Lay It To Your Heart [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“This entire week is about noticing,” Kerri said, looking at the week’s photos we’d just uploaded into our site. Sometimes the melange has an intentional theme and sometimes a theme announces itself. Our lives have become about noticing. I suspect all of our writing is, in one way or another, about noticing.

This is Blue eryngo. Flat Sea Holly to the poet. Eryngium planum to those more interested in species categorization. Shakespeare would know it as a thistle, a cure for love sickness. “And lay it to your heart.”

The evening breeze turned our steps toward the marina. It was a brutally humid day and we were restless in the air’s oppression. Arm in arm we talked of how long it had been since we wandered in this direction. It used to be a daily stroll but more recently we’ve sought trails away from people. The forest quiet rather than the crowds at the shore.

The color of the plant stopped us. I felt as if I was looking at a magical universe of purple-blue planets or something more likely found under water. While Kerri snapped photos I marveled at the color. The shape of the leaves reaching from the thistle center. Little blue suns.

Our chance encounter with the Flat Sea Holly blew some nice air into our sails. We walked on talking about the gift of noticing, taking photographs, how to be better artists, amazing sights all around.

Shakespeare’s thistle cures more than lovesickness. We lay it to our hearts and it lifted our humid-heavy- spirits.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FLAT SEA HOLLY

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

Look At You Look At Me [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s taken me this long to discover the source of all cartoon characters: orchids. I’m not kidding. At a recent field trip to the Chicago Botanical Garden’s Orchid Exhibit, I was surrounded by brightly colored fantastic faces, playful and chuckling. “Look at this one!” Kerri exclaimed. “It’s the Imperial Margarine guy!” I thought it was a whacky Pope or funny Cardinal, but the idea was the same.

“The earth laughs in flowers.” Emerson’s quote was stenciled on the wall as we exited the exhibit. And the laughing flowers made me laugh. Truly. I felt like a little kid at Christmas. Surrounded by color and delight and whimsy, I found myself more than once pointing, “Look at this one! Oh My God!” And, I felt like the colorful faces were staring back at me, thrilled to tears by the odd looking human standing before them. I-look-at-you-look-at-me. “Look at that face!” they snickered.

The thought stopped me in my tracks and filled me with wonder. We personify everything, projecting our humanness into everything. The art of animation, the world of Disney, is rooted in our desire to project ourselves onto and into the world. Talking mice. Dancing candlesticks. Humpty Dumpty. Wise old trees. Wouldn’t it be lovely, and isn’t it hopeful, to think the world projects itself into us? I want the orchids to fill me with color and awe. To project themselves into me. I know the forests I walk through infuse me with quiet. I know Dogga pulls love from my deepest soul.

Participants. Relationship, rather than controllers. Dancers rather than dominators. Would we be so invested in killing each other for imagined supremacy if we allowed ourselves to laugh the laugh of the flowers? If we actually understood that nothing is forever, that our warmongering was at best delusional? That the single trait that makes us human is to turn and help someone in need? The very capacity that allows us to project ourselves into the orchids is the same capacity that makes it possible to stand in the shoes of the other. Empathy is a two-way street.

If the earth laughs in flowers, these days it certainly cries in humans. Yet, standing amidst the orchids, I looked at all the human faces, hundreds of people wide-eyed with wonder and alive with astonishment. The laughing orchids looking back at the astonished faces, open and vulnerable, and they were evoking those qualities from the crowd. Earth’s tears. So hopeful, these faces, drinking in each other’s beauty.

read Kerri’s blog post about FACES

Look Back [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Our 3am conversation was about the horrible clothes we once wore. We both lived through the 70’s and 80’s so there was plenty of fodder for shudders and laughter. I couldn’t be more delighted that cameras in that era used film that was expensive to process, and were not ubiquitous, so there’s limited visual proof of the alarming garments of my past.

Looking back. My favorite aspect of our horrible-clothes-conversation is how much we loved the offending items when we wore them. I had a Huckapoo shirt that was only worn on special occasions. I’d scream and run from that shirt if I opened my closet and found it there today. Kerri described a favorite periwinkle blue dress with black polka dots that had me crying with laughter. The woman I know would faint in fright if she awoke wearing that dress. “Get it off! Get it off,” she’d scream, as if it was a spider.

For two people who spend most of their lives wearing black thermal shirts and blue jeans, it was delicious to trace our past lives through the costumes we’ve worn. The people we were. The investments we made. The colors we donned.

What was sacred is now profoundly silly. What was serious is now grin-worthy. What seemed so important turned out to be so-much-powder.

“Time just rolls. It just keeps rolling,” she said. The hard times and the good times. Hang on long enough and what-is will become what-was and a new-thing will have replaced the previous thing. “It just rolls on through.” At 3am, what matters in life could not be more clear. It’s the conversation. The laughter at our foibles, the sweet, “Shall we try and get some sleep?” It’s what we will see of this age when time rolls on and, late one sleepless night, we look back.

read Kerri’s blogpost about LOOKING BACK

Look Again [on DR Thursday]

When I first moved by the lake I was astounded by the colors of the water. From deep turquoise to chocolate brown, azure with the sky, and foreboding green, it took my breath away. It changed every day and many times during the day. The lake is a festival of color.

