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

Root Into The Worth [on KS Friday]

As Tom Mck used to say, “There are only three people in the United States qualified to review plays and none of them live in Stockton, CA.” His point: it’s best not to read your reviews but, if you must, don’t invest in what you find there. Good or bad, the review has little to say about the work of the artist and everything to say about the mind of the reviewer.

To be an artist is to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is an especially complex skill to master when the work of an artist is an open invitation for commentary.

The worst play I’ve ever seen got a standing ovation the night I saw it. Some of the best work I’ve ever done drew little or no audience. I directed a play that regularly had half the audience storm out of the theatre in anger while the other half was on its feet cheering; which half should I believe?

Many years ago I directed a play. One of my leading ladies had a family friend who was the theatre reviewer for the local paper. After opening night, my actress’ fine performance started to twist and sour. It was a mystery to me how her good work could go so bad. Later I learned that she was taking notes from the family friend. She lost herself in the cloudy opinion of an other and her performance suffered for it. She suffered for it.

Artists – not unlike everyone else – like to be liked. Most wait tables or teach lessons so they can pursue the thing they love. I use the word “love” purposefully. Most are regularly asked to give away their love/work for free on the empty promise of “exposure.” As Kerri says, “It’s hard to pay your rent with exposure.” It’s very, very easy for an artist to feel undervalued in a world where money defines value – while constantly being asked to perform for free. It makes being-liked an especially dangerous value-default.

Some of the greatest artists I’ve known lived marginal financial lives; financial success evaded them – but they knew without doubt the single secret that kept their work vital all of their lives: they alone were the judge of whether or not their work was good. They alone knew the pure driver of their pursuit. They knew the real danger of an artist’s life is to lose the purity of their artistic driver in the swamps of “being liked” or getting good reviews. They worked hard to stay centered and avoid becoming dancing bears at the circus.

It was Tom’s greater point: only you – the artist -will know if your work is good or not, if you’ve truly found and pushed your edge or discovered new territory. You will know when your work is shallow. No accolade can change that. You will also know when your work is exceptional. No criticism can change that. Its best to root into the worth of your pursuit, to grow and learn, rather than gorge on the ever-abundant-opinions of others. Good or bad. Moose or pig.

read Kerri’s blog post on MOOSE IN HEAT

all of kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & on Pandora

Appreciate The Marks [on DR Thursday]

Life leaves marks. When I look in the mirror these days, I see my grandfather staring back at me. Or, to be more accurate, I see aspects of both of them, all akimbo in a variation that I now recognize as “me.” The topography of DNA, crafted by my unique life, now sketched into my mask.

Quinn left marks in me. So did Tom. And Doug. And Kathy. I could go on. The list of amazing humans who had a hand in shaping my perception, molding my thinking, in informing my walk through this world, is lengthy. They are my fortune, the gold in my pocket. Their marks serve as my credo, define my intentions. Their marks have become the scale upon which I weigh value and importance. Laughter, according to their marks, carries enormous weight.

As we carried boxes out of the house, I couldn’t help but notice marks on the walls, scuffs on the floor. Each marked a memory. When the movers lifted the couch, its impression in the carpet was deep. It had sat in the same spot for years. In its absence, the entire space reeled. Soon it would find a new equilibrium as another family sculpted the now empty space. They will, no doubt, remove the carpet. The impression is too deep, the placement and accompanying memories are not theirs. Erasure is the necessary first act of new inhabitants. Eliminate the marks. Paint. Sand. Demo. And freshen. Clean the palette.

Leigh is an authority on rock art. Cave painting. The marks left by humans. Prophesy and map. Ritual and graffiti. Not all cultures are obsessed with leaving marks. Many try not to. My relationship to my marks, my paintings, changed the day I helped carry Duke’s brilliant paintings out of his basement. He’d passed and now the question was, “What do we do with all of his paintings?” I knew, someday, someone would ask the same question of my paintings. Carrying his paintings up the stairs and stacking them in the truck, I became less invested in the notion that my paintings, my marks, need matter. They no longer need to transcend me. They are immediate, fulfilling for me and perhaps me alone. That is enough. Bits of ego easily fall off when the perspective of age comes calling, when the marks are undeniable.

Marks fade. Life is what is happening now. A cliche’ that could not be more relevant. The couch, seemingly so permanent, will someday be hauled out. The marks will remain for a while. Only a while. And new life will move in and fill the old space, as it should.

read Kerri’s beautiful blog post on IMPRESSIONS

Come Look! [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The artist finds, rather than creates and controls.” ~ Declan Donnellan

I’m not sure when I began including floral shapes in my paintings. I’ve always appreciated the shape of symbols and shapes as symbols. One day in my Seattle studio, I lined the walls with my most recent paintings and was surprised to discover leaves and plants and stems etched into figures and the spaces. My charcoal and paint flora was generic; they were not studies of plants nor in any way representational. They were shapes. They were accidental.

