Look Beneath [on DR Thursday]

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What’s beneath? It’s a question all artists learn to ask. It’s the same question good coaches ask of their clients. Seeing is not a superficial affair.

What’s beneath? What alchemy of color was brewed to make this image or that painting? What alchemy of experience was brewed to make this belief or that perception?

Sometimes “what’s beneath” supports and enlivens the surface layers. It’s magnetic and makes you stare – even if you don’t know why. Sometimes it dulls the painting, pulling the life from it. The same holds true for how a life is storied. Sense-making is as dynamic as color.

Color is a miracle. It is never passive. It is only understood by what it is relative to. That is, color, like a relationship, is fluid, moving, spirited.

What’s beneath all those layers and layers of color?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDER PAINTING

 

 

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under painting, like captain underpants, is under copyright. ©️ 2020 robinson david

Fill The Box [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Among my most prized possessions is the small wooden paint box that DeMarcus gave to me. He was a brilliant painter and director of plays. I am one of the keepers of his legacy. The box holds a few sacred (to me) items: the nutcracker my grandfather used, a woven frond from Bali, some stones and notes from nieces and nephews.

Another treasured possession is the small box that John K made for me. He is a master woodworker and is dear to me so the box is also dear. He is impeccable, among the best men I have ever known, and it shows in his creations. His box reminds me to strive to be-more-like-John.

Kerri and I learned early on in our relationship that we both have a thing for boxes. We call them special boxes. We gravitate toward them when we are wandering through antique stores. Sometimes they look like old suitcases. Sometimes they look like old tool boxes. We’ve learned that we need to admire them and put them down. That, or we need to give in and open a Special Box Store.

Stand in the middle of our house and look any direction and you will see one or more special boxes. The box in the sun room holds watercolor paper, paints, colored pencils, India ink and nibs. It was the keeper of the promise for our cartoons and children’s books, Chicken Marsala, Flawed, and Shayne. The stacked suitcases in our dining room hold the artifacts of our relationship. Tickets to concerts, playbills, menus, feathers, train tickets,… The wooden box in the living room is filled with stones that we have collected in our travels.

Okay,  an amendment: we collect boxes and stones.

The other day we were strolling down the aisle of an antique mall with Jen and Brad. Mostly we were coming up with ideas for performance art pieces or conceptual art knock offs or listening to the wisdom from Riley-the-Realist. Kerri grabbed my arm, “Look at this one,” she said, showing me an old green tool box. “Don’t you love it?”

“Where would we put it?” I asked. It’s my go-to answer when I actually do love a box but also know that we need to walk away. Kerri squinted her eyes. We took a breath and stepped away.

The real problem with opening a Special Box Store? It’s a very bad business premise. We would be unwilling to sell any of our merchandise. They’d all be filled with special rocks or memories or hopes and dreams in the form of paper, Sumi ink and brushes. You could look but not touch. Though the stories we could tell…

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BOXES

 

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Change Your Mantra [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It was only after the dive that I realized my folly. Rather than enjoy it I repeated to myself, over and over, to just get through it. I’d be fine once I was back in the boat. I was afraid.

It was a very deep dive, the deepest I’d ever attempted. There were sharks swimming beneath me. There were sharks swimming above me. The Blue Hole. The wall was gorgeous, an explosion of red, orange, and yellow. Looking up was a miracle of sunlight on water. Looking down was a study in the color blue, layers of turquoise, cerulean, disappearing into a bottomless (aptly named) ultramarine.

My mantra, just get through it, was a wall between me and extraordinary beauty of it.

Later, in the boat, I appreciated it. I also appreciated that my experience was unnecessarily fearful. Rather, I understood that the only real danger in The Blue Hole was my doubt in myself. The sharks were not man-eaters. The depth was the limit for amateur divers but not extreme. The dive master was world class. I had plenty of oxygen.  I was safe everywhere but in my imagination.

The dive made me wonder how much of my life I’ve spent telling myself fear tales? Instead of having an experience of wonder, how often have I storied myself in fear? How often have I made up monsters and raced to the other side of the moment, raced to get it over with rather than be in it?

Sitting in the boat, I realized that it wasn’t the fear that I was wrangling with. Fear is natural, especially in alien environments like deep water, especially when sharks are involved. It was my mantra that plagued me. Get through it.

Next time, I told myself, I will have a new mantra. Be in it. Fear is an experience, too. It’s part of life and, at the end of my days, I will be sad if the story of my life was simply getting through it. Or over it. I want to know that I was in it, all of it; the fear, the joy, the ugly, the angry, the beautiful blues, the sad days, and the quiet wandering.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about GETTING IT OVER WITH

 

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Put Down Your Straight Edge [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I just wrote a “Statement of Philosophy of Teaching.” It’s for an application to teach at a college that emphasizes experiential learning. If I had a dime for every time I championed experiential learning or used that phrase on a crowd of wooden educators, stony-faced business types, or boards-of-directors, I’d have no need to write statements of teaching philosophy. And, truly, think on it for a moment, what is the opposite?

Andy’s phrase: experience equals knowledge, knowledge equals confidence, confidence equals success. In other words, the only way to learn to ride a bike is to get on the bike and ride. There will be falls. We call that learning. And, the really great thing about getting on the bike and riding is that one day, after a few more falls and many more miles, you might compete in the Tour de France. You will be pursuing something other than your balance skills. Learning is like that.

The problem with shorthand phrases like Andy’s, although accurate on one level,  is that they describe a straight line. Life, I’ve learned from experience, has rowdy roller coaster phases that nearly fling you off the planet, awkward backward stepping to get out of wrong choices, chapters wandering lost in the forest, days spent sitting on the rock stripping off the armor before another step can be taken. Life is not lived in a straight line. Experience is a windy road. It only looks straight in the post-mortem. Knowledge gathering en route to confidence is no walk in a meadow. Andy will tell you that, too.

We make meaning out of our experiences after the fact. We have experiences first and story them second. It is why learning is circular. It is why a rich life is circular, why life lessons come around again and again.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WINDING TRAILS

 

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Carry The Story [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Next to the pool table in the basement of my grandfather’s house was a bowl of nuts and an old metal nutcracker. It was the velveteen rabbit of nutcrackers: falling apart, loose joints, the pattern worn because it was so old and so often used. When we’d visit, we’d inevitably go to the basement to shoot some pool. Shooting pool with grandpa was a ritual of fun.

That nutcracker is one of my sacred objects. When my grandfather passed, I wanted something he touched. Something he used. The nutcracker lives in a special box in my studio.

I am austere. Left to my own devices I would have few possessions (I have famously moved twice in a truck loaded with paintings, my easel, a special box, some clothes, art books and a single rocking chair).

It’s funny what carries the deep value of story. Remembrance.

Kerri is thready. She is connected to the story of objects. Or, better, the objects connect her to stories and to the people in her life. Our home is like an alter of objects that carry meaningful stories.  Rocks. Feathers. Driftwood. We have a stack of sweatshirts in the basement that remain for their story value. Early in our relationship I suggested donating the sweatshirts to the Goodwill and I will never forget the look of horror that swept across Kerri’s face. To lose the sweatshirts was to lose the stories. It makes cleaning out the house a very complicated affair.

Connectivity. The energy threads are almost visible.

Last year she was cleaning out a closet upstairs and found these slippers. They were her parents. I remember the squeal of delight. The staging of the picture. I listened to the stories the slippers invoked. We laughed. And then, the slippers went in the bag to go away.

It might be our age or having a husband dedicated to the austere, but she is loving the objects and letting them go. The threads are becoming transcendent, they reach beyond the object and are securely rooted in the deep past.

It’s beautiful when the heart carries the deep connectivity of story. Truly. The energy threads become visible.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SLIPPERS

 

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Return To Base Camp [on KS Friday]

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Among my wife’s quirks, one  of my favorite is that she is obsessed with watching films about mountain climbing. If there is a movie about scaling Everest, a documentary about climbing K-2, free climbing, extreme climbing… we’ve seen it. And, here’s where my full adoration comes in: she likes to watch them right before sleeping.

Usually, she is asleep five minutes into the film but she ALWAYS awakes at the moment the climbers summit. She is fully awake for the triumph [she also opens her eyes if there is a tragedy. I tease her that the only reason she likes watching the films is to see climbers fall off mountains. For this sentiment I get punched].

Reinhold Messner speaks about climbing as an inner journey. An expansion of spirit and self. Making it through is about grasping a greater sense of self. The accomplishment, standing on the summit, is not a goal as much as finding a personal edge and stepping over it. And, as I’ve learned in my midnight viewing of climbing films, the real challenge, the greatest danger, is in the descent. More climbers perish on the way down than on the way up. Making it through is more about the return than it is about the mountain top.

It’s the hero’s journey. It is the course we all climb in this life. There is a call to adventure. For some it is a mountain. Somewhere along the way we can all expect an abyss, a reduction to dust, the void, the belly of the whale. Whatever the variation, it is always transformational. And then comes the journey home.

In the films, there is the moment when the climbers see the base camp, a different kind of thrill than the summit. People bang pots in celebration. Exhilaration infuses exhaustion. The realization floods the transformed climber: I made it through. Kerri’s eyes, blink open for just a moment. She whispers, “See. I knew it.”

 

MADE IT THROUGH on the album THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MADE IT THROUGH

 

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made it through/this part of the journey ©️ 2000 kerri sherwood

Unlock The Lock [on DR Thursday]

“The confidence of creativity knows that deep conflict often yields the most interesting harmony and order.” ~John O’Donohue, Beauty

To me, the most interesting moment of the story happens when Sisyphus has managed to chain Death to a post. No one could die. And, although suffering continued, famine raged, people begged Sisyphus to keep Death locked to the post. They’d rather have certainty than experience change. They’d rather suffer with what they knew than face the scary unknown.

Krishnamurti once wrote that people fear death because they are afraid to live.

Over and over we hear stories of soldiers or mountaineers or extreme athletes who felt the full force of living when they understood that they had little or no control over their life.  On the battlefield. Leaping off the mountaintop. Climbing without ropes.

There is an equation between releasing the illusion of control (locking Death to the post) and experiencing fully this crackling unpredictable life. Brad said it best, “Bored people are boring people.” Break the pattern. Step out. Go do something new. Julia Cameron called it an artist’s date. Get out of your comfort zone. Heed the call. Live a little.

Sisyphus did what we all must finally come to do: even though he knew it would mean the end of his life as he knew it. He walked over to the post, unlocked the lock, and set Death free.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PRAY NOW

 

 

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held in grace series: pray now* ©️ 2010 david robinson

 

*Originally titled “John’s Secret. John was my framer and I gave him the wrong measurement for this painting; I was a quarter of an inch short. We had to release one end of the canvas and add a small spacer so the painting would fit the frame. Now you know John’s Secret. Don’t tell!