Walk The Gallery

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david robinson at zatista.com

Come See

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See The Present

photo-4From the stacks we pulled out every painting and considered it. A buyer, those rare and colorful birds that occasionally fly in unannounced, interested in my work generally, wanted a piece. He wanted a selection to choose from. The studio became a hodgepodge gallery organized around possibilities for purchase. I have digital images of every piece but our enthusiasm propelled us into the studio. It had been a long time since I’d spent time looking at the full body of my work.

“This one goes upstairs!” Kerri announced.

“Why?”

“It belongs in the Held-In-Grace series,” she replied.

The Held-In-Grace paintings are my newest series, each completed within the last 5 months. The painting she held was six years old. I told her it was old (obviously) and couldn’t possibly belong in a new series.”It belongs and it’s going upstairs,” she said, giving me ‘that look,’ saying only, “I think it is called PRAY NOW.” I know when I am bested. The old painting with a new name went upstairs to join the current series.

In its former life the painting was named JOHN’S SECRET. John framed all of my paintings during the Seattle years. He was one of those rare people that had no secrets. John was industrious, generous, practical, direct, and artistic. He was a collision of contradictions. He saved my artistic bacon more than once, showing up at just the right moment with just the right tool or just the right sentiment. He was as close to pure as a human can be. No pretense. No mask. No power game or hidden agenda. Just John. He was a rare ally, a consistent angel. I lost touch with him when I moved to the shores of Lake Michigan.

I named the painting JOHN’S SECRET to tease him. To tease me. “Someone’s whispering in your ear!” I quipped. “I’ll never tell,” he replied as he helped me fit the painting into the frame.

It is oddly appropriate that, at this time of my life, JOHN’S SECRET would be renamed PRAY NOW and join the HELD IN GRACE series. It has been too long since I spent time looking at my full body of work. I saw old pieces with new eyes. Some of the paintings deserve to step back into the light, to go upstairs and be seen. I found them surprisingly beautiful, something I would not have been able to admit a few short years ago.

a detail

The buyer, it turns out, was a scam. He was not interested in my work at all. It took two days of negotiations for me to catch on; I am sometimes slow in the uptake. Buyers, those rare birds, it turns out, are truly rare. For a few moments I wanted to cry (only for the amount of time it took me to drink a scotch – “Pa told me to pour you this,” Kerri said when she saw the crush of scam-realization hit my heart and show up in my face). I took my scotch and my wound into the studio to restock the paintings and realized that the scammer had done me an enormous favor. He helped me look at the long-body of my work. He helped me see with new eyes the beauty of my previous life’s work, something that I had not before been able to see. And, he helped me recognize the great good fortune that surrounds me in my present life. He helped JOHN’S SECRET find a path back into the light of day, a new life, renamed – or perhaps, at long last, finding its true identity.

a detail from my painting, John's Secret

 

 

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Be Held In Grace

Grace (noun): 1. Simple elegance or refinement of movement. 2. Unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.

The first time it happened Kathleen, my landlady, stepped between me and the canvas shouting, “You can’t do it!” I was about to wipe off the image and start anew. “I love this one!” she said. “I love it.” Baffled by Kathleen’s wild-eyed heroics I granted the painting a stay of execution. I let it live. I faced the canvas to the wall so I couldn’t see it. After a few days I put it back on the easel. I saw it anew. I saw what Kathleen saw. It was a good painting and ultimately birthed an entire series of paintings.

One of the great paradoxes of being a visual artist is to lose sight en route to seeing. Becoming mired in the thoughts of the painting blinds an artist to the painting. Stare at anything long enough and you will stop seeing it (you will only see what you think about it). The only antidote is to turn it around. Forget about it so you can see it anew.

A few weeks ago it happened again. Kerri was coming down the stairs to the studio just as I was about the wipe an image off the canvas. It wasn’t working for me. Like Kathleen a decade earlier, Kerri threw herself over the painting and pleaded for its life. This time I asked her to tell me what she saw that I clearly was not seeing. I asked her to make a case for clemency. She saw something new. She saw Grace. And, she convinced me that I was blind to the painting. I took it off the easel and turned it to face the wall.

I’m learning again lessons that were pounded into me when I was younger but am now finding deeper levels. Step away. Forget. Clear your vision by looking away. Tom called this “closing the building for a spell.” Understand that seeing and thinking are intertwined. It is a sword with two edges that can illuminate or limit. The skill is never found in the thinking, the interpretation. The great skill is to see beyond the thinking. To see. Artistry happens when thought serves sight and not the other way around. The mastery of art and the mastery of life are, after all, one and the same thing.

When I turned the painting around I saw it anew. And, like the reprieved painting of a decade ago, this one, too, is inspiring a series. In a fit of intentional spontaneity (one of my new favorite descriptions of artistry), the second in the series jumped off my brush. I’m preparing surfaces for the third, fourth, and fifth. They are asking me to follow them – no thought required. They are asking me to take a walk with Grace.

 

Know Your Stuff

my latest and the first of a new series. Held In Grace: Rest Now

my latest: Held In Grace: Rest Now

This a note of gratitude. Unashamed and unabashed.

