Glance Sideways [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It came as quite a shock. Our beloved plant, Snake-In-The-Grass, was hosting a community of Gnomes and Faeries. We haven’t actually seen the Gnomes and Faeries – they are notoriously hard to spot. They are not fond of human beings since we are famously territorial and also so easily eschew our imaginations. Fearing all things “wild,” we generally erect fences and street lights, build dams and make management plans for “nature.” If we could see them, I suspect we’d notice how often they roll their eyes at us.

When I was playing the role of consultant in public school systems, I took note of a central mandate of the adults, playing the role of teacher or administrator: clamp the imagination of the young people, those imaginers playing the role of students. The students would enter the system with wide-open imaginations, free from limitation, and the oldsters found it necessary to kibosh or contain that wide-open meadow. This is not meant to disparage those actors playing the role of adults; when young, they’d been recipients of the imagination whammy, too. They were simply carrying on the tradition. The imagination is apparently considered a wild-thing so necessary of damming.

Dammed imaginations do not die, they distort. Imagination, as a wild thing, will run in circles when put in a cage. It will gnaw its leg off when caught in a snare. It will invent monsters and madness as it paces to-and-fro. It will get angry as it descends into madness. You might say that millions of Americans are gnawing their legs off, angry at the swirl of dark imagining run amok in their caged craniums, seeking reasons and someone-to-blame for their dark imagining. The caged imagination will lead all the lemmings over the cliff with the shout, “Where we go one, we go all!” It seems that we are awash in imprisoned imaginations howling to be freed.

I took it as a positive sign that the Gnomes and the Faeries took up residence in our house under the good protection of Snake-In-The-Grass. While the world outside our doors goes deeper and deeper into the cage-of-its-own-creation, the world inside our house seems to have become a refuge, a safe haven, for those beings still alive in their imaginations.

David recently wrote that he was dedicating himself to being a better artist. He’s been making art with his son again, a wild imaginer that has pulled his daddy (and me, too) out of our cages and into the open meadow. I can’t wait to see what David will do next. Who he will now become. What role he will shed. He’s already a great artist so the possibilities are…wild.

I confess that I regularly wander into the sunroom and glance sideways at Snake-In-The-Grass. Sideways – so they say- is the only way we humans can catch a glimpse of the Gnomes and Faeries. I want them to know that I’m looking.

read Kerri’s blog post about TINY MUSHROOMS

Compose [on DR Thursday]

Many years ago I attended a workshop facilitated by Sam, a brilliant landscape painter. I was delighted and amused when he demonstrated his technique. Rather than paint what he observed, he took great pleasure in rearranging the elements. He moved the trees, altered the hills, relocated the barn. He laughed while mixing up his elements. His eyes sparkled with mischief. Rather than a workshop on painting, the day became an exercise in joy-in-art. Seeing and playing with what we see.

This morning I read that the word ‘composition’ means “putting together.” Definers-of-art-terms associate composition with freedom. “The artist has freedom when choosing the composition of their artwork.” It is a mistake to believe that compositional freedom is the sole province of an artist. If the mind is a canvas then thought is a composition. It is patterned and composed. Arranged and rearranged. We choose where we place our focus. Point-of-view is cultivated, it is not a default setting. We design the story-we-tell-ourselves-about-ourselves. And, then we project it onto the world.

The trick in both art and thought composition is not to wear ruts in the road. Sam was joyful in his art because he was constantly challenging and engaging with what he saw. Art was fun, not morbid tradition. Art was delight-full, not rule-bound or laden with the pressure to capture. Recall that stepping out of the rut was the first lesson in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Morning pages and artist’s dates are meant to both see the ruts and open new paths. The same process applies to the thought-canvas. See the rut. Step out of it.

As Sam taught me so many years ago, seeing and playing with what we see begins with letting go of what we think we see. It begins with a blank canvas, an unfettered mind, and the freedom to choose the composition.

read Kerri’s blog post about COMPOSITION

Unfettered ©️ 2018 david robinson

Light The Dark [on DR Thursday]

Strong contrast between light and dark: chiaroscuro. Renaissance painters loved it. The word ‘chiaroscuro’ literally means light-dark.

