their artwork.” It is a mistake to believe that compositional freedom is the sole province of an artist. If the mind is a canvas then thought is a composition. It is patterned and composed. Arranged and rearranged. We choose where we place our focus. Point-of-view is cultivated, it is not a default setting. We design the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves. And, then we project it onto the world.

The trick in both art and thought composition is not to wear ruts in the road. Sam was joyful in his art because he was constantly challenging and engaging with what he saw. Art was fun, not morbid tradition. Art was delight-full, not rule-bound or laden with the pressure to capture. Recall that stepping out of the rut was the first lesson in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Morning pages and artist’s dates are meant to both see the ruts and open new paths. The same process applies to the thought-canvas. See the rut. Step out of it.

As Sam taught me so many years ago, seeing and playing with what we see begins with letting go of what we think we see. It begins with a blank canvas, an unfettered mind, and the freedom to choose the composition.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMPOSITION

Unfettered ©️ 2018 david robinson

Read The Walk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Between the morning rehearsal and the evening wedding, we had several hours without commitments so we did the thing we most like to do. We walked. It was a gorgeous September day. We were in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, a miracle of reclaimed and converted warehouses, shops and condos that line the waterway. We followed the Riverwalk, Kerri snapping photographs, ambling our way to Lake Michigan.

It’s odd in this age of pandemic, to be in a city on a beautiful weekend day. The rules of engagement are different. The rules of enjoyment are different. Be out in the day but avoid the crowds. There was an art fair, a crush of people, so, as artists, normally pulled toward art gatherings, we walked the other way. In years past we would have waded in to the fray, talked to the artists, enjoyed people enjoying art.

Instead, we found a bounty of art on our walk. The shadows playing on the walls. The flowers. The finials. The sculpture. Everywhere we looked we found riches of intentional design. People dedicated to creating beautiful spaces had a field day re-imagining what had once been an industrial wasteland on the water.

Chiseled into the the boards upon which we walked was a narrative history of the city. We stepped on top of important dates of the Civil War. We walked across innovations, breweries arising in a city of beer, World Wars and the changes they wrought. Sports victories. We walked across the story of a previous pandemic, a hundred years ago. A few thin boards, markers of a tragic toll.

For a moment I stood and watched the kayaks paddling, the pontoon boats cruising the channel, the diners seated beneath umbrellas, the strollers, like us enjoying the day with no destination calling. Full moments in lifetimes that someday might be told in a few thin boards of narrative highlights.

I wondered how many people, how much dedicated action, it took to make this moment beautiful and possible. The architects. The artists. The artisans. The craftsmen and women. The laborers. The florists, The gardeners. The shopkeepers. The waiters. The chefs. The suppliers. The mail carriers,…Dreamers all, stretching back through time. Interconnected and interdependent in ways that only few recognize.

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? Were I to chisel the story of our pandemic in a boardwalk, or create a sculpture meant to capture our moment in narrative time, my theme would be interconnection and interdependence unnoticed. Unmasked. A myopic madness, a messy delusion of every-man-for-himself, a sure-fire way to perpetuate a pandemic or warm a globe.

There is, of course, no evidence for life thriving in a vacuum. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence, apparent on a stroll in a city on a beautiful sunny September day, killing some time before a wedding, that it takes all of us, every last life, to thrive. An artist needs an audience. A developer needs a supplier. A doctor needs a patient who wants to be healthy. Who wants to do more than survive. Thriving is, after all, a group sport. A careful reading of the boards tells a very specific tale: no one does this walk alone.

read Kerri’s blog post about OUR WALK

Light The Dark [on DR Thursday]

Strong contrast between light and dark: chiaroscuro. Renaissance painters loved it. The word ‘chiaroscuro’ literally means light-dark.

Today is Stephen’s memorial service. It is across the country or I would be there. I confess, I am haunted by Stephen’s death. When Mike wrote to tell me of Stephen’s passing, he told me that he was at peace when he died.

I’m not sure why his passing has hit me so hard. The last time I saw Stephen was 1998. He was following MM like a puppy. They were working on a set construction project. That’s what I remember. He was 14 years old, so, in my mind, he is frozen at 14. He was one of a pack of brothers that formed a solid core of Dimension’s Theatre Project, a theatre program that I spent more than a decade resurrecting and nurturing into artistic vitality. Stephen and his brothers were present in its heyday. For me, it was an artistic and learning laboratory, a place of spirited artistic creation. I loved every minute of it.

