Hug The Pain [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Put on your seat belt. I’m going to indiscriminately fling stereotypes at myself and my wife and that requires me to indiscriminately snag other fish in my broad net of oversimplification. To make you feel safe in reading further, please note that this a not so cleverly disguised survival guide for two people living together in this age of stay-at-home-orders.

We are both artists. I often wonder if the universe put Kerri and me in relationship as some kind of whacky psychological experiment. Imagine the laughter on Mount Olympus! If you are an artist or know any artists, please join me now in making a list of adjectives: volatile, hypersensitive, moody, procrastinating,.. Now, multiply that times two. Let’s just say that we do not cancel out each other. We are certain that our friends invite us to dinner for the sheer entertainment value of hearing about our latest train wreck. We are both good storytellers so we take comfort knowing that at least we make our mayhem amusing.

True story: yesterday I apologized to DogDog that neither Kerri or I was an engineer. “You have hard duty this time around,” I said, patting him on the head. He didn’t disagree.

Since we are already standing at the edge of chaos I can see no reason not to jump. It was too late in our developing relationship when we realized that, not only were we both artists but we are diametrically opposed in our approach . Kerri is so detail-oriented that it makes my head hurt. I am such a big-picture-generalist that she regularly has to run screaming from the the room so as not to get lost in my thought.

Kerri organizes through piles. I organize by eliminating piles. I seem incapable of learning the lesson that what-looks-like-a pile-to-me-looks-like-order to her. I’ve probably set her back a decade by imposing my idea of order to her system of filing. We’re still looking for the project notes she lost the day I moved in and decided to help out by cleaning up the piles. Last week I attempted to hang up her snow pants and her icy glare melted my good intention; I let them slip to the chair where they remain to this day.

She is easier in the world than I am. If I begin a project or a painting it is nearly impossible for me to stop thinking about it until it is complete. I dream about it. I ponder and muse. Okay, go ahead and think it: he is obsessive-compulsive. I cannot deny it. In my defense, by bride is incapable of holding on to a thought or completing a single task. She works in circles. Attention deficit. Now, imagine, if you can, the process we’ve developed in working together. If we were a band, our name would be Creative Tension.

DogDog walks in circles around the house. I used to think it was a trait of his breed but I’ve come to believe that circle-walking is what happens to an over-sensitive dog when one of his parents is obsessive and the other is ADD. He simply can never relax since we are such a danger to ourselves.

She’s a New Yorker.  I am from Colorado. I was taught that talking over someone else was rude. She was raised in a part of the world where it is essential. Our conversations are sometimes hysterical but mostly shattered language fragments and hesitations. If only I were a better playwright!

Now, flip all of this too-much-information over. Perceptive, deeply felt, intuitive, adventurous, improvisational. Sometimes mystic. We crawl out the window to drink our wine on the roof. Our life is never routine, never dull. We cultivate surprise whether we intend to or not. Her artistic eye makes mine better. She pulls me from my obsessive mind so that I might breathe and relax. I help her step back from the detail and see another perspective.

The moral: there is no better collaborator, no more treasured companion, than the pain-in-the-ass pushing back on your idea, the one talking over you, the one challenging your choices, the one that you love and trust with your most vulnerable life & artistic decisions because (you begrudgingly admit to yourself) they see things differently. This equal and opposing force that shares space with you is the very reason you are capable of expanding your mind, your perspective, and your heart.  They are what you mean when you utter this word: together.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PAIN IN THE ASS

 

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Listen To Chicken [on DR Thursday]

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The original conceit behind Chicken Marsala came during a road trip. Kerri and I started talking about what life might have been like had we met when we were younger. Our conversation wandered into the question of mutual children and then became utterly hysterical when we started tossing possible names back and forth. Chicken Marsala, the imaginary child of two people who met late in life, was born.

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Chicken had friends. Chicken went to school. Chicken had a full blown imaginary life. Chicken terrified his parents, making them do and say things that they would not have otherwise done. Chicken became the inner and outer voice of two artists trying to make their way in a world where they do not necessarily fit.

All of my life people who have cut themselves off from their inner artist have asked me, “Where do I begin?” They build studios for themselves, buy supplies, and then sit, frozen. Tom McK used to tell me that there was only one answer to that question: a writer writes and a painter paints. There is no magic. The muse can’t help unless you pick up the clay and throw the pot. Write many, many bad pages and soon you will discover that you are following an impulse rather than grinding “it” out or making “it” up.

One day, someone asked Chicken’s mom a question about composing. “How do you do it? What’s your secret?” It was a question from someone desperate to uncover their long buried inner artist. What’s the secret charm, the divine key? Chicken leaned into his mom and whispered: Sometimes you just have to put your fingers on the keys and follow the music.