Today is Stephen’s memorial service. It is across the country or I would be there. I confess, I am haunted by Stephen’s death. When Mike wrote to tell me of Stephen’s passing, he told me that he was at peace when he died.

I’m not sure why his passing has hit me so hard. The last time I saw Stephen was 1998. He was following MM like a puppy. They were working on a set construction project. That’s what I remember. He was 14 years old, so, in my mind, he is frozen at 14. He was one of a pack of brothers that formed a solid core of Dimension’s Theatre Project, a theatre program that I spent more than a decade resurrecting and nurturing into artistic vitality. Stephen and his brothers were present in its heyday. For me, it was an artistic and learning laboratory, a place of spirited artistic creation. I loved every minute of it.

Of the brothers, I knew Stephen the least. I worked most directly with his older brother, Greg. I prided myself that Dimensions was a safe space. Artists, especially young artists, are vulnerable. They need to know that they can make strong offers, take chances, find their edges, without shame. That means living in and creating a culture of mutual support. The person selling the tickets mattered just as much as the actor on the stage. Every member of the community was directly responsible for the health and well-being of every other member. It is the philosophy I inherited. It is the philosophy I carried forward.

Mike took the reins of Dimensions when I left. He carried on the tradition, made it his own, Changing Faces Theater Company. Mike knew the artist that Stephen would become. The musician. The designer. The man who cared for the health and well-being of others, artistic and otherwise. Mike knew the dark and the light of Stephen’s short walk on the earth.

Usually, when I am confused or need to sort out my heart, I take a break and visit the pond. Magic, the frog, lives there. He’s a good hider but every few days comes out for a visit. After Mike’s news, confused at the depth of my confusion, I went to the pond and hung out for a few minutes with Magic. Dogga was running circles, making my visit safe from marauding squirrels. The sun was down.

“Look at this picture!” Kerri smiled. She’d caught Magic in chiaroscuro, made more dimensional and full in light-dark.

“It’s beautiful,” I said, looking at the photograph.

Light-dark. The Renaissance masters loved it. I smiled this morning when I read Stephen’s obituary. It began with a quote, something he must have often said. His words brought to me what I couldn’t find at the pond. Peace for Stephen. “Proper lighting can change the world.”

read Kerri’s blog post about MAGIC

surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Look Again [on DR Thursday]

I’m not sure when I started using floral shapes and imagery in my paintings. There was Sam The Poet and Eve, trees as symbol.

Sam The Poet, acrylic, 48 x 48IN
Eve, acrylic on hardboard, 48 x 48IN

I know my sketchbooks began filling up with flower shapes and symbolic landscapes. Petals appeared throughout my Yoga Series. Leaf and flower shapes found their way into the bodies as well as the surrounding spaces.

Joy, mixed media, 50 x 56IN

I played with tissue paper over color as a ground for the images. When Tony recently visited my studio, he said my paintings were sculptural, visually commanding. I wrote his words on a scrap of paper since artists are mostly terrible at describing their work. He is an artist so he knows that the proper answer to the question, “Tell me about your work?” is “Go look at it and then you tell me about my work.” He didn’t ask the question; he went straight to the looking.

Tango With Me, mixed media, 39 x 52IN

We walked down a path at sunset. Kerri saw the sunflowers and I knew a photo op had arrived. “You should use this as your Thursday post,” she said, showing me her photo, “because your paintings always have flowers in them.”

Well, good enough, then. Sunflowers, shape and symbol, will find their way into the next painting, I’m sure of it.

read Kerri’s blog post about SUNFLOWERS

copyrights for all paintings in this post, 2010 – 2021, david robinson

Expect Surprise [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Walking through the Lake District in a driving rain, cold and soaked to the skin. Roger had a high fever and was near delirious. The hostel closed. We had to leave. It was miles to the next village. This day was not going according to plan. The trip was not going according to plan. It was the darkest moment in a series of dark moments. “What else could go wrong?” I asked. There was nothing to do but shiver and take another step. And then, unheard of at the time, an RV rounded the bend. The door popped open and a cheery voice asked, “Do you need a ride?”

I often think of that ride. That unlikely RV. Suddenly there were towels to dry ourselves. Aspirin for Roger. The mother of the clan took over and attended to my sick friend. Mugs of hot tea. We were delivered safely to the next village. They did not leave until they knew we had a warm place to stay until the rains passed. Something went right. It was breathtaking.

It was a life lesson for the younger version of me. My very own Aesop’s Fable. What looks like tragedy is often an opportunity, and vice versa. When it appears that things cannot get worse, they often do get worse en route to something better. The real lesson was to be in it, rain or shine. Joyful participation. I didn’t get the lesson right away. It took a few laps before it stuck.

That trip was decades ago and, to me, seemed ill-fated from the outset. But, when I think back on it, I remember the kind family in the RV, the man standing in line behind me who secured a ticket for me when I didn’t have enough money. The kindnesses too many to count. The utter shock of serendipity. What we needed always appeared somehow, in unexpected ways.

Quinn used to say, “Cultivate your serendipity.” Open yourself to chance, to the unexpected. Expect surprise.

read Kerri’s blog post about THINGS GOING RIGHT

Pull The Weeds [on KS Friday]

My very first painting teacher offered me some sage advice. I was painting figures while the rest of the class worked on landscapes. Being the odd-child-out I assumed something was wrong with me. She said, “Tree painters are a dime a dozen. Someday, being the only one will seem like a gift so ignore what they are interested in and paint what is interesting to you.” Jospeh Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.” It’s the same advice that Jackie Fry gave to the boy-version of me.

I never imagined myself with a back yard. And, now that I have one, I find it a place of rest and peace. This is a confession that I’ll never admit to in the future: weeding is meditative. Each day I find myself taking a few moments to go out and yank the invaders out by the roots. No thought. No other thing to do. I simply tend the garden, knowing I am accomplishing nothing since weeds are good at growing and more will appear tomorrow. We are strange allies, they provide me with a daily meditation.

If I was as an art teacher, I’d send my students into my back yard. Nature is a masterful teacher of color. Orange and green. Highlights of yellow. Barney provides subtle blues, purples, and pinks. The orange and green of the lily pop against the purple and blue of the aging piano. Warm colors come forward. Cool colors recede. It’s all there.

I read somewhere that, as an artist, “to discover” is more potent than “to invent.” See what is there, beyond what you think is there. Everything is fluid so the discoveries are endless. While I weed the sun passes beneath a cloud. Everything changes. The sun reappears and the colors change again. Not the same. Different. I’ll never be able to capture it and that is the best held secret of an artist. Another wisdom from Jackie Fry: you will never succeed. Art is a relationship, not a transaction. So, no pressure. It is a relationship, complex and dynamic. It is not about capturing an image. It is about freeing your sight and possibly freeing the sight of others. Facilitate discovery. Play to play, to become a better player. Open a small door to peek into the vast inner universe.

It’s a paradox. It’s impossible to eradicate the weeds. That is not why I pull them. It’s impossible to capture life in an image. ‘Capturing’ is not why I paint. Relating is why I paint. I do it because I’ll never create anything more beautiful than the Tiger Lily dancing with Barney. I paint so that I might see and share in the dance.

ALWAYS WITH US on the album AS IT IS by KERRI SHERWOOD

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about the TIGER LILY

always with us/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Share The Sketchbook [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Bruce came through town with his son Ben. Ben is a budding Renaissance man, an artist and philosopher. A quiet deep thinker. We marveled at the drawings in his sketchbook. Faces and hands. Figures in motion. A bold sense of color. I remember the terror of sharing my sketchbook and was moved by how eager and easily Ben shared his. A sketchbook, like a diary, is vulnerable, a place to work out ideas, make mistakes, record pain and joy and confusion. We were touched that he was so generous in opening his diary to us.

Big changes are coming Kirsten’s way. Kerri and I laughed at her news, at the ease and enthusiasm she brings to her step off the edge of the known. “I suppose it’s easier to make big changes,” Kerri said, “when you have the bulk of your life still ahead of of you.” I suppose. Or, perhaps, after so many big changes, you come to realize that the real transformations are not in location moves or new jobs. They happen on the inside and don’t seem to be changes at all. More, it’s layers falling off. Discovery of what was there all along.

