Ask A Peony Question [on KS Friday]

The peony in our yard is sandwiched between tall grasses. We’re careful to cut back the grasses so the peony has space and air to breathe. Kerri watches it. She checks on it daily. She calls me to “Comesee!” when the buds appear. She pulls my arm, “It’s happening!” on the day the buds open into full bloom. In our house peony-bloom is cause for celebration.

The blossoms do not last long, a week, perhaps a few days more if we’re lucky. And then they are gone.

The blooms are passing but the plant is sturdy. Sometimes I feel that the peony is a good artist. It works all year drinking in sun and water and life so it might produce a few moments of lovely. Every single day, through the dog days of August, the harsh cold of winter, the wet and muddy spring, is necessary for the peony to bring its fragile and passing burst of pink beauty – its expression – into plain sight.

Late at night, the tornado sirens sent us to the basement. We sat in rocking chairs and listened to the roar of the storm, the flash and house-rattling thunder. I looked at my easel. Currently, my studio is filled with boxes. Kerri eyes her studio; it’s next up for a good cleaning-out. Revamp and refresh.

In the basement, sirens blaring and storms howling, we talked about whether or not she would ever play again. Whether or not I would ever again pick up a brush. It’s an open question. It’s a deep-in-the-night question.

It’s a peony question. I wonder if, in the dead of winter, roots reaching deeper than the frozen ground, if the peony knows that it will, with certainty, bloom?

In A Split Second from As Sure As The Sun

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

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE PEONY

in a split second/as sure as the sun © 2002 kerri sherwood

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

Find Your Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

I will never forget the day I followed the stream, watching the life-ending struggle of the salmon as they fought the current the final mile to return to their place of origin, their spawning ground. To the local people, the people who tended the hatchery, the salmon were gods. Gods or not, watching their struggle to return was sacred. The utter necessity to continue life through the next generation – as the final act of life. Cathedral building.

We brought home a Selenite crystal. It is raw, translucent, gorgeous. A Google search of its properties reveals that it promotes calm and provides clarity. I’ve never actually been invested in the debate about whether or not a crystal has powers. I’ve made the association so, when I look at it or hold it, I have in my mind that we brought this beautiful crystal home to elevate our spirits. And, so it does.

I live in the golden age of marketing. I’m told that a new truck will make me sexy, the latest medication will make my life a snap, that a pizza delivery will bring my family together like never before. Status and power are available through the purchase of machines and clothes. One year, no interest. We buy these messages, filling our closets with passing satisfaction. Is the fulfillment of a new pair of shoes imagined, less-than-genuine? We are consumers so doesn’t it make sense that contentment lasts no more than a spin through the washing cycle? Momentarily satisfied. What’s next?

I suppose the question is whether or not the crystal brings peace to me or do I bring more calm to my day because I’ve surrounded myself with messages – and, therefore, intentions – of serenity?

I know without doubt that a new truck will not imbue me with sex appeal. Yet, I have a pair of jeans that I save for the days that I want “to look good.”

Skip drove two days to find the sun so that he might stand in it and rejuvenate. I go to the basement and stand amidst the boxes that currently fill my studio and stare at a large blank canvas. Like the sun, it rejuvenates me. Yesterday, the nurse at the community health clinic said she loved her job because she felt that she was really helping the people who need her the most, “There are better rewards than money,” she said. Imagine the necessity – the hope – she brings to her life and work. Rejuvenation.

I do not know whether we are gods or not, but our struggle to find our way home is no less beautiful or fraught than the salmon. It is breathtaking, this swim upstream. Confusing. Sacred.

read Kerri’s blogpost about CRYSTALS

Do What They Do [on DR Thursday]

I’ve posted this painting more than any other in my stacks.

Some paintings serve as markers for new directions. This painting is one of those. What came before this painting was suddenly old. What came after was an exciting unknown path. Exploration and play. Big mistakes and messes followed by understanding. Materials can only be pushed so far. Bodies and shapes reveling in negative and positive space.

When I met Kerri, this painting did not have a name. I called it #7 in my yoga series. She called it “Iconic” and the name stuck. I liked the name. It seemed appropriate. An icon is a symbol. Something worthy of veneration.

Now, over ten years later, this icon, once the harbinger of the new, serves as the hallmark of what was.

I delight in this painting, Iconic. It is one of the few. And, although I am grateful for where it led me, I’ve come to realize that it no longer serves to locate me, except in a past chapter, like a yearbook photo.

Letting go. It is why I stand in my studio – I can’t even sit there of late – and look at the mess on canvas that sits untouched on my easel these many months. Somewhere, after this mishmash phase, somewhere, beyond the chaos and disorder and wiping away, there will emerge another marker. An icon. A compass.