It is no mystery, after a few years banished in the drawer, that Chicken is suddenly pulling on my sleeve. I haven’t been active in the studio for months. ‘A dry spell,’ I tell myself. ‘All of my creative energy is going to other things.’ ‘I’m bored with my work!’ ‘I’m blank…’ Yada Yada. Chicken shakes his head. ‘Not again!’ He giggles.

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Put your fingers on the keys. Pick up your brush. Use that great imagination to play rather than plague yourself. Follow the music. It will always lead you home.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FINGERS ON THE KEYS

 

 

 

 

 

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chicken marsala ©️ 2016 david robinson & kerri sherwood

play 2 play illustration ©️ godknowswhenprobablybeforeyouwereborn david robinson

 

Value It [on DR Thursday]

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“Creativity is a dance where the flow of the eternal gleams through the brittleness of time and the distance of space.” ~ John O’Donohue, Beauty

The arts are so often seen as unnecessary. They don’t pencil out. Hard to make money, yada yada. The budget just submitted by the current administration once again is attempting to cut the funding for and kill the National Endowment for the Arts. “A waste of money,” they say.

No way to measure it. Can’t be reduced to a spreadsheet.

Kerri was recently asked by her employer to calculate how many hours per week she spent working on her music. “What constitutes working on it?” she asked, “I think about it all the time. I’m constantly listening for and searching out good music. Does it qualify as working on it when I sit to play, to compose, to noodle on an idea?” She sighed the sigh that all artists sigh when asked to reduce their artistry to a number. “Maybe 125 hours a week? Does a lifetime playing, composing, conceptualizing, conducting, rehearsing and leading choirs count in my working on it” she quipped. They didn’t smile. The committee got together and determined her value based on their spreadsheet.

We know that when a society disappears from earth it leaves behind art and artifact. We discover what was important to the society by the arts they produced.  The architecture, the pottery, the scribbles on a cave wall. Their values expressed. Their arts – like ours – are the eternal gleam pressed into specific forms.

The arts are nothing less than the glue that keeps a society together. The common story is, after all, a story, and it is told through literature and theatre and dance and music and painting.

One of the necessary first acts of every dictator, after identifying a scapegoat, is to eliminate the artists, the thinkers, and the educators. It is a control strategy: rend the common story. Split the people. Then, make questioning and expressing a crime. Diminish reason. Eliminate the voice of imagination and reflection. Vilify the voice of dissension. Appeal to the reptile brain [that part of your brain that deals with the basic functions but has no reach into higher order thought].

Asking the question “why” and challenging the group-think is the artist’s and academic’s job. To discern between truth and lie. To open eyes. To open hearts. To open minds. Value beyond measure in a free society if the society values its freedom.

Yada yada.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NEW MOTHER

 

 

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new mother ©️ 2017 david robinson

 

Give Over To The Music [on KS Friday]

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Kerri earns her daily bread as a Minister of Music. Each week she plays two services. The early service is “traditional” and she plays the organ. The second service is “family friendly” and she plays the piano with her band. Music, I’ve learned, serves as the great mountain range between the traditionalists and those seekers who are friendly as families. Just try and play contemporary music to a traditional crowd. I dare you [wear protective gear].

Partially, I suppose, the great divide makes sense. Music opens the door to the inner life, to memory and musings. It can reach beyond reason and language to the heart.  In other words, if you associate your spiritual life with pews, the pipe organ and a hymnal, then even a hint of a guitar provides reason to snap a lock on your door.

Navigating musical entrenchment is, I think, the hardest part of Kerri’s job. There are a few dedicated complainers dug in on both sides of the divide. They miss the greater experience. Lying in wait to find offense they actually miss the music. The divide, after all, is never in the music. It is the creation of the listener.

More than a few times I have opened the door to the organ and stepped inside while Kerri plays. It’s a very big instrument and there is literally a door on either side. If, like me, you desire to be inside an instrument while it is playing, seek a big organ. You will vibrate with the music (…well, you vibrate with every note you ever hear but the intensity of the inner-organ experience makes it obvious). I used to have pals that played the didgeridoo and standing within a pipe organ has a similar feel. Ancient. Deep rumble. It shakes the gunk from your soul.

And then there is the piano. There is the player. And, in Kerri’s case, the piano becomes an extension of the player. Playing the piano is how she shakes the gunk from her soul. I’ve written about this before so my old-guy-apologies for telling the same story again and again: the first time I heard her play I was standing next to the piano and the energy that came through her almost knocked me down. She is little and she became a giant. Vast. Deep. It was so powerful I had to hide my weeping. The irony is, of course, that, being in the center of all that power, she has no concept of what happens when she plays. These days, all she really knows is that when her heart hurts or she is hurtling into despair, the only parachute available is to stand at the piano and play. It breaks her fall. The magic comes through and provides lift. The gunk falls off. Her personal divides disappear. That is art.

