“We’re all connected,” Robert Black says, “in different ways.”
He’s talking specifically about his late-in-life friendship with fellow artist Tecari Shuman, but that’s also the sentiment behind their upcoming joint art exhibit.
Standing inside Shuman’s Victorian house in Brandon on that perfect Saturday afternoon last weekend, the walls are covered in Shuman’s paintings, but next week they will all be taken down and transported to Compass Music and Arts Center for Shuman and Black’s joint show, “Brothers in Art.” It will be on display through Dec. 7 with a reception at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8 featuring Black’s photography and collage art alongside Shuman’s paintings.
“It seems like ages but it wasn’t that long ago,” Shuman says when asked how they met.
“There’s a group of gentlemen who meet in the back of the Gourmet Provence for coffee every day,” Black said. Five or six years ago he met Shuman there. “We bonded over coffee and cookies,” but a deeper, spiritual connection alchemized into the unique friendship they have today.
They’ve each lived several lives — Shuman as a landscape architect and director of a health center, and Black as an architect, and facilitator, among other occupations — but they all seemed to intersect at the point of art.
“I remember the day,” Black said to Shuman. “You had just had one of your aides come in and tell you you have to do something with your life, you can’t just sit in a wheelchair all day long. She (said you) should do art.”
Shuman has been confined to a wheelchair and his health has presented a continual challenge — he has suffered from chronic pain from post-polio syndrome much of his life, which he contracted as a child. In 2012, he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, in which cerebral fluid does not drain properly. And in 2016, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which plagues the nervous system with tremors, loss of muscle control and balance.
Enter Robert Black. A kindred spirit who took the aide’s suggestion to heart.
“We had enough of a relationship at that point that I said, next Monday morning I’m coming to your house and we’re going to paint together’,” Black recalled.
“That led to all this,” Shuman said of his body of work. “If not for Robert this wouldn’t be.”
Black came to the house every week to paint with Shuman, who had his first major exhibit last year, selling more than a thousand dollars worth of artwork.
“I was very depressed, and I found art really drew me out of that,” Shuman told the Brandon Reporter last year. “I started to see life differently. I started to be more positive.”
“He’s an inspiration to me,” Black said, “on how to live a life.”
“Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night to paint,” Shuman said. And his artist statement confesses something surprising — that in a way, his Parkinson’s actually helps. “Sometimes I put the brush on the paper and the Parkinson’s tells me what to do with it. The brush doesn’t (always) go where you want it to, you have a twitch. Most of the time it’s frustrating until I embrace it and accept it and acknowledge it.”
“Another understanding of disease or healing,” Black says. “He’s an inspiration for me. These works in progress, it’s the idea to struggle through — what’s the message going on, what’s the mental talk, and then how do we transcend that. It’s a metaphor for the world.”
Shuman’s paintings started with trees and landscapes, then moved into more abstract work. There’s a black-and-red painting with a harshness to it, called, fittingly, ‘Pain.’ A whimsical purple and orange painting called “Halloween,” and my personal favorite, a clearing of trees called “Snow on Firs.” Black’s photography includes four snapshots of a perfect blue sky — a heart shaped cloud in one, contrasted with the top of the McDonald’s golden arches in another. His photography is also the subject of his collages — “I only use my own photos, and it’s not Photoshopped, there’s just one of (each) made.”
Their unexpected connection added meaning and healing to both of their lives, and Black said, “We have spiritual connection that Tecari and I share,” and added, “We’re all connected, in different ways.”
Brothers in Art will be on display in the Compass Music and Arts Center Exhibition Hall from Nov. 8 to Dec. 7 with an opening reception at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8. The Compass Center is at 333 Jones Drive, Park Village, Brandon. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For information, visit www.cmacvt.org or call 247-4295.