Speak Back To It [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Noguchi might have designed this unintentional sculpture. A massive stone made delicate, the smaller carrying the weight of the greater. The shapes are not precise; they tend. As a final touch, the piece is set at water’s edge. Elemental commentary, a sculpture exposing the meeting of forces.

My favorite part: no one intended it. Yet, had Noguchi or Andy Goldsworthy walked by, they would have made flowing sketches, taken photographs, and rushed away to make it their own. Nature inspires. A happy accident. I suspect all great art comes into being this way.

Kerri often talks about placing her piano on a seashore or atop a mountain. Composing by responding to what nature presents. The sound of wind through trees, the pull of water rushing away from the beach. Once, she sat at her piano with a stack of image-phrases. She pulled one from the stack, closed her eyes, and played. I was a most happy witness to the wonders of creation.

Yesterday, for the first time in months, I pulled out my sketchbook and drew. The previous day, we visited the Botanic Gardens and I took dozens of photographs. The patterns and shapes of leaves. Startling color. I drew the shapes. I sketched the patterns. No expectation save the movement of hand and pencil. I felt as if I was blowing the dust out of my system. The patterns moved me.

The best news for any artist? We will never match the power and majesty that we find in nature as we reach to discover and express our own nature. The best we can do is draw from it, play in it, speak back to it, simply saying, “Thank you for the inspiration.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about ROCKS

Reach Through The Trees [on DR Thursday]

When my time on the planet could be counted in single digits, I drew the same picture over and over and over again. A cabin in the forest. A tree in the foreground. Among my first oil paintings was the cabin-in-my-mind.

For years, my cabin hung on my grandfather’s wall. When we traveled to Iowa for a visit, I was pleased to see it nested in a modest frame in his home office. It may be my first painting to make an appearance beyond the walls of my boyhood home. When he passed, my parents claimed the painting and it circled back to their house, where I painted it.

Last year, with my dad in assisted living, while moving my mom into her new apartment, I brought the painting back with me to Wisconsin. Full circle. We put it in a new frame. It rests in my office, sitting on the floor against the file cabinet because we can’t decide where we want to hang it. Each day, standing at my desk, I am, for a moment, pulled back in time to the boy who had to draw this cabin again and again.

Why? I certainly didn’t feel as if I was inventing it as a drawing exercise. From this vantage point I remember it as a recall, the invocation of a memory. My child-brain never questioned it. My cabin, as if I lived in a world before photographs and was trying to record what once was, trying to reach through the trees to what could no longer be touched. I had to draw it so I might remember it.

Now, with hundreds of paintings between me and my cabin in the woods, I wonder if every painting I’ve ever painted comes from the same impulse, reaching through the trees to what cannot be touched. Canvas on the easel has always pulled me into it, like a good story pulls a reader into a book.

It’s also a great definition of art and artistry. Just try and wrap your fingers around King Lear or grasp the deep well of Martha Graham. Kerri’s piano bounces when she plays it; she is little and her piano is grand. The force that comes through is beyond comprehension.

I laughed when my doctor told me that we rationalize things because we want to control them and, sometimes there is no rational explanation. No way to control it. Art regularly blows through the question “Why?”.

read Kerri’s blogpost about REACHING THROUGH THE TREES

Take One More Step [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

Tom and I spent many hours on the deck of his cabin at the ranch watching sunsets. It was during those moments of waning light that he’d reminisce about his life in education and the arts. “To this day I am in awe of what many of my students taught me about perseverance.”

The teacher as student. The lesson – both ways – was tenacity in the face of monumental difficulty. Tom climbed metaphoric mountains in a system dedicated to hurling avalanches against his progress. His was an innovator’s path. He kept climbing, I learned during our sunset talks, because his students inspired him. Some achieved their mountaintop against all odds. In many cases, the mountaintop was – to other eyes – as seemingly simple as showing up for one more day. They kept climbing so he kept climbing. Showing up for each other. A feedback loop of tacit encouragement. They kept climbing because he was present on the metaphoric mountainside every day.

His students inspired him. He inspired me. An ancestry of inspiration.