Yesterday was our third annual trip to Cedarburg for Winterfest. It is one of my favorite adventures of the year with some of my favorite people. The temperatures were unseasonably warm, in the 50’s, so there was no snow and the river ran freely. The ice sculptors lining the streets tried to carve but soon abandoned their too-rapidly-melting blocks of ice. I stood with my back to a brick wall and drank in the sun.

Like the rest of the crowd, we wandered in and out of the many boutiques and shops, ate brats, sipped coffee, watched the sweet -small-town-parade and cheered at the bed races, an event that usually takes place on the frozen river but this day was held on a side street. The team with the best wheels won.

The shops, like shops in every town dependent on tourism, are chocked full of trinkets, greeting cards, clothes, and tchotchkes galore. Some of the shops are so stuffed with stuff that shoppers routinely flee to the streets to avoid imminent suffocation. I am generally crowd-averse so I hovered near the door and watched the games that emerged when the rules of personal space also fled to the streets. I delighted in the dance of strangers-in-too-tight-aisles bumping bellies, stepping on toes, laughing and blushing at unintentional nose touches and unfortunate hand placements.

In one of the shops I found displayed among the stuff a book entitled, Less Stuff, More Life by Amy Maryon. Ironies abound! I laughed heartily and was surprised when I found the same book in the very next shop we entered. So, I made a game of finding how many shops stuffed with stuff carried the book about collecting less stuff. The count: I found it in every shop we entered with the single exception of the antique store. It’s okay to load up on old stuff.

Each time I found the book I assigned it as a trigger for me to turn and appreciate the amazing people sharing the day with me: Dan and Gay, Sandy, Noelle, Daena, Jay and Charlie. Kerri above all. I also made it a game of giving gratitude for the riches of my life: 20, Linda and Jim, Russ and Mary Kay, Marilyn, Arnie, my Jims, …I could go on and on. I am the recipient of infinite kindness and support, love and friendship. This is the stuff of my life – as it is the stuff of life for us all. I suspect (the author) message is that the stuff in our closets obscures the real stuff of life. The shoes and houses and dish towels are not in themselves negative, they are, in fact, nothing at all. They are stuff. And, in the midst of the stuff, if we can see the forest through the trees, is our family and friends and community. There are people in our lives that we will never meet who make it all richer, better (for instance, I’d like to hug the human that first made a cup of coffee). They are the people we read about in the newspaper who donate time to make playgrounds, volunteer at the library or to man the local firehouse. There is the woman in the shop in Cedarburg that prays that we will buy something so she can pay her mortgage and feed her children.

 

Be Clumsy

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. lacking dexterity, grace or skill; awkward. 2. ungracefully shaped or made; unwieldy. 3. awkwardly or unskillfully said or done, ill-contrived.

“We don’t allow ourselves to be clumsy,” Kerri said. “Life is clumsy.”

Many years ago I read a commentary that suggested we moderns have a harder time of feeling good about ourselves than people of ages past. The argument went something like this: we have an impossibly high standard to meet and it is mostly illusory. For instance, our predecessors compared themselves and their successes against a relatively small village populace. We are swimming in pool that stretches around the earth. The athletes in our ancestral villages ran against their neighbors, the artists created for a specific purpose that served a tangible need in their community. Our young runners know to the hundreth-of-a-second what greatness requires. They run against the world. Our artists rarely know outside of their own inner imperative why they are creating. With no outer limit they spend a great deal of time wondering if their work has any impact or greater significance. With no outer limit it has no defined audience or community. Stephen, a gifted and prolific artist, used to ask, “Why don’t people recognize the value of art?”

The argument is largely a question of access. Our predecessors had limited and very abstract access to the news of the day, to the happenings beyond their region. We have a 24-hour global news cycle that comes to us on multiple devices that are designed to grab and keep our attention. It is not passive. On our multiple devices we are bombarded with images and messages of what we should look and feel like. Yet, almost all of the images populating our personal measuring stick are constructed. They are manipulated, retouched, powdered and Photoshopped. Legs are stretched. Wrinkles are removed. Sunsets are filtered. We measure ourselves against illusions.

Thus, intermediaries are everywhere. Interpreters abound. I rarely go into a gallery without a curator telling me why the work on the walls is important. The news of the day makes us the rope in a tug-of-war of interpretation.

Art, like life, like deep spirituality, requires direct engagement. It is made rich in the rough draft and the mistake. The broken road is interesting, vital. Learning is a process that takes time. It is messy. It is clumsy. It is not straight, paved, and has no road signs. And, it cannot be walked alone.

There is no forgiveness (of self or other) on the path of perfection; forgiveness is in short supply when the standard is both impossible to attain and an illusion. On the clumsy path, on the messy and muddy road, lives grace, generosity of spirit and deep forgiveness.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. Human

May You Be

May You Be

 

Recognize The Gift

Kerri with her mom, Beaky

Kerri with her mom, Beaky

Late night thoughts from the ER.

