Modify The Plan [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

When you are an artist, you begin your career with the understanding that retirement is not really an option. You will work as hard or harder as any of your friends. You will have satisfaction in your work that few people can imagine. And, you will, most likely, unless you are very lucky or have a surprise trust fund, never experience lasting financial security.

Also, when you are an artist, you can’t imagine not making art so “retirement” generally means the-big-dirt-nap.

We have, since our great-double-wrist-break-and-financial free-fall of 2020-21, changed our approach. It’s less easy to improvise when the world perceives you as old-and-should-be-retired (non-dirt-nap-variety). Your networks collapse. Your mask obscures your capabilities.

We’ve modified our plan. We’ve modified our expectations. Now, we need only live long enough to break the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living artists. Anything is possible! That belief, a hard-core dedication to abundant possibility, is what makes us artists in the first place!

Retirement (non-dirt-nap-variety), here we come!

read Kerri’s blogpost on this saturday morning smack-dab.

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

Be Different [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Inadvertently, 20 did me a great favor. On the day Kerri and I married, he carried a concealed camera and captured conversations and special moments of our ceremony. In his footage is a short exchange he had with my dad. My dad said of me, “He’s his own man.”

To that point in my life I’d wondered what he thought of me, my winding career path, my free-form seeming-feral existence. “He’s his own man,” brought me peace.

Once, during a conference that we led, Alan told me I should dress differently. “People would have more respect for you,” he said. Once, trying to fit in, I wore a suit to a facilitation and Rich told me I should dump the suit and dress as myself. I’ve awarded him the blue ribbon for best advice.

In my consulting life I wore clogs. I hated shoes with strings. The first thing I did at every job was kick off my clogs. You’d be surprised how invested people in power suits are in their footwear. You’d be heartened how human they become when they unlace and kick off their shoes. It’s like removing a mask.

People hire me because I am different. Because I see differently. My difference is my gift, the epicenter of what I bring to the world – and that is true of all people.

In a culture that prides itself on its individualism, it’s always been amusing to me how invested we are to “fit in.” Shopping at the right store, wearing the right clothes, we gush about our wild nature while synching tight the corporate tie. To “dress for success” means to fit a prescription, to NOT stand out. Business casual. The real real. All houses must look the same. Revealing behavior betrays the swaggering rhetoric.

Our individualism is at best a thin veneer. In truth, we fear difference. I dare the court of Supremes to uphold a coach’s right to pray before the big game on the 50 yard line if he’s Sikh. Or Muslim. Or Hindu. Or Buddhist. My son is gay. He lives a constant, never-ending battle to defend his difference. Why?

“But the truth is, I am different,” I said to Kerri who was red-faced with anger at the email from the concrete sub-contractor. He turned down the job to replace our bit of sidewalk, broken out during the waterline repair. Among his reasons, “…and he seems a little different.” He was referring to me.

“I’ve dealt with that my whole life,” I said as she furiously typed a reply. “It’s not a big deal. I’m an artist.”

“It is a big deal,” she snarled, typing harder, faster.

Listening to her ferocious key-pounding, I had a sweet wave of appreciation for her. In a lifetime of “different”, it is a rare and precious moment that someone vigorously defends your difference. Rather than hammer you into creased dockers, lace-up shoes or the right haircut, a furious defender was unfamiliar. She, too, is different and knows the bruise of the shame-hammer. I suspect we’ve all experienced its sting.

In my head, I heard my dad say, “He’s his own man.” Peace. I am what I am and the people who love me wouldn’t have me any other way. That makes a difference. All the difference.

This I know: it’s nice – so nice – not to be alone in my difference.

read Kerri’s blogpost about DIFFERENCE

Embrace The Frenzy [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

I’ve written before of Kerri’s brochure addiction. She’s been in and out of treatment but nothing has helped. Her vivid imagination and roadtrip imperative collide in the common brochure. There’s nothing to be done but lean into it. During trips I stash paper sacks under the seat of the car to contain the newest editions to her already mountainous collection. I am – I have become – her brochure enabler.

