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

Lookit [on KS Friday]

“It was not that he had nothing to say, he just hadn’t realized that what he had to say was enough.” ~ Kent Nerburn, Dancing With The Gods

Kerri practices what Kent Nerburn calls “the art of close inspection.” When we are on the trail or in the backyard or in the kitchen, she’ll suddenly jump, grab her camera, and take a shot of some gorgeous detail. A reflection. A flower. A texture. I would have walked by without ever noticing. She sees detail. And, she is never off duty; she is always looking. Seeing.

I know her images are authentic – meaning that she is not trying to “make art” or make grand statements or be clever – because she is tickled by what she captures. “Lookit!” she exclaims as she shows me the image. Her delight is as pure as her eye-for-composition.

When I moved to Wisconsin and put my studio in the basement, she’d take photos of my paintings. Never the full painting, always a detail. It unnerved me a bit because the composition of her detail-image was always much better than my composition of the full painting. “Lookit!” she’d say, showing me the image. We called them “morsels.” I started studying her morsel-shots. My musician-wife was a secret master of visual composition and I had much to learn. She encouraged me to take photos of my works-in-progress as a way of standing back from the painting, as a way of seeing what my eyes could no longer see.

I’ve been drawing cartoons for months. This series is special because it is simple, pared down. How much expression can I capture in a simple line – in fact, in the fewest lines possible? The art of close inspection is having an impact on me. I’m getting paid to draw this series and am fully aware that they might never see the light of day. And, it simply does not matter. I love them. I know they are pure because, with each new cartoon, I race down the stairs (my drafting table is upstairs) and say, “Lookit!” as I hand them over to Kerri to finish them with her photoshop magic. After she performs her magic, she brings the computer to me and says, “Lookit!” and I smile. “Doyoulikeit?’ she asks.

“Ilikeit.”

read Kerri’s blog post about FALL FLOWERS

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

you come to realize/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Remember The Single Story [on KS Friday]

If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

When Kerri took this photograph I thought Van Gogh would have loved to paint it. I read that most of his 860 paintings date from the last two years of his life. The romantic in me wants to believe that he knew his time was short and he let all of that imperative spill out onto canvas. He died never knowing success or imagining that his work would in any way impact the world. I doubt he cared. His frenzy was not driven by success or status. He painted because he had to.

Waning time brings retirement to some. To others it brings fire and fuel. The need to bring what is inside to the outside. To compose, to write, to dance, to paint, to build, to design. Michelangelo was driven by his waning time. Some of his final sculpture was 500 years ahead of its time. At the end of his life, his work would have shown well with Picasso.

There simply isn’t enough time to say it all, explore it all. Last night, sitting in a circle with my family, multiple conversations resonating throughout the activity hall, my conversation pod began talking about regrets. When we were younger, we made vows to live lives without regret and now, at this end of the road, we see how foolish was our vow. Life is a series of choices and choices always leave unexplored paths. We laughed at our folly and relished the beauty of a life full of regrets. Paths not taken seed gratitude for the paths we ultimately chose. There is intense beauty in regret.

The morning dawned cold. Autumn has arrived in Colorado. The energy abandons the leaves and goes to the root. Columbus’ passing has brought energy to the root. He would be pleased. There are members of my family that I have not seen for years. In gathering, we bring together our separate stories and for a few days remember that we are also a single story.

A single story. The beauty of regret. The gift in loss. The waning of one season affirms the promise of the new.

All of Kerr’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about WANING SEASONS

part of the wind/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

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

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

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

Allow A Glimpse [on KS Friday]

lost sketch copy

One of the challenges arising in our Melange is what to publish on DR Thursday or KS Friday. After 130 weeks, we both feel the need to produce and publish new work and not draw from the archives. It’s a good sign.

Today, after reading Wade Davis’ must-read article about the end of the american era in Rolling Stone, Kerri decided to go into the studio, focus on a single word, in this case, “lost,” and improvise. It was thrilling. I cannot describe the feeling of watching her finally and at last do what she is meant to do on this earth. Standing at the open end of the piano holding the iphone to record, I can feel the vibration of her playing ripple through my body, the pounding rhythm through the wood floor enters through the soles of my feet.

There is a moment 15 or 20 seconds after she begins playing when the music takes over, when she is no longer playing from her thinking-mind but from the deeper place. Her face relaxes. Her posture changes. The piano hops. She merges with the music and I feel like weeping or laughing or both the handful of times I’ve seen it happen. When she merges, it opens the door for me to enter, too. That is the power and magic of an artist: access to the deep-beautiful.

I’ve never met an artist more resistant to their artistry than Kerri. I’ve met artists before  that feared their artistry because they get lost in it. They walk to the edge but fear the leap. That might be Kerri’s plight but I don’t think so. My New York girl routinely stomps on edges, shouts profanity into canyons and leaps into voids. She is no shrinking violet. No, I think she feels betrayed by her gift so she betrays it in return. I think she feels lost. It is why the word resonated with her this morning.

And now, add two broken wrists to this complexity. It’s six months since her fall and her right wrist, her melody hand, is not recovering. It’s limiting. Her motion is greatly impeded. I cannot hear it but my ears are not the ears that matter in this equation.

This morning she improvised a few different pieces. For me they were gripping. For Kerri they were frustrating. So, rather than give you the full recording, she chose to offer a short sketch, a phrase. A timely piece and appropriate metaphor on almost every level: lost.