Earlier in the day Beaky told me that she had no special talents and I protested! She is one of the best storytellers I’ve ever known. She’s a natural. She can’t help herself. Sit with Beaky and you’ll hear some great stories. Beaky is like the rest of us: she doesn’t recognize her greatest gift because she thinks it is ordinary. She overlooks her gift because she thinks everyone can do what she does easily. That is the way with gifts: it is in the ordinary that we ultimately recognize our extraordinary-ness.

Beaky fell and we spent the night with her in the emergency room. As we sat by her bed, waiting for the pain medication to kick in, she said, “Did I ever tell you about the time…?” We heard stories about stags leaping over the car and the late-in-life marriage of her brother.

Another gift, related to her gift of story or, perhaps, an extension of her story-gift: people smile when they hang out with Beaky, even under extreme circumstances. For instance, writhing in pain, she looked into the eyes of a nurse and said, “I wish I had some of what you have! You have such a lovely smile.” And a new story begins; the nurse moved into the hall to tell the night staff about the kind woman in room 28.

After a sleepless night, Kerri and I sat in the hospital café and talked about the lessons of life, the lessons in generosity of spirit, the instruction in Grace and the rich stories we are receiving. From this seat, not much else seems important.

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Greet The Day

photo-1Behind Beaky’s house is a retention pond. There is an alligator that occasionally breaks the surface and when it does I say, “Looking for poodles…” Kerri punches my arm and smiles.

The house is nearly empty; Beaky moved into assisted living almost 2 years ago and slowly her possessions have been packed or passed on to family members. It has been a quiet attrition, a gradual acknowledgment of the step into the next phase of life.

We stay in the house when we visit. We sip our coffee, sit in camping chairs, and watch the waters of the pond change with the progress of the morning sun. A cormorant comes each morning. It stands at the pond’s edge, spreads it’s wings, and drinks the sun. “It’s as if it is opening its heart to greet the new day,” Kerri says.

She tells me that the cormorant comes to the exact spot where, a year ago, her family gathered to spread her father’s ashes. A single cormorant came that day, too. In the middle of the rite, the bird landed, stepped into the setting sun, and spread it’s wings. Her father loved the pond. It was as if the spirit of her father came as the cormorant. It opened its heart. It greeted the sunset.

The news with Beaky is not good. I watched Beaky’s face as Kerri wheeled her from the doctor’s office. Beaky is no longer living, as she says, “indefinitely.” Her path is now definite (as I suppose all of our paths are truly definite even though we rarely consider it so). She looked relieved. She looked easy and quiet. Beaky said, “I’ve lived a good life! I’m ready.”

Now, as is true with abundant life, there is metaphor upon metaphor. There is the house. There is the alligator breaking the surface. There is the cormorant spreading its wings. There are cycles of life, passing moments, possessions never really possessed. There are stories made and stories lost. There is a family with an open heart, watching the progress of the sun, ready to greet the day.

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I call this painting, "Canopy"

I call this painting, “Canopy”

 

What Do You Value?

One of the windows by Max Ingrand at Saint Pierre de Montmarte

One of the windows by Max Ingrand at Saint Pierre de Montmarte

What has value? What has merit?

Or, here’s a better question: What is value? What is merit?

During our travels I looked at a lot of art and architecture from across the centuries and across many different cultures. There is a very old church, Saint Pierre of Montmarte, one of the oldest in Paris, seated adjacent to Sacre Coeur high on the hill overlooking the city. This ancient church has been outfitted with stained glass windows, designed by Max Ingrand, that I can only describe as cubist. The collision of ancient church and modern window is breathtaking and perfect. The windows were so beautiful (to me) that they brought tears to my eyes. It was hard for me to leave the church as I was so taken by the windows yet I was also aware of the number of people moving through that were not impacted at all. Later, I entered Sacre Coeur and felt nothing. To me, it was impressive, impersonal, and left me cold – yet I watched others catch their breath with its scope and grandeur. They were moved to tears.

Is value purely personal and subjective?

I remember listening to a recorded lecture by Joseph Campbell. He said that you could tell what a society valued by the buildings constructed in the city center. For centuries, churches occupied the village center. Financial institutions occupy our village/value center. Is value an agreement? Is it a focal point of worship? Take a gander at the titles in the local bookstore and you will find that money, morality, spirituality, and success are odd bedfellows. Is a good life richly lived demarcated by the size of a bank account? Tourists in the distant future will visit the holy sites occupying our village center and read placards about what we valued.

Near Sacre Coeur is the cemetery at Montmartre. We descended the hill to the cemetery and walked the paths through the monuments and graves. They fascinate me. They are essences, value statements distilled to a thick concentrate of marble and stone. There are angels and gargoyles, draped figures in repose and riders of the apocalypse. There are statements: loving father, devoted mother. There are roles: composer, writer, soldier, painter, baker, philosopher, politician. The famous are interred next to the ordinary. In a cemetery, all lives are even. Standing amidst the graves I see lives lived, dreams dreamed and realized or unrealized, and I wonder what each person valued during their allotment of days, and what they valued on the very last day.

Value is relative and passing? An extraordinary moment, when conscious, is valuable.

This is from Rumi: Spirit is so mixed with the visible world that giver, gift, and beneficiary are one thing. You are the grace raining down; the grace is you.

Value is grace? You? What surrounds you?

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.