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

 

 

Know The Pet Peeve [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

marked license plate stickers copy

Kerri has a pet peeve and because she is from New York she expresses her annoyance with all of the out-sized force and bluster that comes with her east coast roots. “OH MY GOD! DO YOU SEE THAT?!!!” She gales as we drive down the road, gesturing wildly, letting go of the steering wheel. I close my eyes because I do not want to see the fiery crash that we are most certainly about to experience.

“DID YOU SEE IT?!!!” she repeats, demanding an answer. I open one eye to see if she’s regained control of the car or if she is still gesticulating with gusto. She looks at me with disdain, “YOU DIDN’T SEE IT?” I shake my head. “HOW CAN THAT NOT DRIVE YOU CRAZY?!!!” I shrug my shoulders and secretly look for a way to safely exit the car.

The offense? The horrid transgression that causes such wild arm flinging, finger pointing, and loud outdoor-voice-exclamations? A license plate renewal sticker placed on the wrong part of the plate. “DO YOU THINK THEY CAN’T READ?!!! she bellows. “DO YOU THINK IT’S TOO HARD TO FIGURE OUT WHERE THE STICKER GOES?!!! She snarls. I slide down in my seat. I practice my cloak-of-invisibility act.

Once, early in our history, before I realized this peeve was her pet, I said, “Maybe they are being creative, like trying to color out of the lines.” My perky suggestion was not welcome. It was as if I whispered the magic words that unleashed all the demons from hell. Smoke came from her nostrils. Lightning from her eyes. My perky backpedaled and disappeared leaving me all alone with no place to hide. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!! she growled. “IT’S A STICKER!!!!!!!! IT’S SUPPOSED TO GO IN THE RIGHT SPOT!!!!!! THERE’S A SPOT AND THE STICKER IS SUPPOSED TO GO THERE!!! WHAT’S SO HARD?!!!!!!”

I had no answer. Or, more to the point, I dared not have an answer. I had better run away from anything that looked remotely like an answer. Pet peeves are best left alone!

In that moment I knew only one thing for certain: the path to a happy life was predicated on one small action – I simply need to place the sticker in the right spot when it was time for the license plate renewal.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on OH MY GOD!!!

 

 

turkey on the roof website box copy

 

Knead And Listen [on Two Artists Tuesday]

rustic bread copy

I am now among the legion of people that turned to baking bread during the pandemic-stay-at-home era. This loaf is gluten free, made with rice flour, since Kerri is allergic to gluten.

In truth, I’ve wanted to bake bread since I knew Brad the baker in California. He was a genuine hippie, a believer in peace and simple living. “Bread is a living thing,” he once said as I watched in fascination his kneading of the dough. You can tell a true master craftsman at work by watching their hands. They feel something in the dough or the wood that the rest of us do not.

My loaf was not made by a master. Not even by an apprentice.

Bill sent a photo of his first loaf and I asked for the recipe. It came as screen shots and I scribbled them into a recipe on notebook paper. Easy steps to follow but I knew from watching Brad that I would not find in my recipe any easy guidance on how to feel the life in the dough. That would come with time. Maybe. If I was lucky and diligent and practiced listening through my hands.

I’m not surprised people are turning to bread during this time of pandemic uncertainty. It is essential. The making of bread, the cultivation of wheat, made civilization, as we know it, possible. It is, therefore, a central symbol in many belief systems. Separate the chaff from the wheat. A time for harvest. This is my body. Eat.

Brad told me that the dough kneads you as much as you knead the dough. It’s a simple relationship between living things and requires complete focus. Mutual respect. Attention must be proffered.

Perhaps that is why we turn to bread in times like these. Simple relationships of attention and mutual respect are increasingly rare. Bread reminds us of what is possible, what is healthy. It reminds us of the patience that is required if we are to find our way to harvest. It reminds us of the necessity of knowing what is chaff and what is wheat, or remembering that there is a direct relationship between what is planted and what is grown.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BREAD

 

ely website box copy

 

Blink [on Merely A Thought Monday]

it flies by as it drags on copy

Yesterday was Father’s Day. 20 showed us a photo. His children when they were kids. “Where does the time go?” he asked. Thirty years. “That was the blink of an eye.”

We put together a video collage for my dad using images dating from the time that Kerri first met him. Seven years. “Doesn’t that seem like yesterday?” We had a hard time remembering the order of events; what visit came first? We looked for clues. The length of my hair. The color of stripe on my dad’s shirt.