When we stopped the car to take a picture I realized that I’ve stopped looking at the lake. It’s become normalized so I no longer see it. The day was frigid. I rolled down the window and the cold air stung our faces and made my eyes water. And, there it was. This vibrant lake, alive with color. Had the cold air not wrung water from my eyes, the beauty and power of this lake would have. Double tears.

There’s a moment in the Parcival tale that I appreciate. The knight has stripped off his armor and spent years in the woods with a hermit-master, chopping wood, carrying water, forgetting that he ever had a purpose. One day, he turns and sees the Grail Castle standing in the meadow. He’s shocked. He thinks he’s imagining it. The hermit laughs at him and says, “Boy. It’s been there all along.”

That’s how I felt looking at the lake. I rolled down the window and was bowled over by the color that has been here all along.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE LAKE

may you © 2015 david robinson

See The Subtle Color [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“The most colorful thing in the world is black and white, it contains all colors and at the same time excludes all.” ~ Vikrmn

I loved watching Kichom facilitate groups. His specialty was impasse. He spent years developing and refining processes that opened pathways in hopelessly divided communities. He helped them find a third way. His was not a process of compromise. I’d describe his work as escalation-to-breakthrough. In minds and hearts entrenched in black-and-white, he’d reveal the nuance of color. He loved the moment when eyes-squeezed-closed-against-possibility opened ever so slightly to see.

Kichom understood that, to fully open a story, it was necessary to first look at the full story.

I often think of Kichom and wonder what he would do if these un-united states were his client. I wonder what he say to a nation built on slavery that refuses to discuss something as simple (and obvious) as critical race theory. Every healing path begins with acknowledgement of the wound. Perhaps Kichom would tell me that our current escalation might very well lead to a breakthrough. That is my inner idealist speaking.

It was a very cold day. Even wearing gloves, the tips of our fingers were growing numb. When Kerri said she wanted to leave the trail and step into the grove of trees, I jumped up and down to stay warm. She waded into the thicket, took off her gloves, and pointed her camera to the sky. A few minutes later, as I jumped up and down, she waded back through the thicket to the join me on the trail. “Isn’t this cool!” she exclaimed, red fingers holding the camera for me to see. “People will look at this photo and think it’s black and white but it’s not! It’s winter!”

Looking at the photo, divided on the diagonal, I heard Kichom’s laughing voice. “It’s never black and white,” he giggled. “It only seems that way. Keep looking and soon the eyes will open to a world filled with subtle color.”

It’s something to be hoped for. The opening of the eyes. The acknowledgement of a problem. A good hard look at the full story. A breakthrough in a community that is dedicated to seeing in black and white.

read Kerri’s blog post about BLACK AND WHITE

Attend To Beauty [on Two Artists Tuesday]

We are fans of ornamental grass. They line our walkway and populate the area along the fences. DogDog’s round-about sign is now nearly obscured, standing in the middle of tall grasses.

Some folks cut back their grass plants at the end of the season but we let ours stand through the winter. The reason has nothing to do with the health of the plant and everything to do with aesthetics. There are few things more beautiful than ornamental grasses aglow in the winter sun. I have been brought to tears watching the dance of the grasses, alight in pink and orange against the cold blue of a snowy afternoon. Magic beings swaying. [My grass-inspired-tears brought Kerri to consider that my heart just might not be made of cardboard (single ply) after all].

We attend to beauty, not because we are artists but the other way around: we can’t help but attend to beauty and that is what makes us artists. Yamaha paid Kerri a great compliment when she said of our home, “Everywhere I look I see something beautiful.”

Saturday, while raking the leaves, the air was crisp and birdsong, so unexpected, called to me to listen. As I stood listening to the birds, a breeze caught the grasses and they bristled, caught the wind and swayed. I dropped my rake and watched the performance, birds singing to the modern dance of grasses.

Our mail carrier broke my revelry with a greeting. She said, “I’d rather be doing my job than yours. I hate raking leaves!” I laughed. The color of the leaves, the sound, the fall smells. The performance. At that moment, I felt like the luckiest person alive.

“Oh, I don’t mind it,” I replied. “Actually, I’m enjoying it.”

“Well,” she said, “It’s a good thing then. I think I’ll stick to the mail.”

Yes. It’s a good thing. A very good thing, indeed.

read Kerri’s blog post about GRASSES

Reboot [on Flawed Wednesday]

I’m not going to lie. Yesterday was textured and difficult. Because our internet connection was spotty – and because our work depends upon a reliable connection – we called our provider to upgrade our service. And, rather than an easy upgrade, we lost our service altogether. And, as I write, almost a full day later, in a world brimming with messages of fast-and-easy, we are still in the internet no-fly zone. After eleven hours, a full five hours on the phone, a trip to the store to get new equipment, ethernet tests on everything but my heart, after a series of pleasant but not-very-helpful service representatives, after the fifteenth (not a joke) suggestion that we “reboot one more time just to see,”we gave up for the night. 

