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

Overflow With Artistry [On Two Artists Tuesday]

Sitting amidst the boxes that currently fill my studio space, I realized that I’m rolling into the third year since I’ve completed a painting. I’ve been staring at the same canvas set on my easel for a very long time. Broken wrists, the pandemic, another broken wrist, lost jobs and economic free fall initiated an era of blank canvases.

I’ve done this almost every day for two years. I stand at the edge of the boxes. I look at the large canvas layered with undertones of red, covered with layers of tissue, preparing the ground for the image. Charcoal sketch marks barely visible, images I drew and wiped away. I suppose it’s not accurate to say the canvas is blank.

My sketchbook is closed. It sits on the table next to the easel. If I opened it, on the last pages, I would find rough sketches for the painting. Ideas in rude pencil scribbles.

Memory is an organizing principle. A story plot line. We make sense of today based on how we organize our memories into a tellable tale. Looking at the canvas is like looking into a mirror and I ask myself what made me pick up a pencil the very first time. The small-boy-me was seeking. “Running or seeking?” I ask. My studio has always served as a sanctuary. A place where I found quiet, made sense of the chaotic world. “Running or seeking?” I ask again.

Staring at the canvas I should feel loss but I don’t. Each morning, Kerri and I sit next to each other and write. This is the 232nd consecutive week that, five days a week, we’ve written together. She edits what I write, makes suggestions, and I do the same for her. We produce a cartoon every week. For my work I’m also drawing a series of cartoons that, after I script and draw final drafts, I hand them off to Kerri. She digitizes them and, quite literally, adds elements that improves them. I’m not empty of artistry but full to overflowing. I no longer need to retreat to enter my sanctuary.

It’s hard to know where my work ends and hers begins. They are ours. A perfect collaboration. Two as one.

Last week we had a fence installed. Invasive neighbors, throwing rocks at Dogga, lobbing toys into our pond, we’d finally had enough. The fence felt like reclamation of space. The impact was immediate. We hadn’t realized how completely the space invaders – like broken wrists and job losses, had interrupted every rhythm and pattern of our life. Basking in our space – our space – Kerri started to laugh and point. Two birds, lawn art purchased in a small town on our long drive from Seattle, always in our yard but always barely seen, we’d hastily placed them next to the new fence. “Two birds, one shadow,” she said, jumping up to snap a photo.

“Two birds. One shadow,” I repeated her words. I’ll take it as an affirmation. A new fence. A new era. All the world is my studio. My sanctuary. It’s what the small-boy-me was seeking all along.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TWO AS ONE

Note The Beautiful [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

There is a genius in simplicity.

Lately, one of the conversations swirling around me, a conversation I very much appreciate, is about beauty. What is a beautiful building? What makes a software beautiful? Certainly, beauty is subjective though I suspect a sunrise over the ocean is beautiful to all. A baby’s smile. A first kiss.

We are surrounded by noisy advertisements telling us what is (and what is not) beautiful. By this standard, most of us fall into the not-beautiful category. Though, deep down, we know, that the real test of beauty is not in what is concealed but in what is revealed. A warm heart is more potent than skin creme or make-up.

My niece had a birthday yesterday. She is on this earth to help people. She is creating a beautiful life. She probably doesn’t know it – and, that’s a mark of true beauty – it doesn’t need to call attention to itself.

Every collaboration I’ve had with MM was beautiful. We had fun. We explored ideas. We have nothing but respect for each other. We’ve made each other better people, better artists. When I revisit any one of the many projects we created together, I smile and feel rivers of gratitude and pride. A memory that inspires a smile is the very definition of beauty. It brings the goodness of the past into the present moment. Light travels.

20 is a master of the beautiful because he knows the power of simplicity. A heart shape torn from a piece of paper – acknowledging grief that goes beyond words. A construction paper bow. He’s not forgotten the lessons he learned in kindergarten. Laughter, he knows, is the most beautiful gift of all and we receive it from him weekly.

What makes a design beautiful? Aspen leaves shimmering in fall. I’ve stood in front of paintings by Picasso, Matisse, John Singer Sargent…and cried. They were so beautiful. I’ve held Kerri’s hand, walking on a trail, and wanted the moment to never end. Simple.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE BOW

Do The Double-Double [on DR Thursday]

Kerri moved through the gallery as if on a photo shoot. Capturing light, shapes in architecture, I loved that she turned the opening into something other than a stuffy social event. For her, the art-occasion was an opportunity to make art. Double-double.

