Read Marc’s Notes [on DR Thursday]

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One of my most prized possessions is a handmade notebook, stitched together by a young DeMarcus Brown, mentor of my mentor, in a time before corner drugstores and readily available school supplies. It is filled with the fading pencil notes Marc made when he was a student learning about color, probably in 1918 or 1919. It occurred to me as I wrote that guesstimate of time that he was scribbling notes about color during a pandemic.

It reads like an enthusiastic discovery of miracles. On page one the word COLOR is triple underlined. “Light is a form of radiant energy transmitted by wave movement through SPACE and is perceived VISUALLY. Opposite is DARKNESS. Qualities of Light: 1) Physically – Life giving. 2) Mentally – Intelligence. 3) Spiritually – Divine Wisdom.”

From Marc, on page one, on day one of his study of artistry, I learned that color is life giving, intelligent, and a source of divine wisdom.

“Objects reveal light.  All forms and substances REFLECT or ABSORB LIGHT. THINK OF COLOR AS LIGHT REFLECTED.”

There are other words and phrases: vibration, proportion, visual sensation, light is individualized by its contact with substances into color. COLOR is Light PROPORTION.

All of this awe is written in block letters on the first two pages. His enthusiasm is palpable. As you move through Marc’s notebook of discoveries, his writing shifts to cursive, he matures in color and intention. His passion intensifies. He is beginning to see.

Toward the end of his notebook, in his growing sophistication, you’ll read these phrases:  “Train our eyes to DEGREES of Neutrality. Establish relationships of Intensity. Hue. Value”…and a reminder “vibrating surface!”

The stitching that holds the notebook together is impeccable. Beautiful. Careful. Considered. It took him time to make his notebook. It mattered.

I can’t help my metaphor mind from finding a universe of guidance in Marc’s notebook for a nation that perpetually struggles with color – or, ironically, the negation of color. The fear of color relations. A commitment to a narrative of dominance, this or that but never both. A palette of loss. We’ve limited our color study to a polarity and eliminated the infinite shades of possibility in the picture we might paint. Insistent chiaroscuro.

What happens when the door of possibility opens? When change, that big blank canvas, sits on the easel?

In the middle of his 90’s, Marc gave me his paint brushes, his paint box. “Use them!” he said, “Don’t save them for remembrance.” He knew I was sentimental. “Reverence is off limits. These are not meant to collect dust on a shelf.” He laughed, “Use the damn things. Don’t be safe!”

Color. Vibration. Relationship. Proportion. Life Giving. Intelligent. Divinely Wise. Walk into the unknown. Learn to see.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about COLOR

 

their palettes website box copy

 

 

 

Face The Sun [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Walking the river trail I couldn’t help but whirl in the contradiction: everything has changed and nothing has changed. While the world of people is awash in pattern disruption, the rest of creation is following the script exactly.

Spring. The muddy season. The world pops green just as we knew it would. Just as it did last year and the year before and the year before. I believe our backyard ferns are growing 6 inches a day. Even the daily Dog-Dog assault cannot deter their reach for the sun. Life returns from darkness. Demeter sings at Persephone’s return.

If you seek an affirmation of life come sit in our backyard. The bird song will lift your spirits, these flying shocks of color will make you giggle with delight. Vibrant yellow, a cardinal more salmon than red. My eyebrows cartoon-pop in disbelief. We sit facing the sun in our broken Adirondack chairs and drink in the warmth.  “This doesn’t suck.” I say, eyes closed, basking in appreciation of the sun as it reaches to my bones. I’m certain I said the exact same thing last year and the year before that. Rituals of renewal need not always be solemn.

Sometimes I think this game of life is really an exercise in focus placement. I can choose to see the world as the work of Hieronymous Bosch– and sometimes I do. Beautifully horrific. Or, I can swivel my lens to Georgia O’Keefe and look at the wondrous small things, the miracle of nuance and the close-up. Sometimes, when I am at my best, I turn my eyes to see as Ellsworth Kelly did, when he imagined his chapel of light. “I think people need some kind of spiritual thing,” he said.