Of the brothers, I knew Stephen the least. I worked most directly with his older brother, Greg. I prided myself that Dimensions was a safe space. Artists, especially young artists, are vulnerable. They need to know that they can make strong offers, take chances, find their edges, without shame. That means living in and creating a culture of mutual support. The person selling the tickets mattered just as much as the actor on the stage. Every member of the community was directly responsible for the health and well-being of every other member. It is the philosophy I inherited. It is the philosophy I carried forward.

Mike took the reins of Dimensions when I left. He carried on the tradition, made it his own, Changing Faces Theater Company. Mike knew the artist that Stephen would become. The musician. The designer. The man who cared for the health and well-being of others, artistic and otherwise. Mike knew the dark and the light of Stephen’s short walk on the earth.

Usually, when I am confused or need to sort out my heart, I take a break and visit the pond. Magic, the frog, lives there. He’s a good hider but every few days comes out for a visit. After Mike’s news, confused at the depth of my confusion, I went to the pond and hung out for a few minutes with Magic. Dogga was running circles, making my visit safe from marauding squirrels. The sun was down.

“Look at this picture!” Kerri smiled. She’d caught Magic in chiaroscuro, made more dimensional and full in light-dark.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, looking at the photograph.

Light-dark. The Renaissance masters loved it. I smiled this morning when I read Stephen’s obituary. It began with a quote, something he must have often said. His words brought to me what I couldn’t find at the pond. Peace for Stephen. “Proper lighting can change the world.”

read Kerri’s blog post about MAGIC

surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Root And Fly [on KS Friday]

“Inspiration does exist but it must find you working.” ~ Pablo Picasso

At some point I realized that all of the good guidance I have received, all of the masters that I have admired, made statements about Roots & Wings.

“A writer writes. A painter paints.” ~ Tom McKenzie

“You must write 10 bad pages to arrive at one good page.” ~ John Guare

“Live on the plateau (in the present moment).” ~ George Leonard

“Cultivate your serendipity.” ~ Tom Quinn

I remember Jim E. teaching actors not to push their voices to be heard but, first and foremost, to root down into the earth.

After years of practice I am approaching the lesson that Saul taught his tai chi students: stay on the root and the energy will move you. He also taught me, on a brilliant Saturday morning when I was trying to bend the world to my will, to look beyond my opponent into the field of opportunity. It is two ways of saying the same thing. Root. And the wings will appear. Root, and possibility will find you.

Work at the easel, and inspiration will arise.

all of Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s gorgeous blog post on ROOTS AND WINGS

give me roots, give them wings/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Look Again [on DR Thursday]

I’m not sure when I started using floral shapes and imagery in my paintings. There was Sam The Poet and Eve, trees as symbol.

Sam The Poet, acrylic, 48 x 48IN
Eve, acrylic on hardboard, 48 x 48IN

I know my sketchbooks began filling up with flower shapes and symbolic landscapes. Petals appeared throughout my Yoga Series. Leaf and flower shapes found their way into the bodies as well as the surrounding spaces.

Joy, mixed media, 50 x 56IN

I played with tissue paper over color as a ground for the images. When Tony recently visited my studio, he said my paintings were sculptural, visually commanding. I wrote his words on a scrap of paper since artists are mostly terrible at describing their work. He is an artist so he knows that the proper answer to the question, “Tell me about your work?” is “Go look at it and then you tell me about my work.” He didn’t ask the question; he went straight to the looking.

Tango With Me, mixed media, 39 x 52IN

We walked down a path at sunset. Kerri saw the sunflowers and I knew a photo op had arrived. “You should use this as your Thursday post,” she said, showing me her photo, “because your paintings always have flowers in them.”

Well, good enough, then. Sunflowers, shape and symbol, will find their way into the next painting, I’m sure of it.

read Kerri’s blog post about SUNFLOWERS

copyrights for all paintings in this post, 2010 – 2021, david robinson

Be Indeterminate [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Through the good graces of our tomato plants, I’ve learned a few new concepts this summer. Determinate and indeterminate. Bush and vine. Determinate tomato plants (bushes) are bred to stop growing. Indeterminate tomato plants (vines) will grow indefinitely or until the weather conditions “are no longer favorable.”

