Dissolve And Do [on DR Thursday]

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

“A writer writes. A painter paints.” Wise words from Tom. It was a mantra and his patent response when asked how one becomes an artist. I imagine Tom learned this wisdom from DeMarcus. DeMarcus certainly learned it from his mentor. Artistic ancestor to descendent, the quality that makes an artist is the practice. Nothing more. Ask me what makes an artist and you will hear what I learned from Tom.

There’s a special, hidden layer in this mantra. Someday, if you are a lucky artist, you stop thinking of yourself as an artist. The role dissolves in the doing. It no longer matters how others see you or the label you apply to yourself. It’s nice to separate yourself from the herd yet service to the herd is the point. That, I am coming to understand, is the moment that artistry fulfills itself. A deep trust ensues. No blue ribbon or large sale or shiny prize will change the essential. No outside eye or opinion or judgment or praise alters the fact in the least. A writer writes. A painter paints.

How do you pursue an artistic life? We take walks and pay attention. French blue sky and early tree blossom. And then, each day, as is our practice, we write or draw or compose.

read Kerri’s blogpost about TREE BLOSSOM

Newborn, 48x32IN, mixed media

newborn © 2019 david robinson

View The World [on DR Thursday]

Dogga is a wrecker of backyards. He’s a destroyer of pristine spaces. His joyful enthusiasm propels him in rapid circles and his circles have become etchings in our smallish yard. Initially, we tried to cover his etching path in stone. Were you to visit you’d find flat stones covering a wide spiral around the pond, his first velodrome. To no avail. He is a living Spirograph, a dervish of delightful circles. Viewed from the air, I’m certain our backyard smacks of alien visitation, mysterious crop circles.

We’ve learned. Rather than resist nature, attempt to control it or cover it up, it’s a much better plan to work with it. I knew we’d crossed a thought-bridge the day Kerri suggested we install a round-about sign. We had to be direction-correct so we bought one for right-sided drivers. The details matter. If Dogga was to suddenly switch and run in the opposite direction we’d have to issue a citation or get a new sign.

If there is a devil in the details there must also be an angel. As I’ve previously noted, I am not naturally a detail-guy; my head is at home in the clouds. I’m conceptual and can see great distances. It’s why metaphors are my currency, movement and pattern my friends. Please do not ask me to write a grant or make sense of the world through a spreadsheet. I can. I have, mostly out of necessity. But the cost to my soul is mighty. Luckily, as this great world spins, and the draw to a comfortable center is the force-at-play, I’m currently surrounded by teachers-of-detail, Kerri and Dogga are my favorite two but there are many in my circle. Angels, all.

Kerri runs to show me the photo she’s just taken. A close-in shot. A texture. A bud. An entire world in minutiae. See the beauty in the detail. For me, that’s the passage to the center. There’s entire universes to be found in the smallest detail. The up-in-the-clouds and close-in are relative terms. There’s a whole other worldview available from the grasses.

Lay on the ground and the Dogga will run circles of joy around you, his center point. There’s nothing better and that’s the kind of detail that’s not to be missed.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FROM THE GROUND UP

face the rain © 2019 david robinson

Break It [on KS Friday]

Breaking space with a line changes the dynamic of the entire composition. I played with those dynamics for years. Vertical breaks. Horizontal lines that read like confused measure bars, segments of inconsistent time. Sometimes the lines tilted and pulled to the past. Sometimes they leaned into the future, urging the image forward. All of those interpretations were, of course, in my mind; I have no idea how others interpreted the lines on my canvases.

We are in the season of fog. Sometimes it’s so dense that we stand on the rocks and cannot see the water. Lake Michigan is hard to hide! The fog is a worthy magician.

The fog-magician also has the capacity of pressing three dimensional objects into seeming flat two dimensional images. The sudden silhouetting of the world pulls Kerri out onto the deck every time. “Can you believe it?” she asks, grabbing her camera and stepping through the door and into the fog. Dogga and I watch. We are happy in three dimensions and resist the call of stepping into flatland.

When she returns to our dimension, she shows us her photographs. “I love this one because the wire made a line,” she says. “It breaks the image.”

I smile. Vertical breaks in the composition. I say, “It reads like an abstract painting.” Three dimensions becoming two, a line breaking space, capping or pulling or simply interrupting.

Jackson Pollock believed his paintings were recordings of movement. Paint dancing. Who really knows how others interpret his paintings. Beyond the curator or art historian, who cares, really? The relationship between art and audience is meant to be direct, pure. No third party interpretation necessary.

“What do you think?” she asks.

“I love it,” I say. “It makes me want to paint.”

kerri’s albums are available on iTunes & streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blogpost about FOG

when the fog lifts/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Look Out The Window [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I came down the stairs, having just finished work for the day, and found her staring out of the bedroom window. “You have to come see this!” she said.

Atop John and Michele’s house, hundreds of birds, starlings, jockeying on the roof, taking turns diving into the gutters. And then, in heartbeat, the entire murmuration whirled as one into the sky. The visual impact of their singular launch nearly knocked us over.

And then, they were in the trees and swooping down to the pond. We ran to the sunroom where we could see the backyard. Dozens and dozens of birds and, we realized, not just starlings, great-tailed grackles were in the mix. The starlings, apparently late for a date or not willing to wrestle the grackles, swirled into the sky and disappeared, leaving the great-tails to enjoy the pond.

For a few moments it was like watching a bird ballet. The pulse of bird dancers, rising and falling in groups to the water, according to a symphony that we could not hear but could see in their choreography. And then, like the starlings, in a heartbeat, they were gone.

We looked at each other to confirm that we actually saw what we just saw. No dream or hallucination. It happened and we were lucky enough to look in the right direction at the right moment.

It’s not that it’s rare. This ballet happens all day, everyday. It’s rare that we are privy to the performance or are captured by the play happening around us.

“What if I hadn’t looked out the window?” Kerri asked.

read Kerri’s blogpost about STARLINGS AND GRACKLES

Stack The Impossible [on Merely A Thought Monday]

We watched the video of Jaxon climbing the ladder of the red plastic slide. His momma said, “Is that your big boy slide?” Jaxon said, “Big boy slide.” Pandemonium. “He said it!” his father exclaimed, “I think he said it!”

Big boy slide. A first phrase. The moment when what’s necessary becomes what’s possible. It’s something we take for granted every day. The utter impossibility of spoken language. Sounds uttered in sequence that somehow make sense. Of course, we’re also quite capable of stringing together sounds that make nonsense, too. Soon, Jaxon will ask his parents for the keys to the car and a wholly different kind of pandemonium will let loose. From climbing a ladder to driving the Volvo. The impossibilities stack one upon the other.

My mother is adjusting to life without my dad. She says often, “I don’t think I can take it, this loneliness.” She is doing what is necessary. In our last chat, she spoke of playing pickleball, of taking a walk, of meeting a friend for tea. Moving with intention out of the apartment to meet other people. The moment when the necessary becomes what’s possible. She will, I am confident, live her way into the impossible.

The impossible rarely happens in a snap. We live our way into it. Jaxon’s pronouncement and subsequent trip down the big boy slide was a long time coming, a step in the process worthy of celebration. And then, the miracles will keep coming. Full sentences. He’ll learn to write. Someday he’ll write love letters and drive the car to pick up his date. He’ll ask someone to marry him. The art of the impossible. This life.

And, the most amazing of the impossibilities, as we stack our lives with the formerly inconceivable, we grow less and less capable of seeing it. Perhaps that is necessary? How would we exist if we saw each other as keepers of the impossible? Experiencers of the unimaginable?

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE IMPOSSIBLE

Turn Toward It [on KS Friday]

This is what he wrote. “The irony I feel is that the world is lost on the artistic temperament of these students.  They don’t seem awake to all that’s going on.” He’s directing teenage students in a play. He was my student thirty five years ago and reached out to me. We compared notes of the production I directed when he was a teenager, and the production he’s directing now. The world has changed mightily. His production will be viewed through a wholly different lens.

I flipped his phrase over in my mind. Artistry is to be awake to all that’s going on. And, awake is not a steady state. It’s not an arrival platform. It’s a relationship between the inner and the outer. What I know about that relationship is that sometimes you need to look away. His students have drilled for active shooters in the hall since they were in kindergarten. Mine couldn’t have imagined it. His students are navigating a pandemic, they’ve never known a world pre 9/11, they live in a country that is eating itself alive. My actors had easier access to what was going on. What was going on was closer in, more immediate and less abstract. They were not looking at a world-wide horror story or lost in the morass of social media. Cell phones were science fiction to my cast. My actors looked at each other and not at their screens.

Stories are about something. We just watched Erin Burnett’s interview with a Ukrainian husband who lost his wife and children to a Russian mortar attack. A month ago, violent death was nowhere on their radar. They were making dinner, going to school, doing homework, late for work. Erin Burnett began to cry and thank goodness. Humanity breaks through and we awake to what’s going on – really going on. We should all be weeping with Erin Burnett and this man.

Sometimes I feel as if I am looking for the small beautiful moments. I am trying to root my day in the explosion of color, the pastel sky, Dogga in the sun. Holding hands. Cooking dinner together. I am trying to be awake to what is going on, the anger and division and warmongering and carelessness as we soil our nest – without it frying my insides. Holding hands is just as real. Reaching toward our neighbors is also what’s going on.

Stories have to be about something and most often stories are about transcendence. Waking up to what is going on is less about waking up – we already know – and more about fully acknowledging it, facing the full picture and turning toward it rather than running away. But, before that final act, that moment of deciding enough-is-enough, before we are willing to blink open our eyes, we pretend the problem is non-existent or small. We ignore the obvious. 500 year storms every year. A family killed by a mortar shell. We bury our faces in our phones, we ban critical race theory, and toss our attention in a Twitter reality or a Tik-Tok diversion.

I wanted to write back and suggest that the world is not lost on the artistic temperament of his students, it’s simply too hard to look at the world so they are choosing to look away. That’s what their play will ultimately be about.

read Kerri’s blogpost about COLOR!!

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

the way home/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Look Around [on DR Thursday]

My sketchbooks are punctuated by weird landscapes. It was a practice. When I felt the need to draw regularly, to exercise my artistry, I worked on compositions for future paintings. And, when I had no idea what to draw, no composition in my head, I sketched my weird landscapes. They were fun and I got lost in them.

There was a blowback effect. I’ve never been a landscape artist. I considered my weird landscapes as not-serious exercises. Yet, they were made of scribbles and patterns and it became a game to collect patterns from nature. My not-serious exercises required me to look around. To get close. To look at the edges and splashes and etchings available in nature. To see. My weird landscapes became eye-opening meditations.

There are miracle-patterns in bark. Orchids, I recently learned, are a master-class of pattern, shape, and color. It is impossible to find a hand painted brush and ink painting as perfect or as spontaneous and lively as the strokes on the rattlesnake plant. Go to the garden if color combinations are in question.

I will never invent anything as imaginable, as impossibly beautiful, as what already exists in this world. I will never produce any painting as glorious as the paintings in nature. The best I can do is play. Look and marvel. And isn’t that a great relief?

read Kerri’s blogpost about RATTLESNAKE PLANT

eve © 2006 david robinson

Ready The Wings [on KS Friday]

“Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow/Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow/Moonshadow, moonshadow” ~ Cat Stevens, Moonshadow

An appreciation of life, no matter what comes. It is the meaning of this lyric, this song – or so I’ve read. It seems obvious. I’m having many, many conversations about loss these days. This has been an era of loss and, so the cliche’ goes, with loss new opportunity arrives. It’s true though one must move through the loss in order to arrive at the new. On the way, there is weeping and fear and anger and disorientation. Chrysalis. The trick, we are told, is about focus placement. One day we shift our eyes and see what we have instead of what we no longer possess. We move toward rather than look back.

Kerri has, for years, surrounded herself with symbols of peace. They are on our walls, on rings that she wears, on chains draped on the corner of our bathroom mirror. She draws them in the sand on the trail. A prayer for the world she desires to create. Inside and out. Since she fell, my solo-piano-playing wife has lost more than mobility in her wrists. Strange stuff is happening. Fingers that sometimes refuse to respond. Pain that shoots, seemingly from nowhere. After a photograph – a wish for the world, a peace sign in shadow – she said, “Come look at this. Look how much my finger is bending!” Strange stuff.

What is most remarkable about this shadow is, a year ago, it would have been cause for frustration. A reminder of loss. Full of fear. Today, it was a curiosity. She looks back, she looks forward. Each day she writes lyrics and poetry and wisdoms. She hums the music running through her mind and heart and, sometimes, she dances. Standing at the crossroads of what was and what is to become. Peace replaces pain. All in good time. Good time. Wings readying to unfurl.

[peace. this is one of my favorite pieces of Kerri’s]

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about PEACE

peace/as it is © 2004 kerri sherwood

Dance The Future [on DR Thursday]

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in you philosophy.” William Shakespeare, Hamlet

We opened the oat milk ice cream container and read the message printed on the protective cover. It made me laugh. I appreciate marketing messages with a sense of humor. The best news, beyond the giggle-inducing package, is that the ice cream was delicious. Coffee. The woman in the store recommended Salted Caramel but we were on a mission to find some coffee ice cream.

We watched some of the events at the recent winter Olympics. I always appreciate watching the athletes, prior to their competition, imagine their path down the mountain or performing on the ice. They quietly dance the future they envision. They “see” themselves perform. Actors do it, too. Jim taught me, rather than push my voice so I might be heard by the people sitting in the back of the hall, to walk to the edge of the stage and imagine that every person in every seat is included in the embrace of my voice. Not push or reach. Include. Draw in.

Have you ever said, “I just knew it was going to happen!” Or, “My gut told me…” Or, “I knew in my heart.” Even the most hardened scientist follows their intuition. Happy accident, good luck, serendipity, right-place-right-time. Where preparation meets opportunity. Luck of the draw.

Hamlet saw a ghost. His pal from the university had doubts. Reason draws a wide circle but, despite what it thinks of itself, does not encompass all things. Accidents happen. “It’s as if it was meant to be.” Kismet. Follow your heart.

Kerri and I talk of our meeting as destiny. “What are the odds?” we ask. I’m filled with stories of “knowing.” Aren’t we all? And, isn’t it also true, the most oft used phrase following, “I knew it,” is “I can’t explain it.”

And, isn’t that where the wonder lives? In the land beyond explanation?

read Kerri’s blog post about SEEING THE FUTURE

With Fresh Eyes, See [on Merely A Thought Monday]

In retrospect, many of the experiences I used to facilitate were meant to pop people – even for a moment – out of the fog of their life story. It’s a curious intention for a guy whose career was/is centered around the telling of stories.

I loved working with masks, especially with people in corporate settings or lofty educational towers. They feared the exposure that a mask might bring so they approached it with eye rolling and whatever-ego resistance. Yet, in every case, they put the mask on with reverence. There is a sequence, after donning the mask, that the wearer “wakes up” and looks at the world for the first time through fresh eyes. Everything is new. Everything. Their hands. The movement of their arms. The color and feel of the carpet. Jaded people, blunted with puffy assumption, through the eyes of the mask, are astonished by the miracle of their fingers. And then, imagine the moment that they discover each other. Their discussion during the debrief would make you weep. It was quiet. Respectful to the point of sacred. In every case the people, newly out of the mask, had to tell of their astonishment and discovery. Their eyes wide with the utter beauty of the world in and around them. And, their new eyes never carried further than the next day. The old mask, the one worn daily, the one full of fear and inflated self-importance, is powerful, too. As they say, masks reveal and masks conceal.

Masks reveal and masks conceal. The phrase refers to the wearer but it also applies to the world seen or not seen through the mask. New eyes are astonished with the ubiquitous beauty of the world newly revealed. Eyes fogged through been-there-done-that stories are dulled to the point of inattention. The magical world is concealed from their sight.

I am working on a script for a piece that I’ll perform in the fall. I realized in my latest draft that it is really about masks. The astonishment of seeing – and seeing is nothing more than or less than the revelation of connectivity. Paying attention is a step toward the eyes that see crackling vibrant color, ears that hear the birdsong. When the dull eyes open, even for a moment, the next impulse is to reach, to “call attention” to the connectivity. “Do you see that?” “Listen, isn’t it gorgeous!”

read Kerri’s blog post about PAYING ATTENTION