And so, with the vibrant greens popping, the screaming yellows flying, the blue-blue of a cloudless sky, tender lettuce leaves breaking through topsoil, I find myself surrounded by a Hieronymous Bosch narrative cycle but with just a little refocus, I am stunned by the grander cycle of marvel and mystery in this Ellsworth Kelly world.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CLOVER

 

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See Anew [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It seems that everything during the pandemic is a study of circumstance-driven-change. For instance, I am a painter of people. I’ve never been interested in still life studies. Even in school, I cringed at the bowls of fruit placed before us by the instructor. Shape, shade, blah-blah-blah. Give me figure drawing any day! Suddenly, to my great surprise, I am photographing big bowls of fruit. They are gorgeous. I’m thinking about a painting featuring fruit.  What’s happening to me?

The devil is in the pandemic detail. We used to go to the store everyday. We used to buy what we needed for the next 24-48 hours. There were no big piles of fruit, no explosions of color in the fruit bowl or waves of color rolling across the counter. Now, in the time of pandemic, we stock up. We are – like you – buying massive amounts of bananas and oranges and apples and pears. They are, to an artist’s eye, when assembled, simply beautiful. They are, I suspect to an accountant’s eye, also beautiful, but my thoughts stray beyond merely eating.

Beautiful.

We are also in a fit of food experimentation. To delay our need to go into the wild COVID world and shop, we comb the empty larder, asking “What do we have? What can we make with what we have?” We throw our random ingredient list into the Google pool and voila! Yummy options emerge. Bacon wrapped pears. Oh. My. God. It never would have occurred to my bear-brain to wrap a pear in bacon. I savored it. I moaned. My eyes rolled back in my head.

Beautiful. Delicious.

When you study change processes, you bumble across something akin to a rule. It goes like this: if you know where you are going, then it is not really change; it is controlled reordering of what already exists. It may look new but is really the same old wolf in new sheep’s clothing.

Change is what happens when you step into unknown and strange lands, when all of the old points-of-orientation are gone. Only then will you step into something new and surprising. Only then will you see without the old dulling filter. For me, apparently, change looks like a big bowl of beautiful fruit.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BACON WRAPPED PEARS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

banana copy

Look Beneath [on DR Thursday]

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What’s beneath? It’s a question all artists learn to ask. It’s the same question good coaches ask of their clients. Seeing is not a superficial affair.

What’s beneath? What alchemy of color was brewed to make this image or that painting? What alchemy of experience was brewed to make this belief or that perception?

Sometimes “what’s beneath” supports and enlivens the surface layers. It’s magnetic and makes you stare – even if you don’t know why. Sometimes it dulls the painting, pulling the life from it. The same holds true for how a life is storied. Sense-making is as dynamic as color.

Color is a miracle. It is never passive. It is only understood by what it is relative to. That is, color, like a relationship, is fluid, moving, spirited.

What’s beneath all those layers and layers of color?

 

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDER PAINTING

 

 

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under painting, like captain underpants, is under copyright. ©️ 2020 robinson david

Play On Empty [on DR Thursday]

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“The artist goes through states of fullness and emptiness, and that is all there is to the mystery of art.” ~ Picasso

Usually in my state of emptiness I stare at my paintings and they stare back at me. It’s like an old Viola Spolin exercise in which the the actors stare at the audience and the audience stares back at the actors. I look at you. You look at me. The question becomes who is audience and who is actor? Who is the painter and who is the painting?

It is difficult when empty to stay clear of self-criticism. It’s easy to look at the archives and think, “I suck. This work is awful!” I’ve learned that this impulse to deride my past work is actually a necessary refueling stage. It’s akin to how a teenager treats their parents when preparing to leave home. Snarky comments make separation easier. And necessary.

In my current state of emptiness Kerri suggested that I play with color and form. Nothing serious is allowed. Smear, pull, scratch,…follow. This is my first experiment while empty. It was fast, fun, and mostly thought-less.