Our plants are indeterminate. Each morning, Kerri visits our planting bench and checks her tomatoes. 20 taught her a few simple tending-rules and now, each morning, there are more and more little indeterminate miracles moving backward along the color spectrum, finally arriving at a brilliant red.

Life is indeterminate.

My new tomato-terms come just in time. My current project has me revisiting my past life as a teacher and facilitator. If I apply my new terminology to people I can’t help but think it is the lucky few who survive so much dedicated energy to stop the learning-mind in the name of education. The natural output of a system designed on manufacturing principles is to truncate the questioning mind by patterning the notion that there is a predetermined answer. It becomes a game of finding the answer that teacher wants – a closed loop – instead of an incitement of curiosity. Children are excellent game players and translate the gaming pattern into their now-dulled-adulthood.

There is a cycle apparent in all genuine learning processes. It begins with discontent. Curiosity is a movement born from some form of discontent. It leads to questioning. Questioning always leads to disturbance (the interruption of the known). And, just like that, out of the disturbance something new is seen, call it a breakthrough, call it an insight, call it new learning…Many classrooms – certainly the systems – are designed and organized to keep disturbances to a minimum. The mantra is ‘control’ rather than ‘inspire curiosity.’ Business has the same dedication.

We’re taught that disturbance is the sign of something wrong rather than the crusty earth breaking to reveal new verdant life.

Discontent leads to questioning, leads to disturbance, which leads to breakthrough. And, an insight will always lead to discontent. It’s a story cycle, where yearning meets obstacle. Learning is by definition uncomfortable and at its best when it is uncontrollable.

Last week I attended a meeting. My two companions and I brought our homework back to the team. One was content. The other two of us were filled with discontent. The leader of the session, at first, was angry. He did not get the result he’d anticipated from his exercise. “So, you two are telling me this process was worthless!” he raged. We’d spent our week questioning instead of answering. Discontent. Questioning.

“No! It was great!” we chimed in chorus. “Look at all the good information we uncovered!” It was a mess. Big disturbance. We cycled through our misalignment a few times, wrangling over perception and usefulness. More rage. And then…an insight. The breakthrough. All of the rage, all of the appeasing, began to flow in a single direction. A possibility took shape. A target materialized that was much better than the prescribed pursuit. Energy filled our zoom-osphere. Laughter. Excitement.

Learning. Indeterminate. Open questions. Hot pursuits.

I am drawn to and surrounded by the dedicated indeterminates; those who refuse to stop learning: David, Mike, Horatio, MM, Bruce, 20, Judy, and yes, Kerri…I am a very fortunate man to be surrounded by so many tomatoes moving their way backward along the color spectrum, not afraid to walk through their discontent toward bigger and bigger questions.

read Kerri’s blog post about TOMATOES

See The Spaces [on DR Thursday]

The space around and between. Shapes that share edges. Emptiness that provides definition. In art it is called negative space. Not-the-object. In art classes, students draw the negative spaces in order to see or to learn a new way of seeing. Try it. See the holes and the space around the leaves as primary. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Some folks use the term “air space” because they get snagged on the word “negative.” It’s a term of opposition when set next to “positive.” Yet, just as there is an electric field that flows between negative and positive ions, electrons and protons, there is a field that flows between negative and positive space. Yin and Yang. A dynamic polarity. A creative field of movement and energy. The air space is alive because of the perceived opposition. The positive space is not visible without the negative.

When I was a consultant, I used the phrase “the space between” to imply relationship. There are people. There is the space between people. Relationship is invisible but it defines the people. Relationship illuminates the otherwise unknowable individual. They are impossible to separate. In a community obsessed with nouns, bottom lines, test scores and individual rights, the verbs and the relationships often go unnoticed and unappreciated. As if the negative space didn’t matter. The space between is where the movement lives and the problems are solved. It is where new seeing is possible. It is created and creative. The word “community” lives in the space between.

Try it. Take a day and focus on the space between. See relationship as primary. You may experience a whole new way of seeing.

20 sent this image,a memorial. It makes the point.

read Kerri’s blog post about NEGATIVE SPACE

iconic ©️ 2010 david robinson