Bruce and I have known each other for a very long time and have not seen each other in a very long time. Sitting on the deck, a humid hot day, we sipped cold wine and talked about the people we once were. We talked about some of the layers that have fallen off. We laughed at our foibles. There were too many stories to pack into a single visit. There were too many questions to ask and notes to share. I hope we will have more time to sit and share our life-sketchbooks.

Each morning, opening the house, I enjoy the small fountain in our sunroom. The water runs. As a Buddhist would say, “You can never step into the same river twice.” Our fountain reminds me that time runs. Each day is a new sketch. That is true especially if I think I know what will happen that day. I am always surprised by day’s end. Life takes some surprising turns. Some big. Most less noticeable. And, time runs.

I watched Bruce’s face as Ben showed us his drawings. A proud father. Ben looked to his dad, still anchored to some degree in his dad, just as it should be. I remember looking to my dad in just that way. This trip across the country, father and son, will be a good story for them. It is already. It will be told many years from now. A son rolls his eyes. A dad laughs. An old friend and his new wife delight in being part of the day’s sketch.

There is no higher art.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE FOUNTAIN

Step Across [on Two Artists Tuesday]

We just spent a few minutes looking at the Melange archive. This is week 177. One of the gifts of blogging-your-random-thoughts-five-days-a-week is that people write back. A particular post hits a nerve. Agreements and disagreements. My story invites your story and, occasionally, you share the details. Lydia knows that I am in an artistic dry spell so she is sending me inspiration and encouragement. I could not be more grateful.

We keep a running count of the countries that show up in our analytics. 72 to date. “Who do we know in Pakistan?” Kerri asks. We take delight in the thinnest threads of relationship that are now woven through our story: if Alex in Malta doesn’t “like” one of my posts by day’s end I worry about Alex in Malta. Or, I wonder if what I wrote was substandard. The same goes with Dwight – but I know Dwight – and can hear his mighty laughter in my head. I’m glad his laughter is so deeply ingrained in my being. If he doesn’t “like” a post, it’s a sure bet that he’s helping someone in trouble and can’t be bothered to read at the moment.

Kerri and I sit next to each other when we write. The rule is that we can’t peek. We start with the same prompt and write whatever bubbles to the top. Sometimes it is remarkably similar. Sometimes it is a different universe entirely. And then, we read to each other. And talk. She always begins her reading with a disclaimer. I always need a bit of editing. When I read to her, she holds up a finger with each misspelling or grammatical gaffe, so she can remember how many corrections need to be made. Occasionally I make it through an entire reading with no fingers.

When I imagine my perfect life it has, at its center, a long table where we gather together and share meals and stories. It occurred to me a few weeks ago that I have, in metaphor, created my long table. MM sends stories and connected thoughts, Judy affirms, Horatio lets me know when a thought lands in his court. Each painting, each post, each composition, each cartoon that we create, is an invitation to come to the table.

Looking out to look in. Looking in to reach out. An artist’s life is nothing more than stepping across separations. I am fortunate to have so many helping me step. I am fortunate to have so many bringing their thoughts and hearts to the table.

When Kerri first showed me this photograph, I didn’t see the ladybug. I was thrown into a memory. Kit Peak observatory, looking through the eyepiece of a telescope into a star cluster. I never felt so small yet so connected. Her photograph evoked the same feeling. The flower seen up close is a radiant sun. The image almost knocked me over. And then, there was a ladybug. An explorer. So small, so big. Riding the petal, surfing the radiant light.

It’s enough to make me want to write.

read Kerri’s blog post about LADYBUGS

Do What They Do [on DR Thursday]

I’ve posted this painting more than any other in my stacks.

Some paintings serve as markers for new directions. This painting is one of those. What came before this painting was suddenly old. What came after was an exciting unknown path. Exploration and play. Big mistakes and messes followed by understanding. Materials can only be pushed so far. Bodies and shapes reveling in negative and positive space.

