Look At The Display [on Flawed Wednesday]

Del and Dorothy’s house sat on the side of a mountain. It was small. The kitchen table accommodated two and was placed close – very close – to the front door. Dorothy cooked on a wood burning stove. The house listed to the downhill side. It had a small yard that seemed carved out of the mountain. Del’s WW II jeep sat close to the edge. Dorothy populated the yard with blue glass and hummingbird feeders. It was a quiet home. A peaceful place.

Artifacts of a time gone by. Del fought in the second world war. He kept a corner display cabinet with things he’d brought home from the war. A Luger. Nazi insignia. A flag. Patches and medals. Booty from the enemy. It seemed out of place, especially in a home dedicated to simplicity and peace. The display was a curiosity for me. Why enshrine in your home objects from an enemy-of-the-past? I wanted to ask Del about it but he was not a talker. In fact, while, 50 years later, I would recognize Dorothy’s voice if I heard it today, I have no recall of the sound of Del’s voice. I can’t remember him uttering a word. I never broached the subject of the artifacts.

Each day we receive an alert on our phone. Exposure Notification Available. Recently, when Kerri officiated a wedding, we both took two Covid tests to make certain, while also vaccinated, that we were negative. Dangling from a clip on the side of our refrigerator are masks. Many, many masks. We put in our special box the flag they gave us on the day we were vaccinated. Wave the flag if you have a question or need help. The artifacts in a time of pandemic, now so normal that we barely see them.

This weekend, with all of the observances of 9/11, I watched a tour of the 9/11 museum. A crushed firetruck. A shoe. Xerox pages with faces and the word, “Missing.” Del whispered into my ear, “Pay attention. This is why I kept my display.” The tour guide said, “So we never forget.” The Luger. The Nazi flag and insignia. The medals and ribbons. The reason Del and Dorothy retreated to the mountainside, the reason they simplified and built a life of quiet and peace, the reason he kept his glass-cabinet-display. So they wouldn’t forget. The horrors that people enact upon each other in the name of…righteousness, control. Superiority. The madness people embrace when they are angry or scared. The lies so easily told and so hungrily gobbled.

People are capable of great things. We know because those things are meant to draw us together. They unite us. Great art.

People are capable of appalling acts. We know because those actions are born of and meant to divide. They rend us apart.

Del lived through the full savagery of what people are capable of doing, one to another. He came home and with Dorothy lived an intentional life of quiet, on the mountain, out of the main. I’ve noted of late that Kerri and I talk often, dream, of a mountain retreat. We are witness of what people are capable of doing, one to another. We are also witness of and generators of the beauty meant to draw people together. Her music. My paintings. The things people are capable of doing, one for another. We are surrounded by artists and art. Both/and.

History repeats itself. The story is told – again and again – through the art and artifacts we display, the symbols we keep. The memories we carry forward. Guernica. Empty shoes. A simple mask.

read Kerri’s blog post about ARTIFACTS

Recognize The Art [on Flawed Wednesday]

The snow was too dry. My snowman fell apart when I put the head on. “It doesn’t have to look like a snowman to be a snowman,” Kerri said to cheer me up.

“Maybe it’s modern art!” I quipped, using my if-it’s-a-mess-call-it-art default statement. As I walked down the trail, away from my unsuccessful snowman, I wondered when incoherence had become included in my definition of art.

I am and have been these many months doing some soul searching and life review. Walking down our snowy trail I remembered working with a dying theatre company. The first step in restoring their health and vitality was to help them face a simple truth: that they made the “art” did not necessarily make the “art” good. In fact, the “art” could not be good until their criteria for “good” wasn’t about them.

The challenge with “art” in the modern era is that it is nearly impossible to define. For purely masochistic reasons I looked up the word ‘art’ in the dictionary and nearly fell asleep before I finished reading the definition. “A diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory, or performing artifacts…” Artifacts? The last lap of the definition reads, “…intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Beauty. Emotional power.

Of course, the contemporary world is awash in conceptual art and I read in my dictionary that this form of art, dating back to Duchamp in 1917, “…abandoned beauty, rarity and skill as measures.” Bananas taped to the wall. Statements.

Beauty abandoned. No emotional power necessary. But still “art.”

Art is, I’m told by historians and other scholars, a mirror of society. It is reflective of the era in which the artist lived. What a society values is made apparent in their art. It’s true.

Art, I believe, has a power and purpose far beyond mere appreciation. It is more than a mirror. It generates identity. It pulls disparate individuals to a common center. It affirms connectivity. It awakens us – and provides access to – that which is greater than any single individual. It bonds. It affirms. It transforms.

I wonder if our art, often so unrecognizable, sometimes incomprehensible, dependent upon curatorial interpretation, not concerned with beauty or rarity or skill or any other discernible measure, is not the perfect reflection of us. Narcissistic. Statements. Each day I am, like you, met by a tsunami of stories in the daily news revealing our collective confusion, our collapse of values, a commons at war with itself fueled by leaders stoking division for personal gain. Bananas taped to the wall. It is – we are – in our daily tales – so conceptual – so void of beauty or rarity or recognizable skill or measure – that it requires an anchor/curator to tell us why it – or we – might have meaning.

And then, just when I wonder if we are hopelessly lost, Amanda Gorman stepped up to the mic. The one true test of artistry is that we know it when we see it. No curator necessary. We are, we were, for a moment, bonded together in a way that no politician, no historian, no concept will ever understand or achieve.

I see it alive in Mike, and David, and Mark, and Chris. It glistens every time Kerri sits at the piano or composes a poem. It is not a mess though sometimes skill meets a happy-accident and, like penicillin, something healing emerges.