 

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LOST

 

windyHHwebsite box copy

 

 

 

 

lost (a sketch) ©️ 2020 kerri sherwood

all my loves ©️ 2020 david robinson

putyourfingersonthekeys WITH EYES jpeg copy 2

 

Follow The Map [on KS Friday]

wait a while songbox copy

These days I am more interested in the rough draft than the finished piece. Recently, 20 gave me a great gift as we sorted through Duke’s old sketches and throw-away paintings. Duke was brilliant and his explorations were free and full of art-frolic.

When Kerri brings out the box of rough cuts I secretly clap my flippers. It means I am going to hear the story behind the composition. We listen and she tells me of the day she recorded the piece or about the problems she and her producer faced. The unforeseen, the discovery-in-the-moment.

My favorite days in this life happen when I am down in the studio and, upstairs, Kerri begins to noodle on the piano, when she allows herself to fall into composing. Our house fills with an enchantment, an invocation of all that is essential. A creative pilgrimage that has no leader and no follower, only the pull of the impulse.

WAIT A WHILE, a rough cut, will give you some sense of what it feels like to be in my studio when Kerri begins the pilgrimage. Like Duke’s free flowing sketches, this rough cut is a map to the sacred place.

Listen to WAIT A WHILE, the rough cut piano track here:

https://www.kerrianddavid.com/ks-friday

 

Kerri on ITunes

 

picnic table website box copy

 

wait a while: rough cut ©️ 1995 – 2019 kerri sherwood

Become It [on KS Friday]

and now songbox copy

Kerri wrote AND NOW for us. For me. It is the piece of music that played as I walked down the aisle. I can’t hear it without being transported back to that moment. Then is now.

The only time I’ve been in the recording studio with her was when she laid down the tracks for AND NOW. It was magic. She was completely in her element, doing what she does naturally and best. I was utterly taken by her mastery, her ease. She recorded it the week prior to our wedding, when the to-do list was endless and the guests were literally knocking on the door. Needless to say the stress was palpable. And yet, she sat at the piano in the studio and played, she stood in front of the mic and sang, and the rest of the demands of the moment simply fell away. There was nothing between her and her composition. She became her music. She lived her song.

It’s what I thought about as I walked down the aisle that day. Eternal thanks. Wonder at a universe that connected the dots. And now? Nothing more or less than living the song in the same spirit in which it was written and recorded. Nothing between us and the music.

 

AND NOW is available on iTunesiTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AND NOW

 

BootsWeddingBoots website box copy

 

andnowcopyright2015kerrisherwood

Reflect On It [on KS Friday]

her palette - the piano copy

I so loved Kerri’s post yesterday that, today, I’m reflecting it back to her.

Do we ever really know what it takes to do someone else’s job? We don’t know the tools used, the research done, the years of training and experience, how someone perceives their own work. We can only guess and, most often, fall desperately, arrogantly, audaciously off the mark.

Kerri’s piano dominates her studio. A black 6’7″ Yamaha grand. It is not a show piece, it is a workhorse. Littering the music stand are stacks of composition notebooks, idea journals, sketches (she is visual) and pile after pile of church music – old hymnals, new downloads of pieces she’s considering for her ukulele band, choir or handbell choir. On the floor are several heavy binders arranged in alphabetical order with the music already played, binders from the 30 years of experience as a minister of music. There is yet another stack reserved for pieces she’s considering playing with Jim, her brilliant guitarist. Lining the walls are ukuleles, a few guitars, a cello, a keyboard, several music stands, more stacks of the original recordings of her albums (note: they are not stored as sacred artifacts. Rather, they are piled willy-nilly for easy reference). My wife is a Yamaha artist (look it up) and her constantly shifting studio topography (ever-moving piles) is testament to the music in her soul, her very-long history of artistry.

Now, I’ve sung a song or two in the shower. When I met Kerri I told her that I didn’t sing and she fairly quickly called my bluff. I sing in her choir. I delight in singing with her and Jim. They are kind and pretend that I add something to their mix. Nowadays I can even pick out a slow tune on the ukulele!

All of this, however, does not make me capable of really understanding how Kerri plays or composes. I can pluck a note. I can warble a song. I will, however, never have mastery of all the instruments, I will never approach her capacity to transpose on the fly, or compose poetry and melody. I will never hear the nuance she hears, the music of silence. I do not have a natural gift of music nor an entire lifetime to exercise and explore it.

I do not know the tricks of the trade she has accumulated over decades of honing her expertise. Nor do I know the knowledge base she brings about other artists, other musicians and compositions, the instrumentation, the way she ‘feels’ an audience and adjusts, the very technical details and the very heart-based intuitions she has learned through many, many years of study and practice. I can’t understand or even try to predict the amount of time it takes (or doesn’t take) for her to conceptualize, to explore, to create, to review, to assess, to adjust, to re-create. I can respond to her work but I cannot define it, nor would it be credible for me to even try to do so. Out of respect for her work, this ‘music’ that is one of the essential things that define her, I know that I really have no idea. I will never approach all that she knows. What I can do is appreciate the enormity of her talent, the endless hours of study, pursuit, practice, passion, experimentation, frustration, rehearsal, writing, performance, teaching, research, recording, pondering, pounding and playing and playing and playing – a lifetime of experience – that has brought her to this place where she creates beautiful music that seems to take no effort whatsoever.

Making it look easy. It takes a lifetime. The woman who delivers our mail has been a postal carrier for 30 years. It is hubris to think I know what that takes. It is utter arrogance to think I could pick up a mailbag and simply know what she knows, do what she does. Experience is invisible. Value is too easily reduced to dollars and cents. As Kerri wrote yesterday, with regard to anyone, the work they do, the life-path they bring to their work, we have no idea. It is both humbling and respectful to take a step back and consider the invisible, to remember that what appears easy comes from years and years of very hard work.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on KS FRIDAY

 

 

their palettes website box copy