Eruption of Spirit

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er-wrought heart and bids it break.”

– Macbeth, 4.3.245-246 (William Shakespeare)

The other day I recalled a dream I had shortly after Elisif died.

I was back at college, walking across campus, headed toward my dorm room. The campus was large enough that traversing it meant passing a number of buildings, and rather than walk around them I decided to shortcut by entering each from one side and coming out the other: in through a door, around a set of steps, down a hall, and out the other side. Each time I exited, there’d be another building in front of me, so I’d repeat: in, around, down and out; in, around, down and out; in, around, down and out.

There was no end to this.

I woke up, terrified. My daughter was still dead, and I felt so terribly lost.

I do not know how I would have survived those days had it not been for the art I made.


I recently read Rebecca Solnit’s new book, Orwell’s Roses. In it, she shares an anecdote from a judge at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague presiding over testimonials from victims of war atrocities. When asked how he could stand listening to such heart-rending stories, he replied: “As often as possible I make my way over to the Mauritshuis museum, in the center of town, so as to spend a little time with the Vermeers.”

Solnit notes of this anecdote “that human beings need reinforcement and refuge, that pleasure does not necessarily seduce us from the tasks at hand but can fortify us.”

The judge found restoration by turning toward art.


As I write, my partner (Leigh) is doing some volunteer work in Rwanda for a school she’s been involved with since its inception, School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA). When the Taliban overtook Kabul this past summer, the entire school community managed to flee Afghanistan, each person bringing with them a story of escape. Their host country – Rwanda – is of course no stranger to trauma: in 1994, one million people were brutally murdered in the Rwandan genocide.

Leigh cannot turn left or right without hearing another harrowing tale: one new Rwandan friend attacked with a machete and left for dead in a mass grave at age 12; another who lost 7 siblings and both parents and later fought to bring their killers to justice; the school’s entire student body – dozens of girls – with their families back in Afghanistan, knowing the impossible choice to leave was the only way to stay safe.

At the school, the students have told Leigh their favorite subject is art.


I recently watched Summer of Soul, the critically acclaimed documentary directed by Questlove about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The festival took place in a particularly fraught time – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assissination from the year before still felt raw, and social unrest was on the rise nationally. Event organizers had gathered support for the festival in part by selling the idea that such a thing could help avert summer violence – that music could offer hope, love and community in place of cynicism, alienation and riot.

It worked.

Nothing brings that truth home so clearly as the moment Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson sing Precious Lord, Dr. King’s favorite hymn, to commemorate the first anniversary of his death. An audience member later described the moment as “an eruption of spirit,” transforming a summer of disquiet into the Summer of Soul.

That’s art.

Before grief and atrocity, barbarity and dislocation, soul’s famishment and pain, we need balm and succor – words for our sorrow, attendance to our “o’er-wrought” hearts.

So we turn to art, always there for us, and saving me every time.

(I made the drawing above not long after Elisif died: a black, static circle on red ground – Elisif passed. It became part of the intermedia art installation, Elisif’s Story, the audio track of which you can hear here.)

Schroeder Cherry

Future Voters #4 Jelly Beans, 2021, 23” x 27”, assemblage painting (acrylic with objects on wood)

Some people cannot stay still.

“My parents always said I burned a candle on both ends,” says Schroeder Cherry, noting this holds especially true with his art career. “I have three tracks: museum work, art making, and puppetry.”

Working daytime hours as the curator at the James E. Lewis Museum of Art at Morgan State University, Schroeder is in his studio at the start and end of each day.

“I’m an early morning and late night person,” he says. “My mantra is ‘produce, perform, exhibit, travel, sell.’ I try to do one of those things every day. I need to do something every day that feeds the work.”

As with many artists, Schroeder’s drive to be an artist comes more out of need than want.

“Not being able to make art would deprive me of something very basic,” he says.

Most recently, Schroeder has been producing a series on the topic of future voters.

“I came up with the idea when I got tired of the news media with so many stories of voter suppression. There are a lot of young people experiencing this, and one day they’ll be voters – what they absorb will have an impact on what happens to them.”

Schroeder fears that young Black people will accept as a given they are disenfranchised as voters. He wants to challenge that narrative with alternative ones – such as he seeks to do with Future Voters #4 Jelly Beans.

Dominating the image is a portrait of a young girl with a jar of jelly beans to her left, a reference to the Jim Crow era (Black voters sometimes were made to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar before being allowed to vote). While a unifying pink and blue background implies the girl and jar inhabit the same space, an edge of picture frame and an extended tape measure bisect the image, creating a visual boundary between the jar and the girl – as if the two exist in separate worlds. Formally, the two subjects echo one another: each is cylindrically shaped (the girl’s symmetrical sweater-cloaked body, the stolid glass jar); each with a topping of brown (the face of the girl, the cap of the jar); each patterned with bits of color (the hearts on the sweater; the jelly beans).