When I met Kerri, this painting did not have a name. I called it #7 in my yoga series. She called it “Iconic” and the name stuck. I liked the name. It seemed appropriate. An icon is a symbol. Something worthy of veneration.

Now, over ten years later, this icon, once the harbinger of the new, serves as the hallmark of what was.

I delight in this painting, Iconic. It is one of the few. And, although I am grateful for where it led me, I’ve come to realize that it no longer serves to locate me, except in a past chapter, like a yearbook photo.

Letting go. It is why I stand in my studio – I can’t even sit there of late – and look at the mess on canvas that sits untouched on my easel these many months. Somewhere, after this mishmash phase, somewhere, beyond the chaos and disorder and wiping away, there will emerge another marker. An icon. A compass.

Although I’ve written it many times in these past few months, it’s way past time that I admit – to myself – that I am, once again, in the wilderness. Someone once told me that we go to the wilderness to face our demons and find our gods. That seems a bit dramatic. Demons and gods are one and the same, like positive and negative space or comedy and tragedy. The lesson is always the same: stop taking yourself so seriously and the oppositions, the demons and gods, will stop pulling you apart.

Find a child and watch them play with paint. Do that. Do what they do. The wilderness is rich in sustenance if you know where to look.

Someday, in the midst of being lost, I’ll make an accidental mark that jolts me. I’ll turn it around, asking, “What’s this?” A new direction will emerge.

Read Kerri’s blog post about ICONIC

iconic ©️ 2010 david robinson

Tether Well [on KS Friday]

It’s official. YouTube has blocked forever our channel for the crime of using Kerri’s music. It’s happened before on other platforms so we’ve actually grown accustomed (sadly) to the loss. She is the composer, the performer. She holds all of the copyrights. We’ve learned that it is impossible to fight with an algorithm. I suspect that our appeal never met human eyes otherwise where is the sense? The algorithm wrote back assuring us that our claim was reviewed thoroughly but their decision stands. Vanish-ment.

Our vanish-ment is only one of the many examples of my latest fascination: what gets between you and your soul? What gets between you and your sense-making? What gets between you and your voice? In other words: what is real and what is not?

On a grand scale, we are alive at a time when deep fakes can put words into the mouths of anyone. We are witness to propaganda tv perpetuating fantastic lies, inserting themselves between people and their common sense. It is important to note that just because you believe it does not make it true. In fact, in today’s day-and-age of easy belief in the outlandish, it is a best practice to check everything you hear. It takes a bit of time – but only a bit – to tether yourself to reality. It takes no time at all to swallow the fables, conspiracies, and cotton-candy-illusions, currently blasting fire-hose-style across the e-waves.

“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” ~ Socrates

Anger and hatred are great mind foggers. They are easily-fed-fires-fueled-by-the easily-led. Make no mistake, the purveyors of propaganda see their audience as nothing more than firewood and depend upon dedicated ignorance and unquestioned belief. Those who stoke the fires generally revel in standing between people and their sense, people and their souls. Arsonists always have an agenda.

I’ve always understood that meditation and education share the same intention: remove the noise between your self and your experiences. Discernment. Quiet the mind. Open the mind. Artistry, at its best, does the same thing. It exposes you, opens you, to your greater self, to the fields beyond ‘what you think is true.’ Revelation, reveal-ation. At their very essence, artistry, meditation, education…require a full challenge of belief; belief is the final frontier of white noise, a worthy and necessary din to challenge.

Barney, the piano, grows more beautiful with age. The plants and flowers are again growing around his base. Chipmunks and squirrels sun themselves on his lid. One of Barney’s functions in our life is to remind us of what is real. That’s also true of the rusting sunflower that now lives by Barney’s side. After our YouTube vanish-ment, we sat for a moment on the back porch. “Look at the wild geranium!” Kerri said. She jumped to her feet to take a picture. Have I mentioned that she is also a great photographer?

The artist is intact. More, she is full of energy and ideas. A channel may have closed but the essential remains. Nothing can stand between an artist and her artistry. Not really.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about BARNEY

this part of the journey ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood