Allow Good Things [on DR Thursday]

Pre-Covid we regularly had dinner parties or hosted gatherings of Kerri’s choirs and ukulele band. Each week the big dining room table was piled high with food and drink. People crowded into the kitchen and living room. People spilled out onto the deck.

Now, we use the dining room table when we have large projects that require space for organization. We use it as a staging ground when we’re preparing for a trip. Covid ushered in an era of reclusion and the necessity for space and quiet.

Last weekend we had a surprise large project to assemble. Tons of paper to sort. As Kerri prepared the plan I headed to the dining room to clear the table. I stopped in my tracks with what I found there. The table was covered with rocks. There were several gallon size ziplock bags with painted rocks and rocks ready to be painted. Mostly, there were paper towels spread like islands across the table surface, each populated by dozens of hagstones. Odin Stones. Adder stones. Magical stones of many names, all sizes, from tiny bead-size to fist-size rocks, each with a naturally eroded hole. The power of water working on earth.

I hadn’t realized that we’d collected so many. We’d inadvertently converted our dining room into a hagstone sanctuary, an epicenter of ancient folk magic: nature’s talisman of healing, protection and wisdom. I laughed. Apparently we could use a bit of ancient protection. I certainly could use a healthy dose of wisdom. I considered laying on the table, body across the bumpy stones and saying, “I’m ready! Do your stuff!”

We bumbled onto the secluded beach a few months ago. The power of the lake is palpable. The beach is a festival of wave-polished rocks and treasured hagstones. The gulls circle and chase. The portal to the beach requires crawling through trees recently burned. Fire. Air. Water. Earth. People have created whimsical structures, crude altars and twisted sculpture from the driftwood.

We’ve returned a few times to comb the beach for the miracle stones with holes made from years and years of their dance with water. A feather on the stone. Time disappears as we slowly walk the beach, heads down, sensing as much as looking for the rare hagstones.

According to tradition, only good things can pass through the hole in the stone, made magic by the watercarver. Our growing collection, a prayer-pile or incantation cairn. Good things.

I will, someday soon, lay on the beach after dipping into the cold Lake Michigan water, warm myself in the sun, and feel the large hole that life has worn through me, myself now a magic hagstone. Grateful, I will think, “Only good things. I’m ready. Let’s do it.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about HAGSTONES

winged, 26x20IN, acrylic, nfs

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Keep The Connection [on DR Thursday]

A Haiku: Sun bathes the hilltop/Green grass, stones etched, dates with names/Here, we meet again.

Carvings in stone. I’ve read that among the first evidence of human-made-art is associated with funerary rituals. Send the soul on their journey with the proper talismans. There are petroglyphs, too. Scratches in stone. A message? A journal? A reach to the “beyond”? A handprint on the wall of a cave.

The earliest Greek theatre was a religious ceremony. A portal for the gods to come through and speak. Can you imagine the role and responsibility of the playwright?

I watched a Rangda ritual in Bali that shook my world. Priests with knives ran at the Rangda, stabbing and stabbing. The knives bent, the Rangda taunted. One of the priests fell into a trance and began channeling a voice from beyond. The entire community leapt to surround the priest and hear the ancestor’s message. As introduction to the ritual, the only English speaker in the village told us something akin to: “What we have of value to share is our art.”

Can you imagine? An entire community that held their art and artists as sacred. Valuable. As the means to connect to their ancestors. It was so profoundly moving that I couldn’t sleep that night. What I had known and experienced personally was, in this place, alive in the public heart. I mourned the art-poverty of my nation and community. We tape bananas to the wall and lose ourselves in a made-up-maze of the conceptual.

I was taken aback in the pioneer cemetery. Most of the headstones were homemade, a red-brown sandy-cement with shells or rocks pressed in; a name scratched in the surface with a stick. Families doing their best not to lose their kin. Moving forward in time, we found a few stones made of marble and decorated by a stone carver. More substantial, perhaps, but the purpose remained the same. Keeping connected to what has come and gone. Attending to the ancestors. The story of us etched in stone.

shaman. 36x48IN. Oil on canvas. nfs.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE CARVING

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Watch Your Fingers [on DR Thursday]

After several weeks with its face to the wall, I turned the painting around to see it with fresh eyes. “OMG!” I thought. “This needs some serious work!” It’s too tight in some places, not finished in others, and it’s missing an all important element. The florals are rock hard and the dog – part of the original composition – is nowhere to be found. What was I thinking!