Since moving to Wisconsin I’ve not shown my paintings – other than online. I had paintings splashed across Seattle every day for over a decade. Showing had lost its luster. Plus, my paintings tend to be large; they require a truck and some serious effort to move and hang and remove. Plus, my Seattle studio was on the 4th floor. Large paintings didn’t fit in the elevator.

Also, I couldn’t show. There’s a harsh financial cliff to monitor when your healthcare is through the ACA. Go a single dollar over the allotted amount and we’d have been taxed into oblivion. So, to show was to court bankruptcy. It was best – safer – to roll up the canvas and hide the paintings in the basement. When friends asked, “Why don’t you show your work?” my pat response was, “I live in the United States.” A conversation stopper every time.

It was a symbolic gesture that I needed to make when I was finally free from the ACA cliff. I entered a painting in a local show. We went to the opening to see one of my pieces, too long in the basement, hanging on a gallery wall. And, my favorite symbolic-detail? The painting I entered is titled Unfettered. Double-double.

unfettered © 2018 david robinson

Scare Yourself Silly [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

Our house is old and, when I first moved in, I had to learn to discern the many sounds an old house can make. Two sounds in particular woke me each night and sent visions of intruders dancing through my imagination. The first was the clunk of the radiator. The second was BabyCat walking around upstairs. Our heavy-footed cat sounded like a man in boots walking from room to room. I woke Kerri more than once with my startled, “What’s That?”

“It’s the cat,” she’d laugh, and roll over.

Sometimes the radiator still gets me. There’s very little warning. The creeeeak sounds like a foot on a floorboard. And, since it is my job to fetch the midnight snack, in a creaky old house, deep into the dark and cold of an October night, the creeeak-clunk is resonate with the slide-thump of scary stories from my youth. I have a vivid imagination. I can scare myself silly.

Happy Halloween.

read Kerri’s SMACK-DAB blog post

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Try To Explain [on Merely A Thought Monday]

It’s nearly impossible to explain. I’ve had the conversation a thousand times and I know it’s fruitless from the outset. Why did I choose a life without a safety net? A life with stability and benefits? Why was I willing to work 80 hour weeks for not-very-much-pay? I’ve heard more than once that “Artists are indulgent.” Or, “Artists are fools.”

Maybe. I’ll never know because it is impossible to explain to someone who operates from a different imperative. I’ve thought myself foolish more than a few times, and, usually, when I measure myself by the standards of 9-to-5.

For me, like all the artists I know and admire, there has never been a distinct line between work and play. Given any amount of free time, I’d rather be in the studio than anywhere on earth. When I was directing plays and running theatre companies, I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and get back to work. The time between productions or studio time, what most people call “vacation,” was-and-is meant to catch up on sleep and fill up the well for the next project. Often, this thing called ‘vacation’ was an opportunity to visit museums, drink in art/inspiration or stand in a castle or sit in the city where the next play is set.

For most of my life, even before I really thought about artists or artistry, vacation involved a sketchbook. I sat in the back of the station wagon and drew Colonel Sanders from the bucket of chicken or tried to copy a photo from the National Geographic magazine. Fun and play involved a deep dive into the world I could create/discover through a pencil on blank pages.

I can spend hours sitting and watching people. Small dramas. Gestures. Manipulations. Kindnesses. A little burst of love that would otherwise go unnoticed. Traveling for work meant time spent in airports, a goldmine of observation-time. Work or play?

Perhaps that is why there is no line between work and play. I see it in Kerri, too. We are constantly noticing. Paying attention to what is beautiful or interesting. Feeling what is needed and what is not. We’ve talked endlessly about being empathic. Feeling what others feel. I’ve watched Kerri walk into a rehearsal and “know” where there is pain, where there is joy, know when she needs to wrap some humor around a bruised community. Many years ago, a wise-old-artist told me that I had to learn to distinguish between what was my “stuff” and what was not. What were my feelings and what was not. Sage advice. I’ve been witness to many artists imploding, carrying other people’s garbage as their own.

When we walk, Kerri takes photographs. “I’m sorry,” she says, stooping to focus on a leaf or stone. Why does she apologize for noticing? Here’s a hint: all of her life she’s been asked to explain why she stops to notice. What value can there possibly be in stopping forward motion, especially in a world hell-bent on “getting there faster.” What is the value-proposition of noticing? “Can you please explain why you have to stop and see and, of all things, make it into music?” Or a story. Or a painting. Or a dance.