I took a photograph so I could use it on the Melange. I called the photo “hotel art.”  Kerri said that title sounded derogatory. But, here’s the kicker: she asked me if I was going to keep the painting. If I was going to claim it as a ‘finished piece’ or would it live for a while as an experiment until I painted over it?

Smear, pull, scratch, spatter, flick, erase. Jackson Pollock called his splatter paintings a recording of the dance. A map of the movement of making a painting. I look at you, you look at me.

Where is the line between ‘serious art’ and personal experiment, especially in the world of anything-goes-contemporary-art?  The banana is taped to the wall. Banksy dropped his painting through a shredder at the moment it was purchased at the auction house.

Experiment. Play. Intentional. Improvisational. Keeper. Throwaway. I look at you. You look at me.

All I really know is that I am empty and emptiness does not come with silence. It is a fertile ground for noisy, mostly useless, questions.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THIS PAINTING

 

 

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hotel art ©️ 2019 david robinson [if it is taken seriously or perhaps this copyright should apply equally to messes, play, and fun]

Go Tiny And Skip! [on DR Thursday]

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Kerri called them ‘morsels,’ little snippets of my paintings. She’d isolate a spot, crop it, perhaps add some words or simply let the cropped image become a new, stand-alone design. We offered her morsels through society6.com [prints, cards, coffee cups, pillows, etc.]. This morsel is from the corner of a large painting, An Instrument of Peace.

The morsels had a profound impact on how I see my paintings. In many cases, I liked the morsels better than the paintings they came from. The morsels said more with less. They took me by the hand and led me back to the forgotten lands of shape, form, and color in their purity.

The morsels helped me comprehend and then dance back and forth across the crevasse between design and painting. Painting [for me] is a deep dive, personal spelunking. It is a meditation. Design is visual play. It’s skipping in the sunshine, looking for shells on the beach. Carefree [Kerri is the designer in our family so it is especially easy for me. I’m like the supervisor on a road crew; she does all the work and I stand there, pat my belly, look important, and get all the accolades].

Originally, Kerri made this morsel as a wish for peace. It is among her many morsels that celebrate this season, the return of the light. Peace seems in short supply in our divided nation, our angry world. She asked that we use this morsel today so I pulled it from the archive. She knows that art carries great power and can inspire people to see anew, to dance back and forth across their personal crevasses, and lead the way back to forgotten lands of community and shared vision. Shape, form, color. Beauty generated and shared inside as well as out. Reaching rather than rejecting as a first action.

All of this possibility, hope, an enormous wish, carried in one little tiny morsel.

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE ON EARTH

 

PeaceOnEarth copy

for a print or wall art of this image, go here

 

 

oversizedjoy copley place website box copy

 

an instrument of piece ©️ 2015 david robinson

morsel: peace on earth ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Stand In The Enormity [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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When Kerri first showed me this photograph, it read to me like a minimalist painting. A subtle field of color with two splashes and a brushstroke. So much said with so little. A meditation of movement and the immovable.

The lake is different every day. Its color palette is as changeable as its moods. Each day upon awaking, Kerri walks onto the deck and snaps a picture. So far, no two days are alike. So far, no two hours are alike.

Once I stood in La Sagrada Familia and the enormity of it made me quiet. The lake is like that. Immense to the point of stillness.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about TWO BIRDS AND AN ISLAND

 

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Bend It [on DR Thursday]

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The terminology in art reads like so much poetry. Zero point perspective. Chiaroscuro. Foreshortening. Rococo. Image plane. Vanishing point. Oblique projection. Intaglio. It goes on and on, these tasty and magical words.

They should be poetry. They describe fields of possibility. They attempt to codify the making of illusion or the impulse of an explorer. Bending space. Deconstructing and reconstituting. Perceptual distinctions. The visual language of cultural norms.

There has been for centuries a mathematics of art. Optics and relativity, movements in science that have their conjoined artistic twins. Rebellions. The maintenance of form. Rules and rule breakers.