In one of the photo sequences we are in Iowa, the little town where my dad grew up. In the photos he is showing us the house his grandfather built, the house where his father grew up. It is tiny. Today, it is someone’s storage shed. To my dad, it is holy ground, the place where as a child he ran free. This was his last touch. His final visit.

We  had a phone conversation with my sister. Her pandemic experience is vastly different from ours. To her, it is a minor inconvenience. “People just can’t stay in forever!” she exclaimed. “I’m worried more about the suicides than this virus.” Time, 100 days, to her community, is an eternity. “People gotta live!” she says.

Eternity. “What day is it?’ I ask. Kerri looks off into space. Weird calculus. “Thursday, I think.” she says from some far off place.

Locating ourselves is not so easy in these times. The landmarks are covered over. The geography is changed.

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver asks.

What did you do with your one precious life? With this day, this time, pandemic or not?

We look at each other and laugh. “I’m getting old!” We cringe. Look at me!” We wear our age and it surprises us.

“Time,” Kerri sighs, looking in the mirror. “It is so strange.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TIME

 

onthedeckstepsWI website box copy

 

Ask The Essential Question [on KS Friday]

in transition copy

Quinn told me that there are really only three questions: Who am I? Where am I going? What is mine to do? All other questions can be boiled down to one of these essences. All stories can be reduced to one of these questions. And, the real kicker? There is never a single answer to these three essential questions. Life is always moving so, the moment you think you have an answer-by-the-tail, you’ve moved to a different place. You’ve changed. You will change again. And again. The story evolves. The long body of a life is rich in transition. Life is transition.

Change the pronoun. Who are we? Where are we going? What is ours to do? These are the questions beating at the heart of the American experiment. Our rhetoric is out of alignment with our reality. It turns out that our hero tale has a matching anti-hero story. We know it but do not deal with it. The shining city on the hill was built on the backs of slaves and sustains itself on a rolling subjugation of the latest arrivals. We revel in inequality while proudly pronouncing that all are created equal.

As master Shakespeare reminds us, “…but at length truth will out.” Our truth is out. We are a festival of inequity. There is a yawning maw between the haves and the have-nots. It is by design and not by accident. It is not our problem as much as it is our pattern. And so, we  ask one of the essential questions: Who are we? And, in asking it, we must first look at how we define the pronoun ‘we.’ WE. The people. Who are WE? White male land owners? The one percent? Or, many diverse and rich origin stories come together in a promise of one nation, a nation of equal opportunity for all devoid of exploitation? It is the ideal. Is it the intention? Who do we want to be?

WE, as I understand it, is all inclusive. Multi-cultural as one. Both/And.

I take heart. Every caterpillar has a melt down phase en route to becoming a butterfly. The mush phase is necessary to fulfilling the mature promise, the expression of the ideal. In transition.

 

IN TRANSITION is on Kerri’s album RELEASED FROM THE HEART

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IN TRANSITION

 

 

? website box copy

 

 

in transition/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

waiting and knowing ©️ 2015 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

 

Look Out [on Two Artists Tuesday]

bcat in the window romper room copy

I was one of those teachers who encouraged my students to stare out of the window. Visiting administrators occasionally admonished me for allowing my students to “daydream.” Imagination, I would explain, requires much more expanse than a classroom can provide. Looking out the window let the imagination-horses run free.  At graduation, I would remind the administrator, they would almost certainly endorse the graduates to follow their dreams so facilitating the pursuit of dreaming was, perhaps, the most useful skill they may ever acquire. Besides, keeping noses perpetually focused on the grindstone can be a great dream killer.

Mike wrote that Shakespeare penned King Lear while in quarantine for the Black Plague. “Any takers?” he challenged. What do you do when you can’t really go out and play? My bet is that good William stared out of his window between ink dips and parchment scratching. I’m finding, as we move deeper into our home stay, that I am repelled by electronic things that fill my time. Things that pull my focus down and in. I find that I want to stare out of the window. I want to go out and walk.

There are plays I want to write. There are paintings I want to paint. There are the necessities of life banging at my door (where will the next work come from?) Uncertainty surrounds us. I know there is no point in fretting; fretting and worry are inverse forms of imagination. Hornets buzzing inside the head because they haven’t enough space to become horses and run free. The best thing to do when your head is full of hornets? Find a good window and dream.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MAGIC MIRROR

 

 

rhode island website box copy

 

 

Gather Around The Fire [on Merely A Thought Monday]

keep the fire burnin copy

An unseasonably cool June evening. We sat around the fire. At social distance and wearing masks. Friends. “It’s so odd,” we said more than once. Eyes and assumed smiles. Muffled laughter. “I’ll never again take for granted a hug or being able to sit close together around the table,” she said. “It’s the little things that I miss.”

Fire is elemental. Water. Air. Earth. And, sometimes, Spirit though I think the 5th is always implicit. Friendship is elemental and spirit-full. Especially when the world is off center. It is a forge for strength and determination. Our friends, so generous, feed air into the fire. Support. Encouragement.

As we talked through face coverings about our newest daily obstacles, I wondered how hard it must have been to communicate across distance with smoke signals. Measured fire. Kerri said, “My mask is slipping again! There must be something wrong with my face.” We laughed and made up problems with her nose.

So much fire on the streets across the land! Transformation is afoot! Creative fire is out of the barn and teasing the status quo. This hot fire illuminates. It smacks of a ritual fire and, if properly honored and tended, can set us on a new path. Dark corners revealed and more than simply acknowledged, truly addressed.

Prometheus stole fire from the gods to spark life into his new creatures.  To ignite breath. Humans, made from earth and water. Four elements, come together. He was punished for his transgression. The spark lit an entire forest fire of humanity and creative potential. Beings capable of looking at the elements within themselves, at asking each other in magical moments, “How can we be better?”

All of this wonder and wandering on an unseasonably cool summer evening. Meeting with friends across a fire. A sip of wine. In earnest, we ask the question of each other, through our masks and across our distance, “How can we be better?”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KEEP THE FIRE BURNING

 

 

bonfire website box copy

 

 

Pop Your Bubble [on KS Friday]

every breath copy

There is a sad mantra in the not-for-profit world: people don’t give money, time, or attention to “causes” until the cause impacts them personally. It has to be personal – it has to be MY son-with-cancer or MY daughter-who-was-shot-at-school or MY community-that-has-no-grocery-store in order for us to care beyond the superficial.  In other words, it is someone else’s problem until it knocks on MY door.

The word “cause” provides some cover – it keeps the cancer at arm’s length. It abstracts and sanitizes. The word “poll” does the same thing. Throughout this pandemic we’ve actually reduced the reality of the virus to a number that indicates personal belief, which has nothing to do with the virus and everything to do with whether or not  it has penetrated your personal bubble. To date, there are over 2 million bubbles impacted and, of those, 113,000 deaths. That is 113,000 people who, on New Year’s Day 2020, had every reason to believe they’d see 2021. Their belief number sits solidly at 100%. Their family’s belief number is way up there, too.

Masks have become a split symbol – or perhaps better stated, a symbol of our split. Wearing a mask is meant, as we all know, to protect others. It is not a measure of personal protection which is perhaps why it is so messy an issue here in these United States. We’ve somehow managed to transmogrify a gesture of protecting our neighbors into an assault on individual rights. It is not merely a consistent problem, it is a national pattern. The pattern plays itself with great symphonic insanity every time we have another mass shooting and can do no more than offer condolences to the dead.  It is the river that runs beneath the richest and most innovative nation on earth and its inability to provide affordable (or any) health care to its citizens. We keep ourselves brilliantly schizophrenic by insisting that this abundant creative citizenry is only capable of considering two choices. EITHER individual rights OR what’s best for the community! BOTH/AND is nowhere to be found. “We” is the word we run from.

This morning Kerri read an article about a server going back to work at a restaurant. She does not feel safe. Her customers are solidly in their bubbles caring only for their dining experience and not their server’s health. Our daughter supplements her life by bar tending and serving. Kerri cried. It’s personal.

She chose her song for this week’s melange in that moment. EVERY BREATH. And, ironically, it is found on the album AS IT IS. The present condition. Every breathe; as it is. It reads like the I-Ching: The air you breathe. The air I breathe. No difference.

One bubble. And, like it or not, believe it or not, we all inhabit it.

 

EVERY BREATH is on the album AS IT IS. Find it on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERY BREATH

 

HH coffee cups website box copy

 

 

every breath/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

 

helping hands ©️ 2011 david robinson