I’m a bit too famous for painting over paintings. It’s a habit that evokes finger-wagging from friends. Kerri has been known to fling herself between me and a painting that I put on the easel-chopping-block. “I hate it!” I cry.

“Touch it and I’ll break your fingers,” she quietly threatens. I like my fingers so I relent.

Actually, she’s provided me with the perfect response to gallery-goers when they ask the ubiquitous question, “How do you know when a painting is done?”

In the past I’d say something amorphous like, “It’s not something you know; it’s something you feel.” Intuition. Gut feeling. Artistic argle-bargle.

Now, my perfect reply is definitive and goes like this: “Oh, it’s easy! I know it’s complete when my wife threatens to break my fingers.” She might look like a delicate columbine-flower but watch out.

It’s a conversation stopper but the real fun comes when I add, “She’ll break the fingers of anyone who doesn’t appreciate my work.”

I turn and walk away as they debate asking the obvious next question: Is she here?

read Kerri’s blogpost about COLUMBINE FLOWERS

The offending painting. It needs work and Kerri has yet to threaten my fingers.

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train through trees – in this state of development © 2023 david robinson

Swim Upstream [on DR Thursday]

Today we travel. Family, like salmon swimming upstream to a place of origin. We’ll meet at the farmhouse. We’ll eat dinner. We’ll discuss what to do tomorrow at the inurnment. I think he mostly would have enjoyed our gathering together. Food and laughter. That is the ritual he would have appreciated.

The Great White Trillium produces “a single showy white flower atop a whorl of three leaves.” The flower opens late spring to early summer. Right now. They are abundant on our trail.

Whorl: a pattern of spirals or concentric circles.

Five years ago we strolled with him through the cemetery. He told stories of his friends. We will, I am certain, tell stories about him.

Kerri and I walked our trail on the ten-year-anniversary of our first meeting. We talked about how we’ve changed in the decade since I stepped off the plane. “I’m more connected to the impermanence,” she said. I nodded my head. Me, too.

Impermanence. A short season. Generations, a whorl. Patterns. Concentric circles. We tell stories and then we join the story.

Today we travel, like salmon swimming upstream.

rest now, 24×24″, mixed media (sold)

read Kerri’s blogpost about GREAT WHITE TRILLIUM

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rest now © circa 2016 david robinson

Juxtapose [on DR Thursday]

Our meeting seemed destined. I’d just moved into my apartment in Seattle on Queen Anne hill. It was a beautiful sunny morning and I decided to explore the neighborhood so I walked down the hill to The Seattle Center. I laughed when I saw a sign for a theatre conference so I went in the Intiman Theatre to check it out. There was an open seat. I sat down next to David. He was the first person I met in my new town. We’ve been fast friends ever since.

Although we’ve had few shared projects, he is among my most prized artistic wise-eyes. If I want an honest opinion about one of my pieces, he’s among the top of my go-to list. If I need some fresh air blown into my muddled brain, some playfulness infused in my too-serious-process, there is no one better to call.

One night, early in our friendship, we did a painting together. We tossed three pieces of masonite onto the floor; we started painting on opposite sides and worked to meet in the center. It was a riot of fun. It was an exercise in juxtaposition. My-action-inspires-your-action. Artistic call-and-response.

I’ve kept those three pieces of masonite these many years. Occasionally over the years, I remove the protective wrap and reassemble the pieces on the floor. I snap a photo and send it to David. “Do you remember this?”

Juxtaposition. Proximity of color-to-color, image-to-image. Comparison and contrast. It is how color works. Ask Seurat. It is the essence of painting. How purple illuminates green. It is the essence of artist community. Artists elevate the work of their peers. Inspiration is a blossom of proximity. Collaboration. How does my work inflect upon the story of yours?

Diversity of color. Diversity of approach. Diversity of perspective. It is how healthy community works – artistic or otherwise. Uniformity spells the death of progress, the end of invention and creativity.

The cold rainy weather broke and the sun emerged. Finally. We walked our trail. We soaked up the sun. She gasped, let go of my hand and raced away. I know that means a photo op has been spied. “Don’t you love this!” she exclaimed, pointing to the budding crimson flower against the coarse wood. “They are so beautiful together!”

david & david, acrylic on masonite. fun on board

read Kerri’s blogpost about TRILLIUM

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Return To The Nest [on DR Thursday]

In a few weeks we will travel to a small town in Iowa for my dad’s inurnment. It is the town of his birth. Although he never lived there during his adult life, it is the place he called home. It is somehow appropriate that we will take him home in spring.