When we are washed away into the annals of time, what will be our art-love-letter to the future? What legacy – and art is a legacy – will we leave behind? What will I leave behind?

read Kerri’s blog post about SNOWMAN

for kicks, Kerri made a Snowman mug. Go here to get it

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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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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Write The Essential [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I’m not sure what stacks up around your house. At our house, the stacks are paintings, cartoons, designs, composition notes, manuscripts, folios, notebooks of ideas, scraps of paper jammed into the notebooks of ideas, lyrics a-go-go, and the supplies necessary to make the other stacks possible. Colored pencils, brushes, too many composition books, canvas, tissue paper, paint, sketchbooks, art books, and the stacks-and-stacks of stuff teetering on the piano and bench that somehow resemble a nest.

All of this is to note that we are fantastic generators of content and equally inept marketers of what we generate. Thus, the stacks. It was this realization – and the necessity of making a living – that one year ago gave birth to the melange. Melange means ‘mixture’ or ‘medley.’

The idea was simple: Monday would be dedicated to our cartoon, Chicken Marsala. Tuesday would be dedicated to our Two Artists designs. Wednesday was Flawed Cartoon day. Thursday was for my paintings. Friday was for Kerri’s music. We created a Society6.com store for each day, set about designing 5 product lines a week (oh, god,…more content). Through our blogs we’d write about and publish the day’s selection, he-said/she-said-style. People all over the world would read what we wrote, be captivated by the cartoon, design or composition, and race to the Society6.com store to buy a print or a mug or a laptop sleeve or a greeting card. Content out, income, well…in.

And, it happened. People all over the world read our blogs. And, almost no one raced to the Society6.com stores. We studied a few things, learned a few things, reconfigured, tried a few social-media-marketing variations, bought ad space, waved our hands, jumped up and down, danced silly dances – we pivoted and pivoted again.

More readers. Less-than-no shoppers.

One day, after eight months, we looked at each other and considered pulling the plug and would have pulled the plug except for one small-yet-oh-so-important detail: we love to write together. In the course of a year, the melange managed to boil itself down to its essence. Each day Kerri writes her post. “Don’t look!” she says as I, sitting next to her,  write mine. And then, before posting, we share them. We read to each other. It’s always a surprise (though mine are predictably “heady” and hers are 100% “hearty”).

When I looked back at our first post one year ago I laughed at the irony. Love needs no words. Well, in this case, in our case, love revels in words. There are too many words for the love to contain. And, so, our stacks grow happily higher and higher and higher.

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if you'd like to see more CHICKEN... copy

read Kerri’s blog post about A YEAR IN MELANGE

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Open The Box [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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The other night, over a glass of wine, I listened as Kerri, Jen and Brad talked of the things they’ve stored from the lives of their children. Finger paintings, drawings, school projects. There are bins of irreplaceable treasures, moments captured in crayon and paste. Their conversation came around to this question: are these treasures as valuable to the children that made them as they are to the parents that collected them? Who are they storing them for?

I don’t have children of my own. I’ll never know what it means to raise a child so the best I can do during these conversations is listen. I can, however, appreciate the enormous love that flows through the conversation. There isn’t gold or rare coins in those plastic bins. Yet, I am certain, that given the choice between a bin of gold doubloons or keeping their children’s artifacts, the response would be unanimous. The doubloons are worthless when compared to the memories stored in those bins.

Over the new year we went to Florida. During our time there we had the opportunity to go through the storage unit that contained the remaining boxes from Beaky’s house. It’s been three years since she passed. Beaky’s daughters opened every box and the majority of the items were sorted into a donation pile or throwaway pile. A few bins, photographs mostly, were too monumental of a task so were put in the third pile: sort someday. A very few artifacts, rare treasures, surfaced from the boxes: a calendar where Beaky jotted thoughts about her days, a special note. Letters and drawings that she’d saved. Something she touched and cherished because it came from one of her children.

My parents are still with me, I am fortunate, so I don’t know what it means to lose them. The best I can do during these times is listen. I can, however, appreciate the enormous love that flows through the conversation. I am certain, that when time blows us all away, our accumulated possessions, our stuff, our oh-so-important achievements, will hold little or no lasting value. Oh, but those small notes, those child-hand scribbles, those shaky old-hand letters…the artifacts of our relationships, for the children sorting through our remaining boxes, priceless.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about STORAGE

 

momma, d & k website box copy

Touch The Past

The journal/record Isabelle kept of the fever that killed Johnny.

The journal/record Isabelle kept of the fever that killed Johnny.

I’ve been posting updates to pledgers for my play, The Lost Boy, through the Kickstarter campaign. I’ve been using images of the artifacts – Johnny Quiggle’s possessions – found in the trunk. Jim, the chief Chili Boy, has been doing archival and art shots of the artifacts. The images have served to make a vital point about the play: this story happened. This little boy died. The story that unfolded for me moved both forward and backwards in time. And, while receiving it from Tom, I realized that it was also my story, and your story. It’s universal and, therefore, worthy to tell. My latest update generated much feedback so I’m sharing it here, too:

Jim has completed shooting archive and detail photos of the contents of Johnny’s trunk. This journal was the last thing Isabelle put in the trunk before she closed it in 1885 and secretly sealed it into the walls. Tom told me that this journal told him more about Isabelle than any other object in the trunk. In her record of the fever, he could read her worry, her despair, her fears, a few days of hope, and then the devastation at losing her son. This play is more than a good story well told; it is one of the ways Isabelle reached through time, through Tom, and into me to tell a story that is relevant to all of us.

Thank you for everything you have done to bring this play to life. It is your encouragement and support (financially and otherwise) that will open the trunk to larger audience and extend Isabelle’s intention beyond the walls of the ranch, beyond the Quiggle/McKenzie families, and into the greater conversation.

Johnny crop copySupport the kickstarter campaign for The Lost Boy

 

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