Even when my plant-shapes became intentional they remained generic, improvisational. I didn’t go outside and study the shapes of leaves. It never occurred to me to step into the field next to my studio and look at the plant life. I’m slow that way.

And then I met Kerri. We walk almost every day. While my mind wanders into the ethers and gets lost in the sky, she is busy looking at life’s minutiae. She stops often and takes photographs, usually of a tiny treasure. A forest flower. The bud about to burst on a limb. A butterfly nestled into the leaves. “Look!” she exclaims and kneels on the path, camera in hand. She navigates thorns, wades into tall grasses, climbs over rocks, all to get close enough to see, really see the miniature miracle.

Because she sees, I see. She is single-handedly responsible for my ongoing Georgia O’Keeffe revival. And what I’ve re-learned as Kerri beckons me to, “Come Look!” is that my vast imagination is not capable of creating the amazing shapes and colors and delights that surround me. I’ve been walking through this intense world of marvels my whole life and noticed only the smallest slice. The best I can do is pay attention and dance with what I find.

It’s humbling – as it should be. I’ll never be a better creator than nature because I am a creation of nature. In fact, I realize again and again that my job as an artist is not to create, it is to discover what is already right in front of my face. To open eyes – my eyes and others’ eyes – to the enormity of what already exists. The wild shapes, the dancing colors, the glow of life that I’ll never be able to capture, no matter how great my technique or pure my intention. The best I can do is point to the mystery, with symbol, shape and color, and say, as Kerri does for me each and every day, “Look! Come Look!”

read Kerri’s blog post about SUCCULENTS

Add Another Layer [on DR Thursday]

Were you to meet my easel in a dark alley it would, no doubt, frighten you. It’s big. Substantial. Rough. Weathered from hard life. Knobby, bent and encrusted.

I see it with different eyes. It is one of my most sacred possessions. It was given to me, a gift of celebration, following the opening of my very first solo show. Prior to its arrival in my life I propped my canvas on chairs or tables, I leaned them against walls, kneeling to paint. My easel allowed me to stand.

Caked in charcoal and layer upon layer of paint, artifacts of the hundreds of paintings that it has held for me, I find it beautiful. It has traveled with me through many states and life stages. Its main support is bent. It creaks when I adjust the angle or drop the arm. It occurred to me this morning, as I rebuild my studio following the great flood, that I also creak when my angles adjust, when my arms drop. We’ve aged together.

In a life with very few constants, my easel has served as my single steadfast companion through every move, every triumph, every tragedy. It has stood with me when I was artistically productive and a barren wasteland. It’s listened to me rant, ramble, and recite. It’s been witness to my laughter and my fears. It has been the silent sentinel during my mini-deaths and slow rebirths.

This morning, as I carried my easel back into the studio, I realized how out-of-order my world has felt. If my studio is in disarray, as it has been since the flood, I am also in disarray. Returning my easel to its proper spot in the studio I felt a flood of relief. All of my pieces are nearly put back together again. My trusty companion, my reliable easel and I will soon stand together, paint will spatter, charcoal and matte medium will crust another coating onto our already layered archaeology.

Art hollers. Possibility beckons.

read Kerri’s blog post about the EASEL

Complete The Ritual [on KS Friday]

One of the strangest rituals in directing plays comes in the closing hours of tech rehearsal. It is the final button, the cherry on the sundae; the last detail before the addition of the audience: choreographing the bow. The mechanics of gratitude. The curtain falls. The audience claps. The actors return to the stage to accept the appreciation. It’s important, in that moment, to know what to do and where to go. It’s important to know when to bow and when to vacate the stage.

It’s a mechanical moment made generous – made real – when the audience arrives. After having been led through a story or gifted with a performance, the curtain falls, the audience claps in appreciation. The actors, relieved and filled with gratitude, return to the stage and bow in thanks. Appreciation meets appreciation. The strange ritual of the previous day becomes the point of the whole exercise. Without the other, audience and performer, the storytelling is empty. We complete each other. We acknowledge in appreciation this absolute truth. My story is nothing without your witness. Your story is incomplete without my story. You applaud for me. I bow to you.

A major purpose of the artist is to remind the community of this truth. We are nothing without each other. We are capable of walking into impossible questions, when, together, we gather to share and complete a story.

Artistry is a service industry. It is humbling. It is meant to be humbling.

I sit staring at the screen. I am rewriting a script, a piece I performed with a symphony in 2008. I was terrified until the conductor lifted his baton. I remember very little after the first note was played. I came back into my body the moment the music concluded, my story told. The applause. I’ve never felt so small. I’ve never felt so full. Both.