I’ve had plenty of time to think about the coming ritual. It’s now associated for me with the birth of the bunnies in our backyard. We watched the momma-rabbit dig the nest but thought she’d rejected the spot once she’d experienced our enthusiastic dog who regularly terrorizes critters in the backyard. She knew what she was doing. We discovered the truth the day we caught Dogga proudly carrying a baby bunny around in his mouth. He dropped the bunny, unharmed. We went on a 24/7 backyard bunny watch.

Once, sitting on the deck watching the terrorist Dogga run circles, I decided to check out the nest. I stopped in my tracks when I realized two babies were gnawing on grass just inches from my feet. They hopped back to their nest. I watched as they disappeared into the safety of the dark void.

The dark void. The safety of the nest.

Years ago I started a painting. My dad emerging from a field of corn. Or returning to the field of corn. I’m not sure why I painted it. He often talked of his desire to return to his hometown but he could never find a way to make a living there. His yearning seemed profound. I suppose my painting was an attempt to understand the anchor of “home”; I have been a wanderer so his longing seemed incomprehensible.

Watching the bunnies race for their nest and disappear into the comfort of darkness sent a shock of recognition through me. It helped me understand. Away from his nest, he felt like an alien in a confusing frenetic world. In that place, he felt safe. Known. He understood the rules. He knew the stories. He was attuned to the pace.

It is somehow appropriate. We will take him home, return him to his nest, in spring.

I’m still working on my site...go here to see my continued indecision

read Kerri’s blogpost about BUNNIES

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Just Look [on DR Thursday]

“There is love enough in this world for everybody, if people will just look.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

There’s really no reason Breck should be alive. This tiny aspen tree survived a too-packed-car ride from Colorado to Wisconsin, three years root bound in clay pot, a first bad planting among the ferns, a relocation to a better spot, and a serious pruning to clear the already dead branches. Yet, despite all the odds stacked against her, Breck is budding like never before. Breck is thriving.

My theory for Breck’s resilience? She knows she is loved. Never before in the annals of tree-dom has more warmth and attention been heaped upon a tiny living thing. Consequently, each bud feels like a full-circle-love-return. Each new bud fills us with hope, infuses us with possibility.

It is simple.

It’s been a few days since Kerri snapped the photo of Breck’s buds. This morning, while I was out with Dogga on my bunny watch, I was literally gobsmacked: the buds have burst into tender leaves! When did that happen? It’s worth noting that the bunny nest is in the tall grasses at the base of Breck’s trunk. I’ve been paying attention, or so I thought. I’m double-in-wonder at the sudden transformation from bud to leaf.

Paying attention. Seeing what is right in front of our noses.

As I sat on the deck and watched Dogga sleuth the bunny pathways through the yard, I wondered about all the buds-a-poppin’ that I have missed in my life, so focused on, “what I didn’t have,” or lost in the weeds of, “should.” I thought again of the closing sequence of the movie Love Actually. [Hugh Grant voice-over]: Love actually…is…all around us. It’s so pervasive that we miss it.

If only people – myself included – would just look.

Embrace Now, 36x48IN, mixed media

read Kerri’s blogpost about BRECK’S BUDS

Embrace Now © 2016 david robinson

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Turn Around And Look [on DR Thursday]

One little line gives reference to the whole. The horizon line. It is how we naturally – visually – orient in space. It is a baseline of perception. It’s the beginning of discernment.

It is a line that disappeared.

Among other things, art is a reflection of its time. In the past century, art leapt into the abstract. We are “post-modern”. Expressions of personal fantasy rule over community truth, a breaking apart of shared ideals, instant doubt of objective theories…we are mirrored in post-modern art. What is art? What is it not? There’s not a whit of agreement to be found.

General distrust is the beating heart of the post-modern ideal. Division, aggression, tribalism, conspiracy…are its blossoms. Our children perform active-shooter-drills in school; a performance we shudder to attend while our leaders smile and look the other way. Post-modernism at its finest. The absence of a baseline.

Shared truth, group trust, community…requires an undeniable horizon line.

What is up? What is down? What has value? What does not? What has merit? What is undeserving? There is a line. Where is it?

Walking through the antique mall, Brad and I discussed chatGPT. I’m playing with it; he’s using it in his work. It’s raising some very big questions. The questions are not new. They are the next step in a series of questions people have been asking for the past 30 years: what is true? A photograph was once proof that something happened. That hasn’t been true for a few decades. A video was once proof an experience occurred. That is no longer true. News – a word that once implied the accurate reporting of an event. No more. No horizon line.

Brad and I turned our discussion to a sorely missing quality in our times: discernment. In the absence of a horizon line, people will – and do – believe anything. We speculated that, with the introduction of chatGPT into our world, perhaps discernment will once again become important. Perhaps the complete absence of a truth-anchor will turn us toward a common center and require us to look at each other, to seek and restore general trust. The post-modern tide will someday turn and we will draw an old/new line in the sand: we’re-all-in-this-together.

I know, I know. Pie-in-the-sky. However, I’d like to point out that shared dreaming brought us here. Shared dreaming is how we stood on the moon. It is how we can talk to someone across the planet using a small device that fits in our pockets. When a dream becomes shared it becomes powerful. Manifest. A shared dream is a form of a horizon line.

If a shared dream isn’t powerful enough to establish trust, try remembering the other one; the original line of discernment. The line that invites curiosity. It need not be debated. Turn around and look. The horizon line is everywhere.

Four-by-Four, 48x48IN, acrylic, (sold)

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE HORIZON

4×4 © 2007 david robinson

Unroll And Renew [on DR Thursday]

During the past weeks I have rectified a wrong that I did to myself. A few years ago, after several water disruptions in my basement studio, with the space in disarray and too full of stuff, I had a fit of “what-am-I-going-to-do-with-all-of-these-paintings. With no thought to the future, I rolled several of my canvases. There are many, many paintings so I made multiple heavy rolls. And then I stacked them. The stacking was my crime. The weight of the top rolls pressed those on the bottom. Left too long and the canvas warps; the paint cracks.

I feel as if I am emerging from a dream. The past. Dried flowers in springtime.

At breakfast on Monday, Liam asked if I had been painting. I blinked, not ashamed of my reply but mostly shocked at the truth of it. “I just finished a painting,” I said, “the first I’ve completed in three years.” Three years ago I rolled my paintings to keep them out of the water – to get them out of the way. Broken wrists, lost jobs, pandemic, an uncanny series of water issues…A pause. Or, I feared, a finish?

I carefully unrolled the paintings. Flattened the waves in the first canvas roll with books. I built successive layers of flat paintings, using the weight that caused the problem to my advantage. Opening the rolls was like taking a walk back through my life. Two of the rolls were paintings from the early 1990’s. A self portrait in orange on an Oregon beach. I recognized the paintings but had to reach to find the painter. Dried flowers. A dream. The past.

Kerri wrangled carpet tubes from a big box store. We cut them and carefully rerolled the paintings, now with a solid center so they cannot be smashed. We devised a strategy to stand the tubes, protected from any future water problem.

Emerging from the dream. Perfect timing. It is the season of renewal. Spring.

read Kerri’s blogpost about DRIED DAISIES

Learn A New Word [on DR Thursday]

Call it a “happy accident.” Call it an unintended consequence. “I like this photo!” she exclaimed. “It reminds me of a Rothko.” A wrinkled brow and then, “I wonder when I took this?”

Last night we learned a new word that I love: Coddiwomple: to travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination. I’ve never heard a more appropriate definition for the life of an artist! My pursuit could not be more clear and the destination could not be any less attainable. It’s impossible to explain. Recently I tried – again – to clarify for a colleague that I know exactly what I want, I do not need career counseling or advice. I’ve always known what is mine to do. I’ve never been able to wrap words around it so it might make sense to others. An artist’s life is hyper intentional. From the outside it makes no sense at all. There is no 401k. There is no safety net. There is no certainty. Sometimes there is no shape. Always, there is no adequate answer to the question, “Why?”

There is a clear calling, an underground river running beneath how it is expressed – whether through paint or musical notes or pirouettes. My career, on paper, looks like a random romp through the woods. Galleries and symphonies and stages and boardrooms and classrooms and consultancy and facilitation and coaching (a word that still makes me wince). DEI and intercultural. Start-ups and SaaS. Canvas, all. Some of the best plays I’ve ever developed happened in cafeterias or a conference room. I knew exactly what I was doing. I was not “using improvisation” in a business setting. I wasn’t using anything. The work of my life has not been about translation or utilizing “the tools of art” in other settings.

Artistry is akin to stepping into a rocket headed into deep space for a journey of discovery. The only honest answer to the those who ask, “What are you doing?” is “I’m journeying.” Creating. Inventing. Innovating. Stepping purposefully toward a vague destination. Coddiwompling.

May You, 55x36In, mixed media

read Kerri’s blogpost about ROTHKO PHOTO

may you © 2015 david robinson