Although I’ve written it many times in these past few months, it’s way past time that I admit – to myself – that I am, once again, in the wilderness. Someone once told me that we go to the wilderness to face our demons and find our gods. That seems a bit dramatic. Demons and gods are one and the same, like positive and negative space or comedy and tragedy. The lesson is always the same: stop taking yourself so seriously and the oppositions, the demons and gods, will stop pulling you apart.

Find a child and watch them play with paint. Do that. Do what they do. The wilderness is rich in sustenance if you know where to look.

Someday, in the midst of being lost, I’ll make an accidental mark that jolts me. I’ll turn it around, asking, “What’s this?” A new direction will emerge.

Read Kerri’s blog post about ICONIC

iconic ©️ 2010 david robinson

Add Another Layer [on DR Thursday]

Were you to meet my easel in a dark alley it would, no doubt, frighten you. It’s big. Substantial. Rough. Weathered from hard life. Knobby, bent and encrusted.

I see it with different eyes. It is one of my most sacred possessions. It was given to me, a gift of celebration, following the opening of my very first solo show. Prior to its arrival in my life I propped my canvas on chairs or tables, I leaned them against walls, kneeling to paint. My easel allowed me to stand.

Caked in charcoal and layer upon layer of paint, artifacts of the hundreds of paintings that it has held for me, I find it beautiful. It has traveled with me through many states and life stages. Its main support is bent. It creaks when I adjust the angle or drop the arm. It occurred to me this morning, as I rebuild my studio following the great flood, that I also creak when my angles adjust, when my arms drop. We’ve aged together.

In a life with very few constants, my easel has served as my single steadfast companion through every move, every triumph, every tragedy. It has stood with me when I was artistically productive and a barren wasteland. It’s listened to me rant, ramble, and recite. It’s been witness to my laughter and my fears. It has been the silent sentinel during my mini-deaths and slow rebirths.

This morning, as I carried my easel back into the studio, I realized how out-of-order my world has felt. If my studio is in disarray, as it has been since the flood, I am also in disarray. Returning my easel to its proper spot in the studio I felt a flood of relief. All of my pieces are nearly put back together again. My trusty companion, my reliable easel and I will soon stand together, paint will spatter, charcoal and matte medium will crust another coating onto our already layered archaeology.

Art hollers. Possibility beckons.

read Kerri’s blog post about the EASEL

Leave The Studio [on DR Thursday]

Kerri calls this snippet REACH

One day at the farmer’s market we saw a little girl chasing an enormous soap bubble. She was gleeful, squealing with delight. Looking at the faces of the adults watching the little girl, it was clear that they wished they were also racing across the grass, gleefully chasing bubbles. It was clear that they yearned to feel that carefree. In some distant place, they remembered.

These days I occasionally sit in my studio but I do not touch my brushes. There is a canvas on the easel. It’s good and worn and chunky just as I like them. It is waiting. I am waiting.

I believe, as Tom McK. taught me, that “a writer writes and a painter paints.” There is no magic to it. Well, that’s a lie. There’s plenty of magic when the painting begins, when the artist disappears. But first, the paint has to hit the canvas. Before disappearing the artist has to show up.

Yesterday, Skip sent me this lovely reminder. It’s from a tweet:

“I believe it was John Cage who once told me, ‘When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, your enemies, the art world, and above all, you own ideas – all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one-by-one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.'”

That little girl chasing bubbles, her glee, is what happens when “even you leave.” All of the ideas of who you are or what you need to do or achieve, the expectations, the burdens and worries, the pandemic, the politics, the notions of success and failure, all leave the room. That’s when the bubble chasing begins. That’s when there is ample space for glee and delight.

Kerri chose this morsel for today and I’m so glad she did. “I want to do another version of this painting,” I said. That little girl, so long ago chasing an enormous soap bubble at a farmer’s market, is calling me back to my easel, she’s pointing to the studio door and asking me to leave.

Chasing Bubbles, mixed media, 33.25 x 48IN

read Kerri’s blog post about REACH

reach/chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

Carry The Story [on Two Artists Tuesday]

slippersbw copy

Next to the pool table in the basement of my grandfather’s house was a bowl of nuts and an old metal nutcracker. It was the velveteen rabbit of nutcrackers: falling apart, loose joints, the pattern worn because it was so old and so often used. When we’d visit, we’d inevitably go to the basement to shoot some pool. Shooting pool with grandpa was a ritual of fun.

That nutcracker is one of my sacred objects. When my grandfather passed, I wanted something he touched. Something he used. The nutcracker lives in a special box in my studio.

I am austere. Left to my own devices I would have few possessions (I have famously moved twice in a truck loaded with paintings, my easel, a special box, some clothes, art books and a single rocking chair).