I might have imagined it. The chipmunk butted in line at the bird feeder, sending the toddler cardinal fleeing to the safety of the Adirondack chair. More birds gathered while the chipmunk gorged. In a moment of chipmunk consciousness, he turned, looked at the growing assembly of hungry beaks, turned back to the feeder and, like Santa Claus, began kicking mounds of seed to the ground. Chipmunk potlatch. Bird extravaganza. Every critter had their fill.

Weeks later, while weeding the garden, Kerri called across the yard: “I think we’re growing corn.” she said. I joined her at the row of dense grasses growing beneath the bird feeder. A tender stalk, against all odds, found enough sun and water to reach through the thick resistance. Nature amazes me. The impulse to life, from chipmunk-seed-toss to corn stalk pushing through impenetrable grasses.

It brought thoughts of Tom. Seeds planted. Mountains to climb. The sunset, glowing orange and pink across his face, he’d smile, “Often the secret is nothing more or less profound than taking the next step, showing up for each other one more day.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about CORN

Let Go And Fly [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

“Learning and unlearning can only take place in the context of decision making.” ~ Russ Ackoff, On Learning and Systems That Facilitate It

I was reading this phrase in the article when Kerri showed me the Smack-Dab cartoon for this week. Uncanny. The decision to change. Unlearning who you think you are in order to learn who you might become.

There’s a lot of unlearning going on in our house.

Here’s a secret about maps: you can only draw them after the fact. “Knowing how” comes second, after “not knowing how.”

Unlearning, facing the unknown, it’s not linear or easily traced. It’s a tug-a-war between the safety of what you know and the absolute necessity of getting lost.

There’s a photograph I often think about: my uncle Al, in the last months of his life, dying from cancer, fulfilled a dream to fly on the high trapeze. In the photo, he’s released the first swing, sailing through the air, reaching for but not quite touching the second swing. The look on his face, eyes wide open, full delight, utter freedom. Elated. Fully alive in the space between.

There’s a lot of that going on in our house, too. The decision to let go and fly.

read Kerri’s blogpost about MAPS

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

“Get Outside, People.” [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

When the Wander Women pulled the plug on their cross-country cycling attempt, my esteem for them, what they do, and how they live, skyrocketed. No small statement since they were already high on my list of the people I admire.

In this age of manicured image, they are refreshingly real. They decided in their retirement to use their precious lives gathering experiences instead of stuff, to open themselves to adventure rather than live in a comfy fortress. In the past three years they’ve completed thru-hikes of the Appalachian Trail, The Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail.

Although that is impressive, the reason we follow them is the hope they inspire. They’ve developed a community of support that shows up for them. Because they are generous, they attract generosity. Rides appear. Baked goods show up. Offers of places to stay. They say, “Yes” to whatever life throws at them and know that life will throw a “Yes” back to them.

Sometimes saying “Yes” means to stop. The plan falls apart, the elements do not cooperate. Every good adventurer knows it’s not enough to get up the mountain, one must also make the return trip. The variables have to align and, if they don’t, it’s wise to wait. Saying, “Yes” means saying, “Not today.” As Kristy said, “It’s best not to get lost in the goal.”

It’s the reason I admire them: they are not stacking achievements. They are having experiences. They are enriching their moments rather than hanging certificates on the wall. They lead with joy rather than acquisition.

They end each of their vlog installments with encouragements: Live. Get outside, people. Make the tough decision. Say, “Yes.”

read Kerri’s blogpost on this saturday morning smack-dab.

smack-dab. © 2022 kerrianddavid.com

Feed It [on KS Friday]

“The devaluation of music and what it’s now deemed to be worth is laughable to me. My single costs 99 cents. That’s what a single cost in 1960. On my phone, I can get an app for 99 cents that makes fart noises – the same price as the thing I create and speak to the world with. Some would say that the fart app is more important. It’s an awkward time. Creative brains are being sorely mistreated.” ~ Vince Gill

I am the first in line to tell you that everyone has a creative mind. Everyone. That river of ridiculousness running between your ears is nothing other than creativity-run-amok. What else? Telling yourself that you are not creative is, in itself, a creative act. Seeds planted early in life grow into mighty obstructions. Creative wastelands are created. If you want to hear a terrific appeal to educators to nurture rather than stifle the creative mind, listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 Ted Talk. It’s appropriately titled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

I’ve listened to numerous school boards tell me how much they truly value the arts – until it’s time to pay for it. Sadly, it’s not a question of whether or not they value the arts; it’s that the arts, the creative minds, do not fit any of the standards of valuation against which all things are measured. They do not know how to value the creative minds that they steward. Arts organizations and artists, mostly, are not money makers. Creative minds, creative acts, do not fit in the boxes and are not measurable on standardized tests. Thinking outside of boxes is, after all, the point of a creative mind. Metrics and goals stop a creative mind and heart in its tracks. The cruelest thing you can ask any artist to do is write a grant.