Giving up looked like this: “The problem is on our end,” a pleasant tech offered when there was still light in the sky. “There’s a ticket and our engineers are working on it.” Later, much later, after being passed to two of the engineers-that-were-working-on-it, we heard that they had no idea what the problem was. “We could try to reboot one more time,” he said. “Just to see.”

Kerri looked at me, exhausted, and said, “I can’t do it. Not again.” A battle to be waged another day.

Surrender. I’ve learned this lesson again and again in my life. Sometimes it is best to give over. It is best to stop pushing. Sometimes, there is no solution. Time and a bit of sleep, a new day, will bring another point of view. What was impossible yesterday will resolve today.

In surrender, we sat in the quiet night and talked of our day. The quiet. Nothing dinging or binging or pulling at our attention, nothing notifying us of another message. Nothing trying to keep us hooked for the sake of being hooked. The static was gone. The incessant, “Look at me,” of news apps and Facebook and Instagram and… Life as perpetual “Breaking News.” Within the constant pull, the only thing breaking is our focus. We sat and enjoyed a moment when nothing was breaking.

For a moment during the madness, I looked out the window of my office. The day before yesterday the leaves on our tree were still green. It’s late in the season. Yesterday, in a seeming flash, they were vibrant color. They changed overnight. I was taken, as I always am, by the recognition that the best way to learn color is to go outside, take a walk in nature. See. If there is ever a question about, “Does this color work with that color?” – go outside. Look around. The answer is right there. Crimson and dusty grey. A bit of sage green. Charcoal. Polka dots are not a human invention. The patterns are there, too. Texture. See it.

This morning, while we await the visit from our tech who-will-fix-everything, we’ll go outside. We might play in the leaves. We’ll certainly enjoy the moment without the bings and pings and tech-sounds of made-up-importance. We’ll kneel and coo over the polka dots and salmon pink, the electric yellow and revel in the rare simple moments that a good surrender brings.

[*a hefty thank you to Matt the technician who just spent hours sorting out and fixing what ailed our internet. This post is proof positive that we are, at long last, out of the internet-no-fly zone]

read Kerri’s blogpost about POLKA DOTS

Reach Purely [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Art, as best practiced and understood over the centuries, is a spiritual as much as technical pursuit.” ~ Kent Nerburn, Dancing With The Gods

It was disconcerting. It still is. The illusion was so distinct that I had to show the book to Kerri and ask if she saw it, too. Each morning I read a few pages from Kent Nerburn’s book. This morning, in a chapter entitled The Divine Thread, I turned the page and a single paragraph, just a few sentences, was printed in a font twice the size as anything else on the page. I read it a few times since the author had given the section such obvious emphasis. After the I finished the chapter, I looked back to reread the oversized section – and it was printed in the same size font as everything else. It wasn’t emphasized at all. The shock of it made me dizzy.

“Art, however, does create this touch. It speaks in different voices, different rhythms, different languages. There is no place in the human heart it cannot reach.”

Paul taught his student-actors that they had an obligation to something greater. “When you choose to get on the stage, you have the power to impact other people’s lives. Do not take that responsibility lightly.” Your art, your creation, if purely intended, will reach the heart of another – purely. Even the loneliest painter knows the transcendence of the expansive energy that comes through in the moment of creation. Transcendence is all inclusive.

I have been humbled by the great artists I’ve known. Teachers, mentors, and others. I’ve been humbled by their humility. Tom, a brilliant director of plays and believer of possibility, influenced more artists than any person I know. He was tortured by the size and scope of his gift. At the end of his life, sitting before a fire in his cabin, he was, for a moment lost in thought. I watched his revelation come to the surface. He looked into his wine and said, “I think I did my best work when I was a just starting, when I was second grade teacher. It was pure imagination. I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew that we could have fun telling stories and going on adventures where our imaginations led us. It was pure.”

I met a few teachers who’d been second grade students in that classroom of long ago. They told me that year changed their lives. They touched his heart and he touched theirs. Shrunken heads and planning expeditions to the Amazon. Maps and budgets and “What do we need to bring to survive?” They spent weeks preparing for “blind day,” an exploration of the world through the full scope of senses. “What could we learn if we didn’t rely on our sight? What would we need to prepare to help each other?” he asked. Pure.

For our wedding, Julia made for us a small box with a Klimt’sThe Kiss” decoupaged on the lid. Inside, she placed a few Euros. A metaphor. Great love as a container for great adventure. We placed the box in our sitting room in a spot where we see it everyday.

Kerri knelt on the dock to get this photograph of the water. “The color!” she gasped. Pull up an image of “The Kiss” – or any of Klimt’s paintings for a closer inspection and you’ll see this water pattern. Klimt might have painted it. He studied swirls in water, swimming color on the reflection of the surface. I’m certain of it.

Great love. Great adventure. Tom. Julia. Paul. Art that is pure. My head spins. There is no place in the human heart that art cannot reach.

read Kerri’s blog post about WATER

images of water © kerri sherwood 2021