I confess that I like feeding her imagination. As we drive from the welcome center with the paper bag full of newly acquired possibilities, she tells me of where we might travel and what we might find there. She nearly lifts off her seat (another good reason to buckle up) recounting what she discovered in her brochure frenzy. Her enthusiasm for life and its limitless destinations warms my heart.

All that remains is the logistics. When enthusiasm meets brochure, all things become possible.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BROCHURES

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

Sit In The Quiet [on DR Thursday]

Years ago I directed a production of Into The Woods and I wanted a set design alive with David Hockney colors. The production was gorgeous. The set the designer created was a vibrant fantasyland with the dark undertones wrought by dinosaur-size-too-big foliage. Tiny people in an oversized children’s pop-up book.

If I were going to direct the musical again today, I’d approach it through a different lens. I wouldn’t place it in the vivid palette of fantasyland; this world we journey through is fantastic just as it is. When Kerri and I walk, I am sometimes stunned to silence by the shapes and patterns and pops of color. Ominous and serene. Alive.

For reasons that have nothing to do with reason, I started using imagined leaf shapes, plant-symbols in my paintings. I know when I someday return to my easel, the plant shapes will be present – perhaps even dominant. There is no end to the eye-popping variations. Our walks in nature have me “seeing” again.

A few years ago, Brad and I talked about the deep backstory of why an artist creates. Of course, there’s not a single driving reason – it changes over time as we change over time. I know many artists who’ve set down their brushes, singers who stopped singing. They satisfied their backstory. They channel their creative juices into other forms. Based on the evidence, these days I am a writer. Lately, I spend more time drawing cartoons than painting paintings. And yet, I still think of myself as a painter.

In the past, a step away from the easel was acknowledging a fallow season, letting my batteries recharge. This time, the step away is different. My reasons are spinning, changing. The younger me-artist was finding a place to transform pain into presence. The middle-age-artist-me entered the studio because it was the only place on earth that made sense. It was a sanctuary. A quiet place.

Each day I walk down the stairs and stand for a few moments with the canvas on my easel. It’s a stranger. I hear my easel whisper, “Not yet. Soon.” I am content with soon. I feel as if I am in an extended meditation, borrowing a tradition from Japanese masters, sitting in the quiet until there is no space between me and the brush, no space between me and the motion. No space between me and the shape, the pop of color, the infinite variance of pattern. No space between me and the surprise-of-what-will-happen. No space between me and the story.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TRILLIUM

joy © 2014 david robinson

Know Secret Things [on DR Thursday]

I wanted to begin this post with a quote from Rainier Maria Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet. As I always do, I opened his book this morning and fell into it. I couldn’t decide which quote to use – there are so many! Finally, I put it down because I concluded that I’d have to place the entire book into this post. So, I begin this day both quote-full and quote-free. Nothing to share and everything to share.

Showing me her photo, Kerri asked, “What do you think of this still life?” I don’t think I’ve ever heard her use the phrase, “still life.” It’s a painter’s phrase, much like the word “garment” belongs to costumers. “I love this,” I said, knowing why she used the painter-phrase. “It looks like a painting.”

My very first art teacher was a jolly older woman named Jackie Fry. She offered oil painting classes at the recreation center. I carried my paint box and canvas boards to Saturday morning classes. I was the odd ball in the class because I didn’t want to paint trees. I wanted to paint people. Not portraits. People. I felt badly about being the odd ball and she gave me the tidbit of advice that has informed my choices for decades: “Tree painters are a dime a dozen,” she said. “Follow your star and not theirs.”

Great advice. She made me paint still life set-ups. “You have to learn to see basic shape and color,” she said when she saw my frown. “People are shapes.”

People are shapes. Learn to see. Follow your star and not theirs. Advice worthy of Rilke, which brings a quote to mind:

“I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.”