And yet, an artist has to make a living. Yaki asked me if I had to choose between making a living and making my art, which would I choose? I answered, “Art, of course,” but that it was really a question of Maslow’s hierarchy: it’s hard to make art when you are not surviving. What I didn’t say is that his question perfectly captured the reason schools kill creativity and creative brains are sorely mistreated: it is assumed one must choose between. Making a living and thriving creativity are understood as oppositional.

How many parents have tried to dissuade their children from following their passion for the arts? How many times have I heard Kerri say of the stacks of music on her piano waiting to be recorded, “What’s the use?” How many times have I sat in my basement studio looking at my stacks and rolls of paintings and wondered, “Why bother?” We do it to ourselves, too.

And then, the phony metric falls and we breathe, pick up our brushes and sit at our keyboards. There is a river of riches that runs deeper than money. It is, after all, a creative act to kill a passion. It’s also a creative act to feed and nurture an artistic soul. Both. It’s what the school board doesn’t understand: the choice is not between making a living or living as an artist, the choice is between feeding inspiration, expanding a creative mind, or smothering it.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CREATIVE MINDS

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

watershed/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Light A Few Candles [on KS Friday]

“An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world.” ~ George Santayana

It was like a visual Zen koan. The candles were placed close to the window and the reflection stretched back and back into infinity. What is real and what is reflection? We sat for several minutes, caught in the light trail that seemed to reach into the future/past.

We light candles for remembrance. We light candles for comfort. We light candles for the quiet they invoke. Inspiration. For hope. Buddhist prayer flags flutter and “release” their prayers to the wind. We light candles with the same intention: the remembrance is carried deep into the future/past. The comfort floats and fills our home.

It was our practice, prior to Covid, late at night on christmas eve, after Kerri was finished with work, to illuminate our street with luminaria. Little paper sacks weighted with sand and holding single candles ran up and down the sidewalk, the entire length of the street. We’d place fire pits in our driveway. Neighbors, friends and family would gather around the fire, drink wine and grog, eat snacks, sing a song or two, laugh. Somewhere, deep into the night, our fingers and toes would protest the cold, we’d say goodnight, douse the flames, and call it a night. Crawling into bed, it always felt as if the good humor of our gathering caught the breeze and carried a light-heart into the world.

Tonight, Kerri and I will light a few candles in sacks, weighted by sand. We will sit, sip wine, laugh and remember. Luminaria. Gatherings. Good wishes carried on the wind. The laughter and candlelight from the past will find us as we reminisce. We’ll send a wave of good intention into the future so that it might one day find us standing around a fire pit with neighbors, family and friends, shaking our heads and saying, “Do you remember when…”

you’re here (kerri sherwood rough cut)

hope/this season available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT INFINITY

hope/this season © 1998 kerri sherwood

you’re here © 2018 kerri sherwood

Find It [on DR Thursday]

Although it probably does not appear this way to you, this photograph is the road back to my easel. It was an immediate inspiration. Kerri did not intend for it to spark the cold coals of my artistic fire, but it did. It was immediate. I couldn’t stop staring at it.

This painting is called Joy. Look at the floral shapes and lines both within and around the figure:

Joy, mixed media, 50x56IN

Many of my paintings of the past several years are floral wonderlands. They infuse the figures, they are bouncing balls of symbolic trees and oversized shrubbery. They remind me to have fun. To play and experiment. I must have forgotten all of that or turned away.

I hit a wall when I painted my red mess. It’s been on my easel for months. Beneath the red mess, the painting that I’d originally sketched on the canvas, is this:

I think I’d had too much of despair-and-comfort and needed to explode my themes. Thus, the red mess.