And, that’s also the greater point. Give over to the music, let it come through, and the dedicated divides disappear. The gunk falls off. The door to the deeper place opens. We vibrate.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE PIPES

 

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find all kerri’s albums on iTunes

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Read The Symbol [on DR Thursday]

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When I was flying in to meet Kerri for the first time, she told me that I’d recognize her because she’d be the one holding the daisy. Consequently, were you to scrutinize my paintings these days, you’d find more than a few daisies.

Her daisy-greeting-idea cemented what I suspected before I met Kerri. She is special. This was my thought process/reasoning: This woman has 15 albums in the world.  Her picture is everywhere in the Google-sphere. Yet, it never occurred to her that I should or would know what she looks like. She’s humble.  Also, point #2, I did my research. The maker of extraordinary pianos, Yamaha, consider her a “Yamaha Artist” or [translation] a modern master who performs almost exclusively on their pianos. With that kind of resume, with that size of gift and notoriety, you’d think she’d have mentioned it during those many months of conversation that preceded our meeting. She didn’t. She’s an unassuming artist (the best kind).

Humble. Unassuming.

The second time I flew in she greeted me at the gate with a veritable bushel of daisies.

My paintings are filled with symbols. Some conscious. Most not. I discover them after the fact [like those *#@^! three spheres that populated most of my early work. Jim had to pull out my paintings and point them out to me…] The daisies? I know exactly what they represent. I know without doubt when and why a composition requires a daisy.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DAISY

 

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daisy – all of them ©️ circa 2013

Find Another Door [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Roger and I used to discuss life and career. He would say, “There is a time of becoming and then, one day, you realize that you have become it.” He was right. I wanted to be an artist. For years I chased it. For years I practiced it. And then, one day, I realized I was it. Not because I’d arrived at a place called Artist, but because art was my practice. Art was my pursuit. Art called me.

It’s a paradox. You become the thing that you pursue on the day that you realize it is not an achievement. Becoming is a choice of practice, a dedication of your limited time on earth to an exploration. Follow the Siren long enough and she will claim you.

Long after his retirement, Tom continued to toss his hat into the ring for regional directing assignments. During his career, he was a force in the theatre. He was a master-teacher-director who opened the door to many of my peers, theatre artists, the people I most admire. I heard about Tom long before I met him. And, although he continued his passionate pursuit after his retirement, the world of opportunity could not see beyond his grey hair. Even his former students, those people I most admire, stopped considering his resume or returning his calls.

It was in the midst of recognizing that he had more to give but the old routes were now closed that he pulled me aside and said, “I need help telling a story.” And then he asked, “Will you help me?”

Our project, The Lost Boy, opened ten years later,  several months after Tom’s death.  The opening night audience was a packed house of Tom’s family and relatives, people who brought photographs of the lost boy, Johnny, to the theatre. They clutched them as they watched the play. After the performance, they stayed in the theatre sharing their stories until the management asked them to leave.

A dream. Tom’s practice: uniting people through telling and sharing a common story. Art in its purest form.

His final lesson for me: storytellers (artists) age but the force of their dreams does not grow old. They will inevitably hit walls and freshly closed doors and rather than sit down and throw up their hands, they simply turn, ask a few questions, and look for another way.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NEVER TOO OLD

 

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The Chili Boys in rehearsal for The Lost Boy. They wrote gorgeous music for the play. I will always be grateful to them.

 

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carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram

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50 minutes before stepping onto the stage. Kerri and I performed together for the first time.

 

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Say Less [on DR Thursday]

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Under construction. I’d like to say that I was undergoing construction (a lifetime job) but at the moment the shortened phrase is more apt. The construction is on top. I am under it.

This is week 91 of our Studio Melange. 91 DR Thursdays. It might not surprise you to know that I have more than 91 paintings in my stacks though Kerri cautions me against posting the nudes. She worries that Facebook might ban me if my naked art hits the e-waves (unless, of course, my paintings of naked people were used for misinformation campaigns, then they’d be safe;-). Combing through my stacks for this week’s post left me at a loss.

I learned that the real skill in painting is knowing when to stop. Knowing when to put the brushes down.

The next skill, truly the center of all artistry, is how to say more with less. This week, what I have to say is this: I got nothin’.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDER CONSTRUCTION

 

 

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[a nude? tough to tell. you decide]

 

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