Draw The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

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Sometimes drawing is like free writing. I capture the lines and images as they arise without edit or evaluation. It is more akin to following than leading. It’s a meditation. I draw for the surprise of what shows up. Often, in my free flow, symbols arise and I only see them after I put down my pencil. The symbols that floated to the surface in this drawing are Heart and Strawberry.

When symbols pop up for me I make it a practice to investigate, even if they appear obvious or I think I already know. I assume that I do not know anything. It’s a way of continuing the conversation. These two, heart and strawberry, are intertwined symbols. Venus, the goddess of love. Purity and perfection. Sensuality. Eros. Happiness. Good fortune. Compassion. Joy. Charity. There are cultural lenses and religious interpretations but across all cultural variance, both symbols are rivers that lead to love in one or all of its expression.

Yaki asked me to rewrite THE CREATURES OF PROMETHEUS – a storytelling to accompany Beethoven’s symphony – so that it might speak directly to the realities of our day. He wants it to be more obviously relevant. I have been sitting on it, watching and waiting, since we seem to be living in a swirl of chaos. My grasp of relevance in the morning is obsolete by sundown. The only consistency that cuts through the mayhem is that the circles in our communal Venn Diagram no longer intersect. Not only is there no crossover, the circles no longer share the same page. We define ourselves according to our differences rather that reach toward our similarities. Romeo and Juliet is an example, a cautionary tale of what happens when the communal circles stubbornly refuse to find crossover. The children easily transcend the division. The society crushes them for daring to love. And then the adults realize they’ve sacrificed the greater for the lesser and in their grief they reach to grasp hands.

There are hearts and strawberries in every tragic tale. The tragedy arises because the characters refuse to see it. Maybe that is the theme of my rewrite? Maybe hearts and strawberries are the tender sprouts that will emerge in our nation once the fire ceases to rage?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HEARTS AND STRAWBERRIES

We are still in the Facebook penalty box. It is possible that Kerri’s posts may never reappear so, if you enjoy reading Kerri’s word, consider subscribing to her blog. I know we publish waaay too much but, with the minor exception of us, ALMOST no one reads everything that we write – except for Lydia and Horatio and Malta-Alex and for their dedicated perseverance, we are most grateful.

 

 

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*Shared Fatherhood evolved from a sketch about Polynices & Eteocles, brothers that killed each other in combat over control of the throne. Somehow I traveled from senseless war to shared fatherhood.

 

shared fatherhood 2 ©️ 2017 david robinson

Find The Outrage [on DR Thursday]

Sometimes a pertinent question crosses paths with an unrelated conversation and an insight-door opens. Dials spin and blurry confusion becomes clear. Simple.

The pertinent question comes from Don Lemon: “Where’s the outrage?” 150,000 people dead in a span of five months. The number is climbing. The rate of infection is staggering. We remain the most advanced nation on earth and the least capable of slowing the spread of a virus because of intentional campaigns of misinformation, inaction, and failure of national leadership. Where is the outrage? It’s a great question.

At first, I thought our outrage was possibly plummeting into the crevasse created by our national schizophrenia and, therefore, missing. For instance, as a nation, we both heavily rely on science and also, somehow, manage to deny it outright. The science and vetting procedures that bring us blood pressure medicine, treatments for diabetes, depression, cancer, etc., is the same science that tells us the only way to contain this pandemic is 1) wearing a mask, 2) practice social distancing, 3) washing hands, 4) implementing effective testing and contact tracing so we can isolate the outbreaks. It’s simple science. It lives on the same level of science as knowing that vinegar and baking soda will make your school-volcano-project erupt every time. It’s not complex and it’s reliable. It’s also the only way to control the virus until science – yes, science – brings us a vaccine.

In the face of this simplicity we’ve somehow politicized and resisted mask-wearing, we gather in bars and gyms, attend concerts and rallies, travel with abandon, we’ve declared the pandemic a hoax [yea, a conspiracy theory, no less], touted a medication that has been proven and proven again by science – yes, science – to be ineffective. We ignore the science. We attack the science and the scientists when it doesn’t support the fox-fueled-fantasy-tale. Schizophrenic. Outrage is in icy silence at the bottom of the crevasse.