A kind of dialectic is established: the jar and its bitter history contrasted with the girl in all her brightness – a dark past ameliorated by the hint of a better future.

Embellished with a multitude of suggestive details (an unclasped lock, empty bullet casings patterned along the edge, keys bound and unbound in twine), the work is replete with possible interpretations.

“Much of my composition is intuitive,” says Schroeder. “My art is more visual than direct narrative. What I appreciate are the potential stories that come up after the fact.”

Happy to leave reading the specific meaning of his work up to others, Schroeder has found making art in response to his consternation over voter suppression to be cathartic.

“It helps me release some pent-up emotions. I could not live without what I get from making things. I mean, why do I breathe? It’s who I am, it’s what I do.”

Which brings us back to Schroeder’s work ethic – an ethic born of necessity before a world of injustice and pain. For Schroeder, art-making is a constant practice of resilience – of taking negative experiences and growing and moving on from them.

“I believe in the dual side of things,” he says. “What might seem like a catastrophe at one point is often an opening to something more positive. My art helps remind me of that. It helps me keep focused on the entire journey, not just the part that is painful.”

Taking on hard things with a perpetually optimistic attitude, Schroeder’s daily practice of making art becomes his recurring salvation.

“Don’t deny the pain, but don’t let that stop you.”

And he doesn’t.

Schroeder Cherry is an artist, puppeteer, and museum professional who lives in Baltimore, MD. He will appear as a guest at Bruun Studios’ Becoming event taking place February 17. For details and to register, go here.


No Title (Flawed Yellow I), 2003, 13” x 13”, charcoal & gouache on paper

My PSA test recently came back slightly elevated, my cholesterol levels are borderline high, and I take medication to control my blood pressure. These are minor, manageable things, but they are predictive: in the end, there is no getting around our in-built flaws.

For many years, I made art I came to think of as “emblems of identity” – images derived from self-portraiture pared down to the point of becoming simplified rounded shapes. The art functions as symbols not of myself but of a self, character and meaning dependent on the formal qualities of the drawing or painting (for an in-depth look, visit Our Infinite Selves).

I once made a series of such drawings that allude to our imperfect bodies – ready to give out anytime, not always with notice.

I made the first of such works within days of my step-father dying unexpectedly in 2003. At the time he had seemed vivacious and fit, younger than his 61 years. We had no reason to suspect him of falling victim to a massive heart attack (dramatically: flying his private plane solo, he collapsed, no longer alive by the time the plane crashed into flames).

It was a shock to all of us.

I turned to art.

I made a series of nine small drawings (three shown here) informed by two things: the idea of cerulean blue sky as an infinite spiritual domain, and the Mesoamerican rite in which otherwise perfectly rounded ceramic burial containers were intentionally pierced – perhaps to allow the spirit of the deceased to escape, perhaps to symbolize the uselessness of the broken vessel. In my drawings, I had both meanings in mind: a broken body, and an opening for release.

I think of these drawings as spirit drawings, as signifying a kind of faith and hope despite the ostensible finality of death. (It is not insignificant that in these works erasure marks from what began as drawings of heads remain visible – like pentimenti from previous physical selves.)

I subsequently made more drawings (such as No Title (Flawed Yellow I)) exploring the idea of imperfection and vulnerability: bodies with soft spots ready to give, us poised to deflate like spent balloons.

I do not view these drawings from nearly two decades ago as despairing. I look at them now as beautiful and true – as expressing acceptance of what is even as in their ethereal corpus they resist terminality, conveying a notion of something more… something of soul beyond our passing.

My body cracking and waning with age before vanishing entirely, I think of these drawings, and I feel happy.

Drawings from this series have recently been added to the Bruun Studios website’s main gallery and sales gallery.

February 2022

Coming Soon:
Becoming: Cleaver & Cherry

On Thursday, February 17, 7:00 p.m. EST, we sit down with artists Richard Cleaver and Schroeder Cherry to explore how they have come to make the art they make. Created over time and in sequence, with one thing following another, works of art are rarely one-offs. Reflection, correction and refinement are essential to an artist’s process: there is always precedent, always a reason for art being as it is. Join us as we look specifically at how the artists’ physical conditions affected the trajectory of their art. Learn more and register here.

How to Support Out of Place

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This Can Be Yours

With each newsletter, we offer a work of art by Peter. This drawing from 2003 (written about and shown as a larger image above) can be yours for just $15 if you are the first to email Peter to claim it. If you want to see more art for sale, visit the sales gallery at the Bruun Studios website.

Our Team

It’s about time to formally acknowledge the team responsible for putting Out of Place together each issue. While Peter does the bulk of the work selecting what to write about and then doing the writing, the publication would not be what it is each month without the invaluable participation of Leigh Perkins as editor, and Megan McCarthy as designer, who from here on out are acknowledged for their roles in credits below.