When Kerri showed me her photograph of tiny pink flowers, I saw the painting, this painting, complete in my imagination. Not despairing, but vibrant and subtle, alive with those amazing floral shapes, five-petal-bursts of life. Contemporary. Huge. Broad strokes. Almost a sculpture.

There is a story from Plato’s Symposium that I’m using as the basis for my script revision for The Creatures of Prometheus , the original human, cleaved by the gods because it was too powerful, searching through life to find its other half. This painting is (or will be) about the search for love, the transcendence of separation. Finding.

And, as you know, once it lives in the imagination, all that remains is the volition to get there.

read Kerri’s blog post about PINK FLOWERS

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson

Weave With Intention [on KS Friday]

I have on my studio altar Demarcus’ paint box. Sitting atop the box is the nutcracker my grandfather used. He kept it next to the pool table. The nutcracker rests on a batik that Judy gave me. There is a laughing Buddha, a dancing Shiva, a sturdy White Buffalo. There is a woven braid of palm from Bali. Special rocks.

Dots that connect me to my heritage, to the people that inspire me. To ideas that open me and remind me to see the universal, the metaphoric.

I wrote a post this morning about history as events and history as interpretation. I tossed it because I lost my way, I lost what I really wanted to say in a forest of complexity. What I wanted to say is simple and that is why I lost it. What I wanted to say was this: I weave my history through the dots I connect, as do you. My history is not pre-wrapped. I crawl into bed each night and assign a story to the events of my day. Was it a good day or bad? Meaningful or insignificant?

There are events. DeMarcus and my grandfather have been gone a very long time. Yet, they are with me everyday. Encouraging me to play and discover. Crack nuts. Open my paint box. Feed the connection. Judy’s batik, a reminder to see the beauty. It’s all around if we care to see it. Connect the dots. Laugh. Dance. Stand sturdy. Weave the story. Weave with intention. Connected.

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

connected/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Make It Flexible Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This is a tale of two quotes. They collided in my brain while I pondered this wacky year, diverging realities, repeated historical patterns, and why I have yet to rake the leaves. You might conclude that I need to relax or that I have too much stuff wafting through my noggin and, as Thom taught me to say, “you might-could” be correct on both counts. Quote #1:

“Sometimes the best way of caring for you soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” ~ John O’Donohue

Kerri is a series photographer. She has dozens of photos of heart shapes found in nature. Heart rocks, heart leaves, heart water stains. Lately she has started two new series: 1) Trains through trees, and 2) Horse poop on the trail. I rarely bring my phone on our walks or I’d inundate you with images of my artist-wife kneeling to get the best poop shot [I’ve been instructed to tell you that the horse poop series is for use in commentary and not merely aesthetic].

I am an artist and given to looking at my world, but Kerri constantly surprises me with what she sees. She opens my eyes to what I might miss: the beauty all around me. If I could give a gift to the world it would be what she gives me: to see beyond what I think I see. We see what we believe – often without question. There is no better way to atrophy the mind/heart/soul than to see only what you believe. “To make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind.” Can you imagine better medicine for what ails our angry, divisive nation?

Quote #2: “Creativeness is finding patterns where none exist.” ~ Thomas Disch

We stopped at IKEA for 20 to pick up some furniture. In the few moments that it took us to run in, pull the boxes, move through the register line, and run out, Kerri took a series of series photographs. IKEA is a gold mine of pattern. There are patterns within patterns. Her love of shooting photos set up for me a dichotomy, a social observation. She came alive finding patterns, capturing patterns, breaking patterns. She climbed over ropes, into shelves, crawled into tight spaces, and wriggled between stacks to get the shot she wanted. The rest of the people in the check-out line were either bored, impatient, or otherwise lost in their minds. For them, waiting-in-line was the only pattern that existed. I laughed at the contrast, the utter vitality of Kerri’s enthusiasm played against the dulled-cart-pushing of the crowd.

Sometimes there is a sea of pattern dancing right before our eyes. It exists. It surprises. It inspires and challenges. Creativeness, the vitality of living, requires nothing more than opening our eyes and engaging the world that sparkles beyond our burdened minds and worn-out belief.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN