Go On A Fool’s Errand

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“I paint the way some people write their autobiography. The paintings, finished or not, are the pages of my journal, and as such are valid. The future will choose the pages it prefers. It is not up to me to make the choice.” ~ Pablo Picasso

 

 

The further I walk down this life path, the more I identify with this quote. A younger version of me would have thought it interesting but not much more. A younger version of me wouldn’t have admitted to trying to pre-determine the choice for the future; trying to determine what others see. A forgivable fool’s-errand as I am certain I am not alone in my folly.

There is a flip side to my fool’s-errand. There are things I see in the paintings that no one on earth will ever see. I am the channel. It is the privilege of being an artist to express from personal experience what cannot be fully expressed, only approximated. And, in the attempt to fully express the personal (another fool’s-errand!), a common ground is created – art is a universal meeting place, a crossroads. It’s a paradox. It is also a truth: individuals create common ground through the experiences they share and the stories they tell about those experiences. Society is a creation just as a painting is a creation. Society is an expression just as a painting is an expression.

The future will choose the pages it prefers because it will choose the pages it relates to, the pages it understands, the pages that inspire, remind, or give pause.

For me, at this point in my autobiography, it is enough to paint without regard to validity or investment in value of my paintings. It is enough to discover yet another facet of my life as an art-fool on errands .

See Art Everywhere

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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.

Commune With Color

50% OFF ALL PAINTINGS THROUGH MIDNIGHT APRIL 22nd

I always loved gallery openings of my work because they served to remind me how deeply personal a relationship with a painting really is. And, isn’t that the point? For instance, when I first showed my painting, Canopy [featured in a post yesterday], it literally stopped a woman in her tracks. She burst into tears and spent the next hour communing with the painting. Literally communing. I love this story because a few moments before the communing woman entered the gallery, a young couple stood before Canopy and said, “Ooh. I don’t like this one.”

As John once said, “Your job is to paint the paintings, not to determine what people see in them.” True enough.

There are two paintings in my stable that have drawn more attention than any others. By far. They were painted at roughly the same time. They are the same size. Both are acrylic on two panels. Both have shown often, always have multiple inquiries, and always return to the stable. They are favorites to be courted but are always left standing alone at the altar.

Once, when taking them down after a showing, a gallery rep. told me she thought they were abandoned yet again because they were too colorful. “Too Colorful?” I questioned. And she said, “You’re right. That’s not possible.”

DR Thursday

editedcityscape morsel jpeg copy

This is a confession: for these blog posts, for these DR Thursdays, I’m finding the morsels of my paintings – a slice, a small detail – infinitely more interesting than the full painting. It’s not that I don’t love the whole painting, I do. But the morsels are helping me to see the original painting anew. The detail is illuminating the whole. Also, the morsel is spinning my artistic dials. I suspect my visual exploration is about to jump the fence into new pastures.

Kerri calls this morsel Cityscape. It comes from The Bass Player, a painting pulled from the deep recesses of my archive. It comes from a time when I was in love with vibrant color and the work of David Hockney. The Bass Player has lived in galleries, and coffee shops. It hung for many years in a now defunct bar in downtown Seattle.  More people have inquired about this painting than any other horse in my stable but it’s never found a forever home. I’m delighted that through this morsel, Cityscape, my colorful Bass Player has found another moment to step into the light. Who doesn’t need some color-pow! on a Thursday in March?

bassplayer sharpenedhighercontrast copy

The Bass Player, 24″ x 48″

CITYSCAPE merchanise

THIScityscape LEGGINGS copy

cityscape FLOOR PILLOW copy

cityscape FRAMED ART PRINT copy

THE BASS PLAYER reproductions

Purchase the original painting

read Kerri’s thoughts on Cityscape

melange button jpeg copy

kerrianddavid.com

cityscape ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

The Bass Player ©️ 2002 david robinson

Look For The Two Points Of View

My latest. As yet untitled. It’s about dreams and angels.

It is the time of thanks giving in these United States and this week when I say my quiet thanks I will include Horatio in my list. Our conversations are life-giving and art-inspiring. And, best of all, tracking Horatio’s thought path is an utter delight. He is an expansive thinker! Here’s an example from our recent call:

“I’m the last person to really see my work,” I said. “Kerri routinely stops me from ruining paintings. She forces me to leave them alone until I can actually see what I’ve painted.”

Horatio said, “You have a parallax problem.”

I thought to myself (who else would I think to?): Parallax is a great word! The last time he flung that word at me I looked it up. In essence, divergent perspectives when looking at the same thing from two different points of view. You might say our political parties have a parallax problem.

Horatio continued, “All religions say, ‘Love your neighbor.’ All religions say it. Love your neighbor.”

What!? I thought. How did we get to neighbor-love from parallax? Grab the reins and hold on!

“The fundamental human problem is to know yourself.” Horatio said. “And artists confront that problem every moment that they stand in front of the canvas or sit down at the piano. Every moment is an exploration of the self, what you see, what you believe.”

From parallax to loving your neighbor to knowing yourself.

“Self. Other. That’s it!” Horatio continued: “That’s all there is! Isaac Bashevis Singer said that the purpose of literature [he was a writer but you can insert any art form] is to 1) entertain and 2) to educate. IN THAT ORDER! You cannot educate first! Playing matters! Fun matters! You must engage the heart first. It opens the path to the other thing.” [take note all ye test makers and proponents of head-driven education].

Parallax: differing points of view. Love your neighbor: a universal aspiration amidst the raging parallax. Know yourself: the fundamental human problem and the singular pursuit necessary to approach the universal aspiration. Heart first: the only route to all of the above.