“Why did you climb that tree?” the adults asked. “It’s where I write poetry,” she explained. Work or vacation? Is it play?

Every Saturday we go through Kerri’s photos from the week and choose five as prompts for our Melange. We collect phrases we hear, words that inspire or disturb. Those end up in the Melange, too. Are we working? Is this play? We delight in sitting each day and writing together. We laugh at our Smack-dab cartoon. They are fun to write and draw and color. None of this makes us any money. Is it work or is it vacation?

I’m currently drawing cartoons and tossing thought-bombs into a community of software entrepreneurs – the boss understands that I notice things and can translate what I notice into other shapes and expressions. Is there value in that? Is it work? Is it play? Will it make money?

Are there possibly other measures of value?

It’s nearly impossible to explain.

read Kerri’s blog post about VACATION

Go To The Mountains [on DR Thursday]

For Mike, it was the ocean that called. For me, it was the mountains. When Columbus passed, more than a service, more than any gathering, I needed a walk in the mountains. I needed the quiet of aspen, the smell of pine. A moment in time, time that keeps moving through the monumental and the everyday. The trees and stream were here before I was born and they will be here after I am gone. I went to the mountains for perspective.

I am working with brilliant people. We are developing something that we hope will help people. Our conversations are genuine. Our intentions are pure. And, yet, how easily do we get lost in the minutiae. How often do we spin out into abstraction. Right now I have a unique perspective on life. I am in no hurry to get anywhere. I easily let go of my end of the rope in any potential tug-of-war. Will what we create actually help others? That is like asking, “Will they like my painting?” That is not for me to decide. Mine is to paint it. All I know is that our conversations are genuine. Our intentions are pure. None of the rest really matters.

I’ve decided to put two paintings into a local show. I’ve only shown and sold online since moving to Wisconsin eight years ago. I was tired. Before I moved, I had paintings in galleries or office spaces or bars or restaurants every single day for over a decade. I was moving or mailing paintings all of the time (and my paintings are mostly large). Once, I took 15 paintings, loaded on a cart, on the light rail. I arranged for a truck that did not show up and I had to deliver the paintings that day, within a specified time-window. I wheeled 15 large paintings down the street, onto an elevator and maneuvered them onto the train. The train-police came to make sure I meant no harm. We had a nice chat and I showed them my work. We laughed heartily at my delivery method. I wheeled them off the train and through a neighborhood to the gallery. “I’ll never do that again,” I said to the train-police when I wheeled my empty cart back onto the light rail. It all seemed so necessary, important.

A specified time-window. We only have so much time. The clock is ticking. The funds may run out. Will we get there in time? Will our/my work matter? Is the message clear? What is the message? What am I willing to do and not do?

And, so, I went to the mountains for perspective.

read Kerri’s blog post about PERSPECTIVE

Chasing Bubbles © 2019 David Robinson

Attend To The Quiet [on KS Friday]

My studio is a place of quiet. Inside and out. It is the place where I go – where I’ve always gone, when I need to recenter myself of exit the crazy-brain. Lately, my studio has been blown to bits. Water has been a near constant invader, either from the ceiling when the pipe broke in the spring or from the floor when roots clogged the sewer main. Twice. It seems as if water wants me to take a break from painting. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Each time the water rises, the paintings rise, too. We scramble to move everything up the stairs. Mostly, they are stored on blocks so live protected above the rising tide – but pulling up carpet or clearing space for the plumbers has meant a perpetual studio deconstruction. Kerri stubbed her toe – okay, broke her toe – on one of the bigger paintings that now populate our sitting room. It’s a maze of paintings out there. Yet, she is wise. She’s insisting that we leave the paintings where they are, scattered here and there. At least for now. At least until we can clear out and rethink our space.

Kerri is much more sound sensitive than I am. I am much more spatially sensitive than she is. The sign on our deck, “Shh” addresses her need for sound-quiet. It’s all about space-quiet for me. Space-quiet means open space. It’s been that way all of my life: if there’s too much stuff, I shut down.

The water, as it turns out, is trying to tell me something. Lately, when I go down into the blasted-apart-and-now-empty-studio-space, I can breathe. I feel it every time I descend the stairs. I breathe. My space had become too impacted. Too many paintings, too many tables, too little space. “Shh.”

