See Two [on Merely A Thought Monday]

 nature of life box copy

 

“Birth is painful and delightful. Death is painful and delightful. Everything that ends is also the beginning of something else. Pain is not a punishment; pleasure is not a reward.”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

I am fond of symbols. A horizontal line bisecting a vertical line. Two triangles interlocked to create a star. A black and a white swirl,  coupled to form a circle and each containing a dot of the other. All symbols of opposing forces interconnected and counterbalancing.

It is a story of two. Spirit and body. Male and female. Inhale and exhale. The pull of the moon rolling the tide in and out. Birth and death.

Most of us live our lives in abstraction, that is, generally removed from the push-pull of nature. Electric light. Hot and cold running water. Food picked from a grocery store shelf. Our trash easily goes to the curb and disappears.

We do not see that life eats life. We rise with the alarm rather than the sun. Perhaps that is why we engage in the ridiculous debate over whether or not we the have impact on the environment. We somehow have deluded ourselves into thinking we are not part of nature or worse, that we are above it. Our actions do not matter. Isolated, we somehow have come to live in a disembodied story of one.

Kerri and I walk almost every day. We often walk the same trails through Bristol woods or the Des Plaines river trail. We walk them through every season. The barren snowy winter, the budding spring, the full leaf of summer, the color and fall of autumn. As we cycled through the seasons on our trails, I am reminded that these symbols were always meant to help us live and understand life here and now, to engage fully in the dance between the natural forces, the story of the two. Interconnected. Counterbalanced. A part of. The middle way.

It is only when these symbols are mis-taken within the story of one that they become warring emblems. Self-righteous. Inert and other-wordly. Out of balance. Domineering.

Tornadoes are impersonal. Forest fires are not discerning. The tsunami does not pick its direction. The sun melts the snow without ire. Judgment has not place in a story of two. Building up. Tearing down. Sunrise. Sunset.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BUILDING UP & TEARING DOWN

 

 

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Reach Back [on DR Thursday]

prometheus resurrection morsel copy

Artists are constantly reaching backward and forward through time. They daily pay visits to the work of the masters. They periodically revisit their own past creations. Their work sends ripples of inspiration and opportunity far into the future.

When Beethoven was young he wrote a ballet called The Creatures of Prometheus. It calls for a legion of dancers and is way too big for most contemporary ballet companies to attempt. Contemporary symphonies, on the other hand, desire to play the music because Beethoven, for the rest of his life, reached back into his ballet, mining for musical phrases, developing some of the phrases into his most famous work.

How to play the music from a ballet written in 1801 as a symphonic piece in 2009?

Yaacov Bergman, the visionary and laughter-filled director of the Portland Chamber Orchestra had an idea. Why not tell the story of the ballet. A storytelling would provide the connective tissue, weaving the music together into a cohesive symphonic performance. Because Beethoven wrote a ballet, 207 years later, I had the great good fortune to write and perform the story of The Creatures of Prometheus with the PCO.

And, since we were crossing time boundaries, why not cross a few artistic genres, too.  Yaki hired artist Liz Gil-Neilson to paint and produce a visual storytelling that was projected during the performance. Music, storytelling, contemporary visual art. Ripples, ripples, everywhere.

But, that was not enough. Since I am also a visual artist, Yaki asked that I translate my story into a visual statement. So, I painted three large canvases (Creation, Garden, Resurrection), one for each movement of the symphony, that hung with Liz’s original images during run of the symphony at the George Broderick Gallery in Portland.

Reaching forward. Reaching back. Today, more than a decade after our collaboration, I mine my experiences and paintings for inspiration. As new collaborations arise, as I stand at the base of a new series of seemingly impossible tasks, I’m fortunate to have my Creatures of Prometheus to remind me of the possibilities. They nudge me forward.  Like Beethoven, I reach back into my past work to find a path forward.

It makes me smile to know that in 1801 Beethoven, with a quill pen and ink, scribbled notes at his desk and those scribbles turned into dances and symphonies that inspired stories and paintings and a wacky multi-media collaboration (a phrase that did not exist during his lifetime). And more: a morsel image digitally altered for a blog post written on a computer keyboard. Pen and ink are hard to come by. Reaching backward. Reaching forward.

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Prometheus morsel

 

arches shadows k&d website box copy

 

prometheus resurrection ©️ 2008 david robinson

De-Compress [on Two Artists Tuesday]

nature's stripes copy

I had no intention of writing about white rot fungi. I never imagined myself in the course of my lifetime writing or even being interested in white rot fungi. In fact, in scholarly terms, I have no business writing about it. But, here I am. White. Rot. Fungi.