“An artist has to play. Experiment. Step across the knowns into the unknowns. Question all of those assumptions. Doubt what they see,” he said.

It’s a beautiful paradox, isn’t it? The route to knowing yourself, the route to loving your neighbor, is to doubt what you think. In fact, it is to realize that the river of nonsense incessantly running through your mind is nothing more than a deflection from actually coming to know your self. It is not to be believed. It is the ultimate fake news. It is a great day when you recognize that your inner monologue is entertainment and not education! It’s a great day when you recognize that you need another person’s perspective in order to know your self. You need it precisely because it differs from what you see. Clear vision requires two points of view. It’s called perspective.  Having two points of view opens the door to questioning. It makes probable the birth of a possibility.

“It’s all about relationship.” Horatio concluded, “Now, the only real question surrounding the artist is, in the midst of all of this navel gazing, in the thick of all of this dedicated pursuit of the self, boundary-crossing-questioning, will your neighbors want anything to do with you? Will they want to have you around at all?!”

Oh, yes. Parallax.

Touch The Arc

A painting I did twenty years ago of my dad.

Years ago I started a portrait of my dad (we call him Columbus) emerging from – or returning to – a cornfield. At the time it seemed an odd painting, something more elemental than intellectual. Something I had to paint though I didn’t really know why. I thought I’d left portrait painting far behind. Columbus is from a very small town in Iowa so the necessity of the cornfield made some small sense. He yearned to live in the town of his birth and although life took him other places he maintained a deep heart-root to Monticello. For Columbus, Monticello, Iowa was and always will be home.

After laying it out, after applying the under painting, the portrait felt complete – or I felt complete. So, I stopped. I have carried it with me all of these years.

These days, dementia has its slippery tentacles around Columbus. He is a mighty combatant in this tug of war, a war that he cannot win, and feeling his strength waning, his single wish was to one last time visit Monticello. So, this past week, Kerri, my mother, and I – as Kerri likes to say – followed Columbus’ heart around Monticello.

His heart took him three places. The first was to the cemetery. It is the place he will finally rest with his brother, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends. He wanted to wander. We followed him as he touched stones and told stories – stories he told to us but for himself: a friend who died too young in a car crash, a kind scoutmaster and mentor, an old girlfriend, a high school pal who flew an airplane and their adventures landing in cornfields. We followed, listening, renewed to the deeper truth that the stories we tell of others, the stories of shared time and experiences, both comic and tragic, when combined, scribe the arc of our own lives. Columbus needed to go to the end place to scribe his arc, to touch the depth and arc of his experiences.

The second place was the house that his grandpa Charlie built. It was the place of his childhood, the place of his greatest freedom, the place where all his stories begin and, now I know, where they return. This house is the cornfield. It is, for Columbus, the font of family and the source of his ideals. It is the symbol of his pride. This small house, with no electricity or running water, no indoor plumbing, this house that was pieced together with found material, smacked together with a handsaw and a hammer, an evolution, this house is Columbus’ holy ground. It still stands, just barely. And although now a storage shed for someone, it holds riches beyond words or measure. Columbus needed to stand in the source of his belief.

Finally, we followed his heart to visit his aunt JoAnne. She is only two years his senior but his aunt never-the-less. She is the last living person to know him through the entire passage of his life. She is his connective tissue, the one capable of affirming that it all happened, that the house and the people in it were exactly as he remembers, that this life, although only a minute long, is bottomless in the love that they share. They are the burning point of family, the front line. When we left her, Columbus and JoAnne hugged and cried, saying to each other but not for a moment believing it, “I’ll see you again.”

Stories told at the end place. Stories told from the beginning place. Stories told that connect the places. Columbus counts himself a lucky man. He knows with absolute certainty the trinity of places that hold his life/story. Sitting on the porch he (once again) taught me that stories – lives – are like a river and the flow transcends a single life. He just taught me that the story, a good life, like the painting, is never really complete.

 

Be An Instrument Of Peace

I asked Kerri which of my recent paintings most accurately represented me as an artist. I was building a new website and wanted my home page to highlight a single painting. Without hesitation, she said, “The one titled, He’s A Stubborn Pain In The Ass.” I’d have protested but I knew my protests would be drowned out by her gales of laughter.

When she could breathe again, she said, “Use ‘An Instrument Of Peace.’ It’s the painting that best defines you as an artist. It’s what you bring.”

I am always excited to enter the studio to work because, for me, it is a place of peace. It is THE place of peace. And, as such, it is the place of clarity. When painting, my mind is silent. Peace is a quiet place. It is dynamic, immediate.

It’s a paradox that I enjoy. Peace is more practical than paradise. It lives beyond the turmoil of story and ideals and points of view and resistance. It lives beyond thinking and striving in any form. It is methodical-miraculous.

Horatio and I have often talked of entering the studio and disappearing into work, of becoming present. In other words, we stop ‘becoming’ entirely and simply ‘be.’ The epicenter of the paradox: creating in the absence of striving. It sounds like an ideal, doesn’t it? It sings like an impossible hippie aspiration or a Bob Dylan lyric. The Buddhists have a shorthand phrase for this practical peace: chop wood, carry water. In other words, it is not found in what you do. It is enlivened by how you are within what you do.

Krishnamurti wrote that if you want peace in the world you first must be peaceful. The phrase, Be Peaceful, is appropriately redundant: you will be peaceful if at first you learn to BE.

The trick, as someone once taught me, is to make all the world my studio. After all, it is not the place, not the studio. It is me. I can’t think of anything I’d rather bring to the world than to create as an instrument of peace, to –maybe- be an instrument of peace.

The new website: davidrobinsoncreative.com