I’ve often written about the time, after I moved to Seattle, that I burned most of my paintings. I needed space. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was tired of hauling and storing paintings. I didn’t know what else to do. I needed air and fire brought it to me.

And, so, the water pours from the ceiling. It bubbles up through the floors. Again. What feels like a catastrophe comes with a cautionary message. No fire is needed this time. To attend to the space is to attend to the quiet. Stop. “Shh.” Breathe.

SILENT DAYS on Kerri’s album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL, available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about SHH.

silent days/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

Look Again [on DR Thursday]

I’m not sure when I started using floral shapes and imagery in my paintings. There was Sam The Poet and Eve, trees as symbol.

Sam The Poet, acrylic, 48 x 48IN
Eve, acrylic on hardboard, 48 x 48IN

I know my sketchbooks began filling up with flower shapes and symbolic landscapes. Petals appeared throughout my Yoga Series. Leaf and flower shapes found their way into the bodies as well as the surrounding spaces.

Joy, mixed media, 50 x 56IN

I played with tissue paper over color as a ground for the images. When Tony recently visited my studio, he said my paintings were sculptural, visually commanding. I wrote his words on a scrap of paper since artists are mostly terrible at describing their work. He is an artist so he knows that the proper answer to the question, “Tell me about your work?” is “Go look at it and then you tell me about my work.” He didn’t ask the question; he went straight to the looking.

Tango With Me, mixed media, 39 x 52IN

We walked down a path at sunset. Kerri saw the sunflowers and I knew a photo op had arrived. “You should use this as your Thursday post,” she said, showing me her photo, “because your paintings always have flowers in them.”

Well, good enough, then. Sunflowers, shape and symbol, will find their way into the next painting, I’m sure of it.

read Kerri’s blog post about SUNFLOWERS

copyrights for all paintings in this post, 2010 – 2021, david robinson

Evolve And Laugh Heartily [on Merely A Thought Monday]

I find the notion of evolution to be hopeful. Evolution of species. Evolution of consciousness. I assume in my wild idealism that the evolution is toward betterment. Reading Ken Wilber’s thoughts on our chaotic and troubled post-truth times, we are, he suggests, in the throes of an evolutionary step. Evolution is not a smooth stepping dance. It’s more a stumbling forward drunkard.

Last week I posted about the lake in my studio and how the clean up facilitated a life-work review. I was surprised by how many notes I received from life-long friends asking me not to burn my paintings this time. I’d forgotten that, after my move to Seattle, I took most of my paintings and drawings to a fire pit on a beach and burned them. I had so much work that it took three days to complete the purge. That life-work-review ended in fire. This latest life-work-review began with water. I actually loved, post flood, going through my paintings. The paintings that went to the fire felt like a burden, a weight. From heavy burden to love; not a bad progression in my personal stutter-stepping evolution.

We drove to Colorado last October to see my parents. In his dementia, my dad cast me in the role of his college roommate and took me on a tour of the basement. We stopped in front of a large photograph taken at his parents 50th wedding anniversary celebration, a photo of the whole clan. He pointed to my twenty year old face in the photograph and said, “Now, I don’t believe you ever met this one.” It was true. As I listened to his description, I had the overwhelming feeling that he was right. Later, I returned to the photograph and visited that version of myself. I thought, “I think dad’s right. I don’t believe I ever met this one.”

The months that followed set the stage for my flood-inspired-work-review. I’ve discovered that I am more apt to be kind, more given to the positives, than I was a decade ago. Evolution has softened me. Or, opened me.

I’m not alone in reaching back, in sifting through the evolutionary drunken stumble to the present. This pandemic era serves as a marker-in-time as well as a great disrupter of pattern and path. It has inspired many a life review among those in my circle. Together, we ask the questions that have no answers, Quinn’s big three: Who am I? Where am I going? What is mine to do?

There are no answers but from time-to-time it’s necessary to ask.

There’s a fourth question that kept Quinn in stitches every time I asked it. What’s it all about? He’d howl and snicker and snort whenever the question came up. I am now the age he was when that younger version of me sat in his study and wrinkled my brow, disconcerted at his hearty laugh. Now, I know without doubt what’s so funny. I find myself laughing to tears when I hear the un-answerable-fourth-question. It’s about what you make of it as your illusion drops away in the course of your own personal evolution.

What else?

read Kerri’s blog post about EVER EVOLVING