Phew. Now you don’t have to read the entirety of his very wise book just because I couldn’t decide which beautiful phrase to use.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE GOURD

john’s secret (pray now) © 2010 david robinson

Taste The Sound [on KS Friday]

Toadshade trillium. Say it out loud and taste the sounds. Toadshade trillium. Yummy words worthy of e.e. cummings.

I am working in a tech space and keep a document on my desktop: Terms in this Unknown Land. Tech folk speak in acronyms, PAI and SMB, SERP and TAM. Although my colleagues are mostly left-brainers, they are remarkably poetic in their language, peppering their acronym-speak with tasty terms like “cluster calculations” and “stemmings.” I admit to losing the sense of the conversation in the sound. They are, despite the stereotype, passionate and creative and unconsciously poetic. “Plots a curve of probability.”

Toadshade trillium. Plots a curve of probability. Forget the meaning and taste the sound! What might Mary Oliver have done with those syllables!

My lesson this week: I cannot stand and work at my computer all day. I can do the standing (I have a stand-up desk) but staring at a screen eventually shuts down my brain. Across from my stand-up desk is my drafting table. I think better with big pieces of paper and a pencil and then translate back to the computer. I need to move to think but that’s only part of the lesson. When at the drafting table I’m more likely to take things less seriously. I free myself. I get snarky and funny and scribble and draw big arrows and make fun of myself and the logjam in my thinking. I play.

And, while I play, I talk aloud, and hear the sounds of the shapes that I draw. Poetry and motion. Taste the movement. One and the same. Free the thinking. It’s enough to scare the dog but it’s liberating to my kinesthetic necessity. I scribble notes in every direction and dance back and forth between word and image. Consequently, I produce better work.

Thank goodness I finally tasted a few word-sounds that sent me tumbling into a productive scribble dance.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TOADSHADE TRILLIUM

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

pulling weeds/right now © 2010 kerri sherwood

Dissolve And Do [on DR Thursday]

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

“A writer writes. A painter paints.” Wise words from Tom. It was a mantra and his patent response when asked how one becomes an artist. I imagine Tom learned this wisdom from DeMarcus. DeMarcus certainly learned it from his mentor. Artistic ancestor to descendent, the quality that makes an artist is the practice. Nothing more. Ask me what makes an artist and you will hear what I learned from Tom.

There’s a special, hidden layer in this mantra. Someday, if you are a lucky artist, you stop thinking of yourself as an artist. The role dissolves in the doing. It no longer matters how others see you or the label you apply to yourself. It’s nice to separate yourself from the herd yet service to the herd is the point. That, I am coming to understand, is the moment that artistry fulfills itself. A deep trust ensues. No blue ribbon or large sale or shiny prize will change the essential. No outside eye or opinion or judgment or praise alters the fact in the least. A writer writes. A painter paints.

How do you pursue an artistic life? We take walks and pay attention. French blue sky and early tree blossom. And then, each day, as is our practice, we write or draw or compose.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TREE BLOSSOM

Newborn, 48x32IN, mixed media

newborn © 2019 david robinson

Call It Realism [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

This garlic could have been painted by Jan Vermeer. To my eye it looks like the work of a Dutch master, an artist more concerned with realism than the ideal.

Art that reveals the beauty in the ordinary. For a few weeks in my surly youth I studied with a realist painter. I was wowed by his technique but could not yet grasp his dedication to capturing the everyday. Only later did I come to understand that his art was not about the technique but about bringing attention to the experience of the everyday. He rejected the aloof and desired to pull art down from the pedestal so it might reflect the lives of the “common people.” He believed that people needed to literally see themselves in the paintings to have access to the painting. They needed to see their hardship and toil as well as the objects that surrounded them.

Bertolt Brecht believed the opposite. In order for people to have access to the deeper messages of a play, they needed to be removed from their circumstance. So, in his way of thinking, people are more capable of seeing themselves in a piece of science fiction than in a reality-mirror.

David is working on a re-imagining of Pirandello’s play, Six Characters In Search of an Author. One of the questions of the play is, “Who is telling your story?” And, how are they telling it. I reread the play and was struck by how relevant it is to our times.

The beauty in the ordinary. The turmoils and struggles of the everyday. Ours is a time of tumultuous story tug-of-war. I wonder, in a hundred years, what historians will write about our time. I wonder what aspect of artistry – if any – will be considered “realism.” As defined by Vermeer and Pirandello, it’s to reach across a social line, from the privileged to the working class. For Brecht it is spatial: step out to look in.

One thing is constant, while reaching across time and artificial boundary, it is always the role of the artist to help their community ask the questions: Who is telling my story? Whose story am I telling? What is the story that we are telling?

I imagine those someday-historians will write tomes on our messy struggle to sort out what is “real” and what is not.

read Kerri’s blogpost about GARLIC

Ready The Wings [on KS Friday]

“Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow/Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow” ~ Cat Stevens, Moonshadow

An appreciation of life, no matter what comes. It is the meaning of this lyric, this song – or so I’ve read. It seems obvious. I’m having many, many conversations about loss these days. This has been an era of loss and, so the cliche’ goes, with loss new opportunity arrives. It’s true though one must move through the loss in order to arrive at the new. On the way, there is weeping and fear and anger and disorientation. Chrysalis. The trick, we are told, is about focus placement. One day we shift our eyes and see what we have instead of what we no longer possess. We move toward rather than look back.

Kerri has, for years, surrounded herself with symbols of peace. They are on our walls, on rings that she wears, on chains draped on the corner of our bathroom mirror. She draws them in the sand on the trail. A prayer for the world she desires to create. Inside and out. Since she fell, my solo-piano-playing wife has lost more than mobility in her wrists. Strange stuff is happening. Fingers that sometimes refuse to respond. Pain that shoots, seemingly from nowhere. After a photograph – a wish for the world, a peace sign in shadow – she said, “Come look at this. Look how much my finger is bending!” Strange stuff.

What is most remarkable about this shadow is, a year ago, it would have been cause for frustration. A reminder of loss. Full of fear. Today, it was a curiosity. She looks back, she looks forward. Each day she writes lyrics and poetry and wisdoms. She hums the music running through her mind and heart and, sometimes, she dances. Standing at the crossroads of what was and what is to become. Peace replaces pain. All in good time. Good time. Wings readying to unfurl.

[peace. this is one of my favorite pieces of Kerri’s]

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about PEACE

peace/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Use A Bag [on DR Thursday]

To Chris Crites, grocery shopping day is a feast. To Chris, these sacks are more than functional. They are more than ordinary shopping bags. These bags are canvas. They are opportunities for art. They are surfaces meant for brilliant mugshots. The underbelly of society made beautiful on brown paper sacks.

I’m not sure if it was Chris or the other artists in my Seattle pod that prompted me to experiment. One of my forays into “where will this take me” required paper sacks. Lots of paper sacks, torn to bits and pasted on a canvas. I drew and painted on top of the bits.

I forgot about my experiment until I met Kerri and one day unrolled all the canvas to show her what was in the pile. She cooed at my paper bag experiment. “This should be a series,” she said. “It should be called Earth Interrupted.” And, so it was.

I have (mostly) been a painter of people. I’ve learned that art – and theatre – for me are a means and not an end. In other words, I don’t paint because I want to master the craft of painting or make brilliant paintings. I paint to study people. I paint because it is a meditative space. I paint because I lose myself and enter someplace bigger. I paint because it helps me “to see.”

I completed six additions to the Earth Interrupted series and then stopped. I lost my way. That’s always been my experience when I abstract- when I leave the figure and mess with texture and shape. I know I’m not finished with it. Getting lost is part of the process.

Unloading the groceries last week brought me up short. I felt like Chris Crites. So much possibility sitting on the counter. So much material begging to be transformed.

Earth Interrupted I, mixed media, 48x53IN

read Kerri’s blog post about BAGS

earth interrupted I © 2012 david robinson