Knit It Together [on Two Artists Tuesday]

Bold lines that break the visual plane. Once upon a time it was how I started a painting. Impulsive, reactive, spontaneous slashes that fractured the image and, in my mind, made it more interesting. Those lines gave me a popcorn trail to follow. A hard edge to push against.

Sometimes I think my life’s work can be reduced into a single word: disruption. I was the guy brought in to offer a counterpoint. I am the guy brought in to tell the story that no one wants to speak. What if? Why not? The bold line to break the visual plane. There is always a pattern. There is rarely a problem. Problems incite blame-games. With pattern comes responsibility and the revelation of choice.

John Muir famously wrote, “And into the woods I go to lose my mind and find my soul.” We walk in the woods for the same reason. The circle comes around. The big bold slashes no longer break the visual plane but pull it together.

Mind breaks it. Soul knits it together. Ebb and flow.

Today is a day to walk in the woods.

read Kerri’s blogpost about BLACK TREES

Connect The Dots [on Two Artists Tuesday]

A curious sentiment painted on the concrete support wall of a busy overpass in a burgeoning city. Crumbling cement sidewalks, hard asphalt, steel cable supports securing a post just outside of the picture frame. A message about bridges painted beneath a bridge.

People hustle by as if there was no time to spare. They drive fast over and around the curious sentiment. The painter-of-the-sentiment placed it adjacent to a stoplight. Perhaps, while revving their engine, awaiting the return of the green light, a motorist might turn and read the thought. Perhaps the motorist might breathe it in. Perhaps the motorist might consider the message as they passed beneath the bridge.

What gets you from here to there? From birth to death? Amidst the hard realities of the road, the steel cables, the thoughtless people whizzing passed, the persevering grasses pushing through the cracks in the cement, the litter at your feet? A thirteenth century Sufi poet thought it important enough to write about it. A twenty-first century painter thought it important enough to paint the poem on a wall.

People across time and cultures have thought it necessary to place significant messages on walls. Aspirations and appeals to our better nature. A compass pointing the way for what might be, what exists but goes largely unseen. The primary thing. Every parent knows this bridge beyond the abstraction of a message on the wall. Every time rings are exchanged, vows spoken, the unseen is understood.

The hawk landed on the fence. Kerri met its eyes and they stared at each other for what seemed a very long time. Divisions disappeared. Forms fell away. Life experienced life.

Just try and place a word on that experience! A Sufi-poet tried. A contemporary street artist thought it necessary to paint the sentiment on a hard wall. What bridge connects the poet and the painter?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE BRIDGE

Discover It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

The mist from the falls danced with the sunlight. Waterfall aura. Waterfall halo. We stood in the bands of color and laughed. Full body color tickle.

And then, a hush of utter appreciation. We listened to the chamber music of rushing water over the edge of rock. It was so beautiful there was nothing to be done but to close our eyes. Drink it in. Mist on our faces.

And then, we continued upward. The trail was steep so our steps were slow.

Krishnamurti wrote that, “To find out what is truth there must be great love and a deep awareness of (hu)man’s relationship to all things – which means that one is not concerned for one’s progress and achievements.”

In his book, Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse wrote that for every truth there exists an opposite truth. We humans are largely resistant to grasping both sides of wholeness. We like to be right so we tend to “fix” our half-truth in white-knuckled abstractions. Lost in our minds and paging through our rulebook-for-living, we miss the fullness of our relationship to all that surrounds us.

Standing by the waterfall, slowly climbing the mountain, it was easy to love our relationship to all things. The trail brought quiet to our minds. Each step, moment to moment, a full vibrant discovery of truth.

read Kerri’s blogpost about WATERFALL HALO

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

Feel The Stir [on DR Thursday]

“It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.” ~Henri Matisse

The canoe glided silently through the lily leaves. I counterbalanced the canoe as she stretched over the side to take a photograph. Leaning, I stared down at the leaves. Vibrant color and pattern, Matisse might have painted them. They stirred within me the deep desire to paint, something I haven’t heeded for too long. Nature is a great artist.

The trees surrounding the lake signaled autumn’s imminent arrival. Crimson reds and yellows dotted the shore. Fall paints me melancholy and I felt the first whispers of the coming-sweet-sorrow. Deep quiet. Still water reflection. Hearing rhythms beyond sound. Nature, I am told, is a great healer.

Although I’ve painted all my life I’ve never thought of myself as a painter. For me, painting is not about the image I produce. It is about walking into the dark cave or soaring into the blinding light. Icarus. Nature’s call.