I live in the age of the internet and Google. I remember the moment in the mid 1990’s that I realized the world had changed! I was doing research for a play about Joan of Arc and, instead of using the card catalogue and spending days in the library scouring the stacks, I was trying this new thing called ‘the internet.’ In a matter of moments, I found the complete transcript of Joan’s trial. The actual notes from the actual scribe that sat in the room in the 15th century during that very political/religious trial! The scribe’s notes were typed for my consumption, digitized, and available for my 20th century eyes. Information-gathering was suddenly so easy! Then, I discovered the notes for the 2nd trial! Ten years after burning Joan at the stake they reconsidered their decision and admitted a mistake. It was also, no doubt, a very political/religious trial; the making of a saint! Days of dedicated research compressed into a few hours of poking around. It was a kind of miracle. I reached through time and a scribe handed me his meticulous notes. “Do not judge us,” he whispered.

And, so, white rot fungi. Kerri shot this gorgeous photograph (she calls it ‘nature’s stripes’) and we chose it as a prompt for our studio melange. This morning, wondering what to write about nature’s stripes, I asked myself, “What’s all over that nurse log?” In less time than it took to find Joan’s second trial I had my answer. It digests dead wood.

The name, white rot fungi, a collection of words, does not do poetic justice to this species. It is the vital middle stage in a snapshot of the life cycle. On the left, the vibrant green shoots of new life, spring. The middle: a nurse log, a fallen tree, providing food for the fungi. And on the right, the brittle brown leaves returning to the soil, nutrient for the next new growth. A hundred year cycle captured in a single image.

This photograph is also a compression, making it possible for me to easily see an unimaginable life cycle. Yet another miracle. Yet another way to reach through time and see.

I forgot how difficult it once was. Finding facts. Blowing dust from pages made it somehow more important to check the data. Reaching through time to a reader in the 25th century, I whisper, “Don’t judge us. It happened so fast, this enamoring of the easy, this nonchalance of meaning, this indifference to information”.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE’S STRIPES

read Kerri’s blog post about White Rot Fungi

 

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pray now/john’s secret ©️ 2010 david robinson

See Art Everywhere

50% OFF ALL PAINTINGS THROUGH APRIL 22nd

Together we read the local paper every morning. Yesterday there was an essay from the executive director of a new ‘creative space’ making a case, financial and otherwise, for why the community should value and support the arts. Everything he wrote was true. Everything he wrote has already, as Kerri likes to say, fallen into the moat.

Fifteen years ago I might have written that essay. I am an artist and need no case made for the necessity and essential nature of “the arts.” However…. In a past life I consulted with schools and many times found myself in the position of lobbying the school board to support arts programs. I jumped up and down making a case for the arts and rarely achieved my desired result. Until, one day, a word-angel grabbed my tongue and instead of using that mystical word “arts,” I replaced it with the phrase “experiential learning.” Doors blew opened. Angels sang. Kids made movies, painted paintings, held poetry slams, wrote musicals, made plays…came alive. And learned.

Our mistake is “to make a case” for the arts. Our mistake is to define it narrowly, relegate it to museums. It is not a separate thing. It is everything. It is everywhere. The design of our cars and blenders is an aesthetic as well as an engineering process. The apps on our phones (the very design of our phones) requires artistic as well as technical skill. Every piece of marketing that clogs our streams requires an artistic sensibility. We live in age of narrative, of artificial intelligence, of imagination run rampant. We story ourselves on Facebook and Instagram and share our pins on Pinterest. Step back and listen to the competing narratives we call The News. Listen not to the content of the question but how it is asked; these things are not accidental, they are designed, targeted to influence and move our imaginations. The “arts” are not lofty nor dusty, they are throbbing, vibrant, and central to every nuance of our lives. Why do we insist on  keeping them in such a tiny little box?

Stephen asked me more than once, “Why don’t people value the arts?”  He is a prolific painter, brilliant, and exhausted from living on the margins. “They do,” I’d say, “they just don’t know it.”

Kerri and I said goodbye to a few more paintings yesterday. They found their right home and that is more than gratifying.  It is the moment of completion of the painting (or the play or the composition…or the car, couch, and coffee mug) when it finds an audience or its home. It’s a life cycle, deeply connected. It is everything. It is everywhere.