It’s funny what carries the deep value of story. Remembrance.

Kerri is thready. She is connected to the story of objects. Or, better, the objects connect her to stories and to the people in her life. Our home is like an alter of objects that carry meaningful stories.  Rocks. Feathers. Driftwood. We have a stack of sweatshirts in the basement that remain for their story value. Early in our relationship I suggested donating the sweatshirts to the Goodwill and I will never forget the look of horror that swept across Kerri’s face. To lose the sweatshirts was to lose the stories. It makes cleaning out the house a very complicated affair.

Connectivity. The energy threads are almost visible.

Last year she was cleaning out a closet upstairs and found these slippers. They were her parents. I remember the squeal of delight. The staging of the picture. I listened to the stories the slippers invoked. We laughed. And then, the slippers went in the bag to go away.

It might be our age or having a husband dedicated to the austere, but she is loving the objects and letting them go. The threads are becoming transcendent, they reach beyond the object and are securely rooted in the deep past.

It’s beautiful when the heart carries the deep connectivity of story. Truly. The energy threads become visible.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SLIPPERS

 

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Get Connected [on KS Friday]

connected songbox copy

I climbed a mountain many years ago and stood on the summit just as the sun was rising. I’ve never felt so…connected. So alive. I suspect that all of the truly peak moments of life are moments of connection.

We look forward to connecting to our loved ones. We pursue dreams and crackle with quiet fire when we reach them. When I am in the studio, deep into a painting, time and troubles and other forms of division simply vanish.

I love those moments in the theatre or at a concert when everyone – the audience and  the performers – unite. When the connection is pure. A singular moment. A single heartbeat. Peak. Connected.

CONNECTED from the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

 

HH heart in sand website box copy

 

connected/released from the heart ©️ 1995 kerri sherwood

Study It [on DR Thursday]

Although this news will come as a blow to my ego, I am not a genius. My work is not opening new and exciting doors in the trajectory of western art. My boyhood fantasy of becoming the next Picasso has evolved into the happy reality of becoming the only…me. I love to paint. That is more than enough. Becoming, with no end in sight.

I rarely do studies or rough drafts. Only when a painting is giving me fits do I stop and study it. And, if I actually stop to do a study, the next step is to wipe the painting off the canvas. You might say that the act of doing a study is a warning to the elusive painting. “Last chance, dude.”

FACE THE SUN began as a study, a warning to CHASING BUBBLES. I was ready to wipe it away. In fact, I was cackling at the satisfaction a fresh start would bring. Kerri intervened. She has an uncanny sense for knowing when I am about to wipe away a painting. More than once, at the very moment my hand is reaching to annihilate the trouble-maker-painting, she rushes in to plead its case. I knit my brow. “You’re kidding, right?”

CHASING BUBBLES lived to see another day. Cleaning the studio, I saw the study that saved the painting. I liked it so I finished it and called it FACE THE SUN. Kerri came into the studio and said, “That painting makes my neck hurt.”

“What?! You’re kidding, right?”

She smiled her “gotcha” smile. Not only am I not the next Picasso but the painter that is becoming me is gullible. I am not a genius but I am an easy mark.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about FACE THE SUN

 

 

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face the sun/chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

Paint The Can [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

duke's painting copy

I imagine this still life is a painting that Duke merely tossed off. It was an exercise, something he painted because, well, he wanted to paint but wasn’t awash in inspiration. He looked around for a subject, any subject, and laughed when it occurred to him that the coffee can stuffed with brushes and tubes of paint lying willy-nilly on his table would make a sufficient study. When it was complete, he liked it enough to hang in the hallway of his house. It hung there for years. I imagine he and his wife, Eileen, looked at it everyday – to the point that they probably stopped seeing it. It was the norm. Part of the hallway.

It remained in the hallway after his death.

A few weeks ago Kerri and I helped Duke’s son, 20, move his mom into a nice assisted living apartment. After the furniture was moved in and the dishes and lamps, the final piece was Duke’s painting of brushes in a coffee can. It is the piece that made Eileen’s new apartment feel like home. Before we hung it on the wall we took some time and studied the painting. Duke was great painter!  I imagine that he had no idea on the long-ago-day that he decided old brushes in a coffee can would make a nice study, that his coffee can, like the Velveteen Rabbit of paintings, would come to mean so much. That it would carry associations like “home” and “Duke.”

It’s probably good that an artist cannot know the destiny of their work.

I imagine he put on the final touches of paint, the highlights, stood back and thought, “It’s good. I like this one.” He dropped his brush in some turpentine and made his way upstairs the get another cup of coffee.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DUKE’S PAINTING

 

 

k&dbw backs website box_ copy