My sister remains confounded that I have not given myself over to the wealth and riches of pet portraiture. Early in my life I was paid-not-well to copy masterworks, alter the colors so they might match a client’s couch. I can paint anything. I can paint like anyone. I left that behind. It was soul draining. I paint to answer Nature’s call, to discover how to paint like myself.

Counterbalancing the canoe, staring at the Matisse leaves, the brilliant white lily, I acknowledged the stir. I promised myself, my easel, like autumn’s imminent arrival, “Soon.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about LILY

icarus © 2008 david robinson

Interpret The Impression [on DR Thursday]

“Art, to me, is the interpretation of the impression which nature makes upon the eye and brain.” ~ Childe Hassam

The eye of the mind. Interpretation of the impression. Imagination. Nature.

This morning Kerri told me that she’s having a stand-off with her piano.

This morning I picked up a box to clear my studio space. I asked myself, “What are you doing?” I set down the box where I found it.

Lately, I’ve been working with an overabundance of business models. Not surprisingly, each addresses the same contemporary challenge: people are having trouble discerning between what is actionable and what is not, what has relevance and what does not. A variation on the theme: focus is hard to come by. Models, I remind myself, are interpretations.

I’ve read that the first evidence of humans making art is found in the funeral rites of our distant ancestors. Decoration? Talisman? Fuel for the trip? An interpretation of life, making peace with the unknowable. Nature makes an impression. Humans respond.

The interpretation-of-the-impression-that-nature-makes points to something essential about art and life: it needs to be shared. It is nothing if not witnessed. We stand in the art gallery and drink it in. We stand at the graveside supplying our fellow traveler for the long journey ahead. We place the crayon drawing on the refrigerator.

Nature makes an impression.We are nature’s impression. Interpreting what that means.

read Kerri’s blog post about IMPRESSIONS

motherdaughter © 2019 david robinson

Give It Perspective [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Awe” is one of those complex words that contains its opposite. Wonder and dread. Astonishment and fear. Respect for the power of nature. Reverence. It’s a full-spectrum word.

Awe is what you feel standing at the ocean shore, knowing the waves will rush in long after you are gone. Water pulling at your ankles. Toes in the sand. Staring into eternity.

Awe is a perspective-giving word. It makes us both tiny-in-the-universe and fortunate-beyond-words, all in the same moment.

Once, I stood on a mountaintop in the bitter cold of dawn. The sun broke over the horizon and washed over me with a wave of warmth. Life-giving. Literally. I stopped shivering when the sun touched my bones. Filled with awe, I started to laugh and cry. Beautiful, magnificent and painful.

We stood on the deck and watched the cloud tower above us. Threatening and astonishing. She showed me the photo. “The wire makes it,” she said holding the screen so I could see it, “It gives it perspective.”

Perspective. Correct regard for the truly awesome power of nature.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TOWERING CLOUD

Live The Words [on Merely A Thought Monday]

We awake each morning to birdsong. I imagine the birds’ song raises the spirit of the sun. Or, the birds sing because the sun raises their spirits. Both are good stories.

When I was in college I had a professor who seemed a bit radical. Now I recognize that he was not radical. He was a scientist and his data was prophetic. He was sounding an alarm for his students, knowing that his students could not yet hear him. He was the first person to introduce me to the notion of climate change. At the time, the world was still smarting from the oil crisis of the 1970’s. One day in class he said, ‘If you think the oil wars are bad, just wait until the water wars.” I heard his voice this morning while looking at photographs of Lake Mead and the river Po. Dwindling water meets rising population. Panic is in the air. In the meantime, Australia is drowning. Desperation is on the rise.

I like to imagine the birds raising the sun while the sun raises the song in the birds. It’s a story of interconnectivity. It’s to understand the question, ‘what causes what?’ – as a two way street. You impact your environment and your environment impacts you. Or, better stated, you and your environment are not separate events. (“The love you take is equal to the love you make.” ~ The Beatles)

Though he never used the word, “interconnectivity” was the construct my seeming-radical professor was asking us to consider. He understood that his students were products of a long tradition of disconnection. A dedicated delusion of dominance over nature ruled our construct and he was attempting to puncture that absurdity bubble. Pour toxins into your river and your water will poison you. Pour carbon into your air and your air will eventually pour carbon into you.

The same applies to governance and society in general. What we pour into it is what we will experience as it. H wrote that, “Politics is simply the exercise of being a good neighbor for the sake of the neighborhood.” Interconnectivity. For the sake of the neighborhood. Demonize your neighbor and they will, in turn, demonize you. Refuse to listen to your neighbors and they will refuse to listen to you. Pour guns into your community and your community will inevitably aim its guns at you. Lie to gain power and the lie will gain power over you.

Pour support, service, acceptance, consideration…into your community and it will respond in kind. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is not so complicated a concept when seen through the lens of interconnectivity. Kindness begets kindness. Acceptance begets acceptance. Honesty begets honesty. Intend it. Practice it.

These are easy words to say. Living the words is quite another story. Unless you happen to be a bird, singing the sun awake as the sun pours its rejuvenating warmth over your song.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THIS DAY AND AGE

Sit In The Quiet [on DR Thursday]

Years ago I directed a production of Into The Woods and I wanted a set design alive with David Hockney colors. The production was gorgeous. The set the designer created was a vibrant fantasyland with the dark undertones wrought by dinosaur-size-too-big foliage. Tiny people in an oversized children’s pop-up book.

If I were going to direct the musical again today, I’d approach it through a different lens. I wouldn’t place it in the vivid palette of fantasyland; this world we journey through is fantastic just as it is. When Kerri and I walk, I am sometimes stunned to silence by the shapes and patterns and pops of color. Ominous and serene. Alive.

For reasons that have nothing to do with reason, I started using imagined leaf shapes, plant-symbols in my paintings. I know when I someday return to my easel, the plant shapes will be present – perhaps even dominant. There is no end to the eye-popping variations. Our walks in nature have me “seeing” again.

A few years ago, Brad and I talked about the deep backstory of why an artist creates. Of course, there’s not a single driving reason – it changes over time as we change over time. I know many artists who’ve set down their brushes, singers who stopped singing. They satisfied their backstory. They channel their creative juices into other forms. Based on the evidence, these days I am a writer. Lately, I spend more time drawing cartoons than painting paintings. And yet, I still think of myself as a painter.

In the past, a step away from the easel was acknowledging a fallow season, letting my batteries recharge. This time, the step away is different. My reasons are spinning, changing. The younger me-artist was finding a place to transform pain into presence. The middle-age-artist-me entered the studio because it was the only place on earth that made sense. It was a sanctuary. A quiet place.

Each day I walk down the stairs and stand for a few moments with the canvas on my easel. It’s a stranger. I hear my easel whisper, “Not yet. Soon.” I am content with soon. I feel as if I am in an extended meditation, borrowing a tradition from Japanese masters, sitting in the quiet until there is no space between me and the brush, no space between me and the motion. No space between me and the shape, the pop of color, the infinite variance of pattern. No space between me and the surprise-of-what-will-happen. No space between me and the story.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TRILLIUM

joy © 2014 david robinson

Fail At The Box [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Among Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements is this gem: do the best that you can.

Through the lens of the Occident, those folks on earth oriented to the idea that their nature is bad and needs taming, the Agreement is a statement of self-forgiveness. Do the best that you can. It’s a good bit of advice when everything on earth seems to come with a measuring stick.

Don Miguel is Toltec so his Four Agreements are rooted in an entirely different understanding of nature. To do the best that you can has little to do with performance or achievement. There’s no judge sitting on the high bench scrutinizing goodness or badness. There’s no book with black marks next to your name. This Agreement is about setting an intention. The other Agreements are about speaking with impeccability, making no assumptions, taking nothing personally. In other words, it’s never about you; you can’t possibly know the reasons why; your words matter. So, do the best that you can.

Circumstances are uncontrollable. Sometimes people are mean. Sometimes the tornado comes through and blows your house away. It’s not personal. You probably can’t do anything to change the tornado and even less to change other people. So, change yourself. Or, better, be yourself. Attend to your story and free yourself from the illusion of living under grand judgment or any of a number of other control fantasies. Do the best that you can.

Lately, I’m pondering the too-tight-image-boxes we squeeze into and try, but can never quite, fulfill. The impossible image; a too tight expectation. The Pleaser. The One Who Knows What Is Right. The Peacekeeper. The Strong One. A step away from the box-expectation, the-role-I-think-I-must-fulfill, is a giant leap into happiness. Inside the box it is virtually impossible to do the best that you can. Boxes are alive with assumptions (what I must do, who I must be); buzzing hives of judgment, and, when in a box, speaking truth is frowned upon, so editing and/or silence rules the day. Just try doing your best when living in a too tight box!

Fear and anger fill boxes. That is, after all, the purpose of the box, the fruit of the impossible mission.

Here’s my advice to myself: fail at the box. Cut it up and put it into the recycle bin. Then, free of the too-tight judgments, it’s possible to set mistake-free intentions. Life as finger painting: do the best that you can.

read Kerri’s blogpost about SOME DAYS