The conductor wants to perform the piece again in 2022, only he asked that I revise the story, something that will speak directly to the issues of our times. The mechanics of writing. A strange ritual, this staring at the screen. I know the story I want to write. I wonder if I am up to this task. And then, I remind myself that this question, “Am I up for it?,” is the wrong question. It leads me to believe that I am alone in this creation. Of course I am not up for it! But, together, with the musicians, the conductor, the audience… Someday, after the mechanics, the rehearsal, the revision, the final button of preparation, we will gather and together, we will walk into impossible places, ask questions too big to be answered. Together, we will join hands and share the experience of a story. The curtain will fall. The audience will clap. The performers will bow. We will remind ourselves, as this strange ritual completes itself, that we are nothing without each other.

[I love this sculpture. Kerri keeps it close by her piano. The Bow by Duke Kruse.]

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

See The Invisible [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Oh my gosh!” She whispered. “These remind me of my mother!” She quickly pulled her camera from her purse and, to the amazement and amused curiosity of our fellow grocery shoppers, we had a straw-plate-holder photo shoot at the end cap of aisle 9.

It is, of course, among my favorite aspects of going through life with an artist wife. Everything is a story-thread. Everything is a possible composition, an opportunity for beauty. Everything is immediate. It is utterly unpredictable when the muse will strike. And, the immediacy of capturing the moment usually draws a crowd and she is blissfully unaware of the ruckus her immediate-story-composition creates. She is a rolling storm of performance art. I am the lucky one who gets to watch both the artist and the audience.

Augusto Boal, one of the developers of the Invisible Theatre, would be most proud of the unintentional performances Kerri creates. In an everyday setting, everyday life, a performance snaps an audience into awareness, shocks them out of their dulled sensibility, an audience that has no idea that it is functioning as an audience. Many stop to watch the crazed lady snap photos of straw-plate-holders as she tells sweet stories of her mother. Many scurry for the safety of anonymity. Either way, either response, a pure theatrical event takes place.

The performer scrutinizes her many photos, completely unaware of her performance. As she places her camera back in her purse, the audience immediately disperses, hopeful not to catch the attention of the performer and somehow be called into the play. They fold themselves back into the normalcy of their day.

But, something has changed. They have a story to tell, an unusual event happened in their day. The performer has touched back to her deep story and through her photographs, plucked her heart-threads.

And I have been the happy witness to art and artistry. All are fed by these lovely, oh so common, straw plate holders displayed at the end cap of aisle 9.

read Kerri’s blog post about STRAW PLATE HOLDERS

Prepare For The Jump [on DR Thursday]

On the upside, an in-studio-waterfall, after the shop-vac-a-go-go, the sodden-carpet-padding-removal, the baking-soda-ballet, amidst the-we-are-still-hunting-for-the-proper-gasket-to-stop-all-leaks-quest, an opportunity arises. It’s been awhile since I sat with my life’s work. It’s been awhile since I made time to stare at my paintings, each and every single one.

I confess that this year has been rife with artistic mourning. I have barely picked up a brush. I have sat in my studio like a visitor at a wake. I feel the emptiness as a loss and have asked myself the fear-question again and again, “Where did it go?”

One of my favorite books is Art & Fear. Recently, I flipped it open and read, “Your reach as a viewer is vastly greater than your reach as a maker. The art you experience may have originated a thousand miles away or a thousand years ago, but the art you can make is irrevocably bound to the times and places of your life. Limited by the very ground on which you stand.”

A second flip brought me to this passage about change: “Yet it’s demonstrably true that all of us do (from time to time) experience such conceptual jumps, and while ours may not affect the orbits of the planets, they markedly affect the way we engage with the world around us.”

The times of our life. The world, for us, stopped when Kerri broke her wrists. She was in casts when the pandemic washed over all of us. Our jobs disappeared. Our community fragmented. Our city burned with civil unrest, a young militia-boy murdered two people a few blocks from our home. My father took rapid steps toward the abyss. Kerri took a second fall, tore ligaments in an already injured wrist. Our BabyCat left us. We talk about 2019 as if it was decades ago. “Doesn’t it seem like years since we…”

I know this death I feel will find its springtime. There was a “me” before this time. There will be another “me” after. Sitting on the stairs, looking at my paintings, I know for the first time in a-year-that-feels-like-a-century, that a conceptual jump is bubbling. I remember the man who painted these paintings. I look forward to meeting the man who will one day pick up his brushes and dance with the muse again.

In the meantime, I sit with my paintings. I stand in the ground of my times. I will find the right gasket so water no longer rains into my studio. I will prepare for my jump by putting all of my pieces back together again.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE WATER STUDIO REVIEW