That seems plausible to me. Sad, consistent, and plausible. But not quite complete. How did we get so lost, so complicit with stupidity?

This morning Kerri said, “It’s entitlement.” How many times over the past several months have we heard, “I didn’t get to do what I planned so I deserve to….” or “It’s my right!” How many sunny vacation photos accompany a phrase like, “A well deserved getaway!” I’d be my brother’s/sister’s keeper except that would impinge on my rights.

People I love crisscross the country, eat in bars, refuse to wear masks, swim in motel pools, hold church services and sing in closed spaces, go to hot-spots for some time at the beach because they think they deserve it. It is their right…and they tell me they are being safe. It is not possible to have it both ways. People I love are lost in easily debunked conspiracy theories and can’t be bothered to take a few minutes to check their sources. They don’t care. It is their right to believe what they want to believe with no regard to evidence or data or fact.

Every mouth has two sides. And, as a storytelling animal, people can justify anything and believe wholeheartedly the story they tell, no matter how wacky or untethered. A healthy sense of entitlement can explain away all manner of misdeed.

The dials turned. The picture cleared. The outrage, I would tell Don Lemon, will come when people care more for their neighbors than their imagined entitlements.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ENTITLEMENTS

 

 

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weeping man ©️ 2015 david robinson

Power Up! [on DR Thursday]

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I was going to write about something else but given the news-of-the-day this seems more pressing. Simply this: I believe in the power of imagination. Why? I’m glad you asked!

It takes imagination to lead. A lack of imagination is the only requirement to blame or bully.

It takes imagination to unite people. No imagination is necessary to divide people. Division is a well-worn tool of the fearmonger and the gaslighter. For instance, the weakest chimpanzee will bang pots and make enough noise that they might be deemed leader for a day.  On day two, however, the community learns the difference between empty noise and actual capacity.

It takes no imagination to tear things down. Imagination is essential to build, to create, to change.

Imagination is always a step toward something true and beautiful. Imagine it! Can you? Imagination always reveals. The opposite of imagination, namely deception, deflection, and lie are the smoke that fills the void of absent imagination.  Deceit is meant to conceal the false promise, a step away from what is honest and true.

And so, in this era of pandemic, climate change, social change, and economic uncertainty, division and bluster will only take us deeper into the wasteland. The opportunities for a better world are knocking at our door. More than ever, this world needs your good imagination. It needs our good imagination.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD IMAGINATION

 

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visit society6.com for Chicken Marsala products [mugs and pillows and wall art and other stuff]. Kerri designed a million of them when Chicken was running around our house.

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016-17 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Causal Your Effectual [on DR Thursday]

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under-painting of One Chord Ahead

This is my version of under painting. It’s the base layer for what-comes-next. In school, they teach that under-painting is mostly monochromatic. It’s meant to give value definition and basic shape to an-already-determined composition. For me, it serves another purpose altogether.

It is true that I already know what this painting looks like when it is finished. I have the image in my head. It is also true that I have absolutely no idea what this painting will look like when finished. There’s a magic point in the process when the painting takes over and I follow the leader. I’ve learned that the real dance of artistry is to let both of these truths be…true. Know and not know. Lead and follow.

Under painting, for me, is psychological prep work, readiness to enter the paradox. It is my process of thinking-things-through so I can stop-thinking-things-through and enter the dance without focusing on the steps.

Causal and effectual. I first encountered these phrases when I waded into the world of entrepreneurs. They are process terms. Causal basically means that you begin with a goal in mind and map your steps to meet the predetermined goal. Effectual is the inverse. Looking at the maps (choices) and available resources, the goal is identified based on what’s available; the goal is fluid and changes as you progress.

Raphael was causal. Jackson Pollock was effectual. Maybe.

I laughed when I first heard the terms. They gave me some good language to use for my creative process. Causal/Effectual. Both/And. For me, one cannot live separate from the other. Start with an image in mind or start with a canvas, some paint, and see what happens. Either way, one process will inevitably cross paths with the other. Jackson Pollock, at some point in his random painting dance, became intentional and compositional with his spatter. Raphael, at some point in his tightly predetermined composition, allowed his brush to flow, to move intuitively, freely.

Under painting = I have to make color messes and utterly stifle a composition before I can stand at the edge, jump, and set myself free.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDER PAINTING

 

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unfettered ©️ 2018 david robinson

 

 

 

Put A Face On It [on DR Thursday]

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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

 

 

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winged ©️ 2018 david robinson

Fill In The Thought Bubble [on DR Thursday]

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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:

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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!

 

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now stand back ©️ 2020 david robinson

sleepers ©️ 2014 david robinson

Draw A Blank [on DR Thursday]

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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

 

 

 

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

 

 

Read Marc’s Notes [on DR Thursday]

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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

 

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Doubt It [on DR Thursday]

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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

 

 

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Don’t Go Home [on DR Thursday]

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House on Fire. 2004-ish. Watercolor. And, yes, I was all over copying Guernica.

“The continual retreat from the discomfort of authentic racial engagement in a culture infused with racial disparity limits the ability to form authentic connections across racial lines, and results in a perpetual cycle that works to hold racism in place.” ~ Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

I confess to rewriting this post. What I wrote initially was pedantic and preachy. So, this is a second go-round.

We’ve been hearing this question much in these past days: why don’t things ever change? Here’s an answer I learned in school: a society is a living system and, like all living things, it will fight to the death when threatened with change. Why we can’t seem to “solve” our problem with racial disparity and the dehumanization of black people? It’s built into our system. The system, a complex and living thing, will fight to the death to keep the injustice securely in place.

That’s a heady answer and somewhat hopeless. Its abstraction makes it a safe and somewhat antiseptic response.

I lived in Los Angeles in 1992. My apartment was in the hills so I had a good vantage point to watch the rioting and the city burn. When it felt too unsafe, I fled the city. I had a safe place to go.

A few years later, working with a school district, the head of the Black Student Union asked me to come in and work with her students. MLK day was fast approaching and the students, preparing presentations for the day, were in rebellion. They were mad. They didn’t want to read speeches about peace and justice when those ideals were nowhere on their horizon. I thought it was my job to help them give voice to what they wanted to say. It was my first conscious lesson in my white-blindness. The frightened parents of the students descended. I’ll never forget the mother and father that pulled me aside, saying to me, “You don’t understand. If they say what they want to say they’ll be killed.” Their terror was real. They had to teach their children a lesson that was the opposite of what my parents taught me.

To call it a problem is to reduce it to the level of mechanics. It is to pretend (or hope) that a few changes in the law or better policing will do the trick.  To treat it like a problem guarantees that we’ll recreate it. This is not a problem, this is a pattern. It is a cycle. It is a relationship.

The pattern is currently in our faces. The pattern is not only the death of another black person. The pattern is also what white America chooses to do – or not do-  with the knowledge of it. What is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves that makes it possible to stand in the fire with people of color during the protests but walk-on once the fire subsides? It is simply this: I get to go home. I get to drive out of LA when things feel too unsafe. I have someplace to go. I get to go home when the officer is prosecuted or a law is changed or a commission empaneled, dust off my hands, and say that I did my part.

Why don’t things ever change?

I was stunned when those parents pulled me aside. At first, I couldn’t believe that they were going to silence their children when their children had something so important to say. It made my head spin. And then I went home. And then I realized that they couldn’t go home. There was no place in this “living system” where they were safe. That was what they were trying to tell me. It was what Martin Luther King was trying to tell us. It is what the protesters in the streets today are trying to get us to see/admit/realize. We are watching a living system built on racial division and inequality fight to the death because change is knocking.

What if we realized that we cannot simply go home and forget about it?

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about HOUSE ON FIRE

 

 

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