I sat in on a class taught by a master artist. He was a lover of landscape (another yummy word) and taught his students an earth-shattering lesson: reality, like time, cannot be caught. It’s a fools errand to try. Painting is a conversation. It is an infinite game. Bend space. Move the tree. Color is fluid, moving, never fixed.  Be like color. Play. Discover. Transform.

I do not consider myself a landscape painter. And then I remember the master teacher and I remove the word ‘landscape’ from my vernacular. And then, suddenly, there is a universe of movement, color, light, and shapes to bend.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about a LANDSCAPE SKETCH

 

Newborn copy

newborn. deconstruction. reconstitution.

 

coffee cups in scion website box copy

 

newborn /landscape sketch ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

 

Mix It [on DR Thursday]

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True confessions: I never clean my palette. I like the messy build up of color. I like the chunky texture. It serves as a gunky history of my work, a genealogy of paintings past. And then, over time, it becomes a tactile work of art in its own right. Unfettered by any of the mental gymnastics or over-ponderous considerations that plague my “real” work, it is the closest to child-mind that I will achieve. It is accidental. It is free.

This might be a stretch but it is, for me, nevertheless true. I love my palette because it is the place of alchemy in my artist process. It is the true liminal space. I begin with pure color. I smashed the pure color together with another color and transform it into a third color, the hue I intend. On a palette, color becomes intention. And then, once transformed, with a brush or knife I lift the color-intention from my palette and in an action that is often more responsive than creative, I place it onto a canvas. It transforms yet again relative to all the color it touches. An image emerges. More color is called for.

And, somewhere in this call and response of color, I become like the palette. The pass-through of alchemy, the door that color passes through en route to something beautiful. And, in the process, perhaps I, too, in my messy build up of life/color, grow closer to that child mind. Unfettered. Accidentally interesting. Free.

“You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough” ~ William Blake

 

read Kerri’s blog post about my PALETTE

 

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Horses FullSize copy

untitled, mixed media 48 x 48IN

 

 

 

 

Contemplate [on DR Thursday]

 

I do more than my fair share of contemplating (just ask Kerri. My incessant contemplation drives her bonkers). For instance, years ago, it occurred to me that every thought we human-storytellers have IS a kind of meditation. It’s a fair question – a necessary question – to ask: what are you meditating on? Your pain? Your troubles? Who you blame? Your grudges? Your obstacles? Your joys? Your opportunities? Your privileges? Your love? Your losses? Your list? All of the above?  Keep in mind (where else would you keep it) that most of your thoughts are repetitive. The majority of what you think today is a repeat of what you thought yesterday. Your thoughts are not passive. They are also not truth. They are patterned, mostly made up, and a powerful lens through which you define your experiences. The good news is that you can change your meditation if you want to.

Listening to the news it will make you gag when you stop and realize what actually populates our national meditation and how our angry narrative permeates your personal mediation. We are not as separate as we like to pretend. That’s good news. That, and, we can change our meditation. We can tell a better story.

 

This morsel comes from a painting that recently returned to the stable. It is, quite literally, a blast from the past. What I find most amazing about this particular return-to-the-fold is that, just a few months ago, I uncovered the old drawing that inspired Contemplation and sourced it again for another painting, Softly She Prays. And then, in a fit of good timing, Contemplation arrived at our door.

Paintings are like journal entries. It is not often that happenstance provides such a rich opportunity for comparison. Comparison of contemplation. What was my meditation 15 years ago? What is it now? Horatio told me my body of work is a study of stillness in motion (not a direct quote H, but I love the reflection non-the-less). The deep river story remains. The top layer meditation has shifted.

Ah. Do you see? Incessant contemplation.

 

 

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Contemplation, circa 2004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

softly she prays copy

Softly She Prays, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post on CONTEMPLATION

 

 

babycatContemplating website copy

 

contemplation/softly she prays ©️ 2004/2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood