May 30, 2015

9.30 am. Two tracks from my R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O CD received an airing on The Sound Projector Music & Magazine Show last night. I’ll need to digest the responses, when time permits. It’s very difficult to develop an audience for this type of work, let alone find commentators who have the specific cultural knowldege and articulacy to review it. But these are not reasons for discouragement. Nurturing an appreciation of, and enthusiasm for, the work is as much the artist’s responsibility as making it. 10.20 pm. After a Facebook exchange with one of our hospitalized comrades (who’s slowly on the mend), I got into the sound studio and explored alternative ways to digitally record the sound output from my DJ mixer:


The use of a USB (Type B) output from the mixer to the USB (Type A) input on the MacBook connection is a qualitative and efficient means to this end. There’s no perceivable degradation of sound quality on playback. However, my principle of practice is always to seek a second solution to a problem, even though the first may be entirely adequate. One never knows whether the adequate can be transcended and, thereby, proven to have been inadequate. So, this time, I made an balanced analogue connection between the mixer outputs and the analogue/digital converter’s mic preamp inputs:


As expected, the quality of the analogue recording is more organic and mellow than the digital rendering — but a little boxy and lacking in detail, perhaps. The weakest link in this chain is the mixer outputs. Again, they’re entirely adequate to power a PA system (which is what they’re designed to do) but insufficient to record from. (The RME mic preamps, for their part, are par excellence.) I’ll need to do a blind (deaf?) A/B (digital/analogue) comparative test. What will my ears tell me? The weakest link in the digital connection is the USB cable. It’s el cheapo. A more accurate digital transfer would be possible using a cable costing ten times as much. There’s also one that costs 100 times more. But it would exceed my needs and pocket. However, I’ve learned never to compromise on cable. Get the best you can afford.

1.30 pm. After lunch, I made two recordings — one by the digital, the other by the analogue, pathway — for comparative purposes, and ordered a higher-spec USB cable. The digital recording may have the edge, and will the more decidedly with a better cable:


4.15 pm. I began a rumination on on my sound practice, to the end of prioritising my activities, discerning underlying preoccupations and emphases, and deciding which types of work and methods of working should now be abandoned because they have either served their purpose or else demand too much attention, time, and money that would otherwise be spent on the priorities.

5.20 pm. Ddigonol! 6.30 pm. An evening with the family.

May 29, 2015

8.30 am. Some rainy days remind you of other rainy days. On this occasion, it’s through the evocation of a consoling melancholy (a sweet funereality), which I’d first cultivated under the dark and heavy skies of the South Wales valleys in my boyhood:


9.00 am. The bomb doors are opened and the feedback forms drop from my ‘Drafts’ box:

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 09.10.12

It’ll be for like opening presents on Christmas Day: some will receive what they expected, others will be delightfully surprised, and yet others, sorely disappointed. And, a few students will not remove the wrapping paper. (In the past, a significant number of hard-copy feedback forms remained unclaimed in the School office at the end of a semester.) One student told me, very honestly, that they were too scared to read the appraisal.

What should a student do on receipt of the form? Feedback — properly understood and acted upon — looks like this:


Having squared up to the criticism (which is a judgement of not only the demerits but also the virtues of the work and the worker), the student (A) ought properly to relay to their tutor (B) a realistic plan for improvement. The tutor would, in turn, comment upon that proposal. But this rarely happens. Instead, the ‘postmortem’ sometimes revolves around the student’s remonstration with the tutor, namely that they weren’t given a higher grade. Their just cause is evinced by the hard work that they’d put in and the better mark for the same subject they’d received in the previous semester. My response to such an outburst is always curt and unapologetic: 1. Hard work alone is insufficient (it’s the least you can do); 2. The demands and expectations that modules place upon the you stiffen progressively, semester by semester. I now await the explosions and the fall out.

10.00 am. For the remainder of the morning, I return to research admin, a review of sound files related to the Image & Inscription project, computer desktop filing,  and real world desktop tidying. My return to a ‘full-on’ research mode is always incremental — like acclimatizing to a different atmospheric pressure. (Come up too quickly, and I suffer the bends.)

1.30 pm. With help from Mr Holland, I managed to apply for my summer’s annual leave on the university staff page. We are now obliged (by an EU directive) to take all of our 28-day a year entitlement. In this job, however, it’s very difficult to spend that much. Even without holidays, the work that needs to be done exceeds the time available in which to do it.

2.00 pm. A return to the sound studio for the afternoon. Computer updates and room readying concluded, I opened my latest acquisition:


All parts accounted for. I’ll try and fit and test the deck over the weekend. (Perhaps I’ve a new career in the making: DJ Prof.) The device is central to the execution of two new sound projects. One of the handboards needed to be part reassembled before I could test the sound signal chain from the computer through the synthesisers to the mixing desk and beyond. Everything checked AOK. 4.00 pm. One last piece of marking arrived on a late submission ticket. A good one on which to end the marking season. I miss the third year students already. (I can just hear Dr Forster berating me: ‘You’re a sentimental old fool, John.’)

7.30 pm. Once my two studio MacBooks had finished upgrading their iOS (they do choose their time … largely because I neglect to), I was able to push faders, twiddle knobs, and interconnect filters in a bid to coax out a useable sound from my recordings of engraving:


8.30 pm. The day closes as it opened. Like a Constable:




May 28, 2015

The only true voyage of discovery … would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is (Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (1913-27).

The curse of the habitual and too familiar often affects in art students a desire to change either their subject matter, context and medium of operation, or teacher. In many cases, one or more of these responses will successfully reinvigorate endeavour. However, there are occasions when the problem is not caused by outward circumstances but, rather, by a failure or tiredness of personal vision. Thus, it’s entirely possible to overhaul what and where they perceive and those who help them to look, but still see no better. Instead, they should seek to overcome the provinciality of their way of seeing; in other words, to try and view the same things, but as might someone else. I’ve known a number of students who, having become bored with either their module, tutor, or art school, moved from one to another only to discover that the underlying deficit followed them.

8.00 am. Most every morning — an ample bowl of organic porridge:


9.00 am. My assessment admin finalisation day+. I prepared feedback emails in readiness for their release tomorrow morning. This took up half the day. 55 reports in all, from second year BA to second year MA studies in fine art and art history.

2.00 pm. Having acquitted myself of taught course assessments, I move to the upper school to further the organisation of two PhD Art History viva voce and attend to incoming research student monitoring forms and a backlog of unread emails (the latter two tasks being more or less synonymous). Where our distractions are, there our heart is also. The lure of on-line gear testing videos has been the destruction of many a young man. (I feel it.)

3.15 pm. Ah! Teatime:


When I was a young man and living in South Wales, teatime was a more substantial affair, being one of four daily meals: breakfast (8.00 am), dinner (1.00 pm), teatime (5.00 pm), and supper (9.00 pm). Only when I became a student did I discover that this was not the norm elsewhere. Teatime took the form of tinned fruit with condensed milk, a slice of bread and butter (pronounced: ‘brem-butta’) to dip in the milk, a piece of cake or tart, and a ‘nice cuppa tea’. No one drank coffee in my terrace. I’d not even tasted boiled rice, curry, pizza, pasta (other than Heinz spaghetti) or cheesecake — which sounded about as plausible as milk sausages.

4.30 pm. No sooner than I’ve dispatched one email, several more dribble into the box. It’s rather like trying to bail out a holed boat. 6.30 pm. Practice session 1.

7.30 pm. I play catch up with research admin related to image reproduction permissions for a forthcoming chapter of mine:


8.20 pm. On with Research Monitoring management. The task is made the more difficult for having to complete each form on a Word document that is passed by email between three people, at least one of whom is in the same geographical place as the others. Why can’t this be done on an electronic, on-line form? At least, this year, one’s typed comments are not automatically and irrevocably underlined and cast in green. (In my scheme of things, people who write in green are almost always angry, complaining nutters.)


May 27, 2015


8.30 am. Two days and twenty MA Vocational Practice teaching element projects later … The bulk of this semester’s assessment is behind me. I’ve been impressed by the conscientiousness that the students have shown in their preparation, delivery, and account of this project. It’s also been heartening to witness the enthusiasm that they brought to the group workshops and one-to-one tutorials. To a woman and man, each has received from the experience the same joy that they’d imparted to it, and in equal measure. Isn’t that always the way.

8.50 am. To the School. Who’d have thought that the Antichrist lives on Llanbadarn Road:


9.30 am. The first of today’s MA Portfolio assessments. 10.00 am. I returned a phone call to Ben Crowe at Crimson Guitars, where my custom RF stealth electric guitar is being modified with the addition of an active pickup, a completely new set of electrics, a few new frets, and a fresh lick of paint. I suspect that this is one of the most complex guitars ever conceived. 10.30 am. The second MA Portfolio assessment:


11.30 pm. The final assessment, at the Old College. The Portfolio students are all in transition. Each, now, has to mark out and follow a trajectory towards the first of two exhibitions. This will involve an abandonment of certain ideas, processes, techniques, and habits of thought which, while not without virtue,  may become an encumbrance before long. They must learn to travel light; to take with them only that which is necessary for the journey. And this is the way that they’ll proceed through their artistic careers: letting go of some things in order to pick up others.

2.30 pm. The undergraduate dissertation meeting, in which the first and second assessors disclose their commentaries upon the submissions and agree marks. 4.00 pm. The end of one cycle of supervision is followed by the start of another: my first tutorial with one of next year’s undergraduate dissertation tutees. The first meeting is singularly important; it establishes the tone, dynamic, and intensity of subsequent tutorials. We both now know what is expected of the other.

6.20 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. An evening of totting up marks, entering them onto mark sheets, and scanning and PDFing feedback forms — all to the shimmering ring of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.


10.30 pm. ‘The Night Watch’. There’s no end to the PDFing forms.

May 22, 2015

8.45 am. Back to the essays. I’m in the top 4% for 30-day views on But what does that mean? It’s one thing for others to window shop, quite another for them to buy. To date, not one opportunity to either converse, participate, or contribute has emerged from all the attention:

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 09.15.33

Dissemination is too often a one-way street. And it should not be confused with the concept of influence. (Exposure and effect aren’t synonymous.) I’m not convinced that the mechanics and conditions of influence are well understood. If they were, the principle would be reproducible. Certainly, the quality, uniqueness, relevance, power, standing, and admirability of the creative individual and their work play a part.  Influence is not a constant, however. Who’d have thought that Bach and Rembrandt would have slipped towards the shadows of obscurity in the nineteenth century? One can be successful monetarily and feted by the public without being also influential. And, conversely, one can be stoney broke and known only to a few, but have enormous influence.

12.00 pm. The Fine Art board meeting. On this occasion, the external examiner reports on his review of both the shows and the viva voce that he’d held with the BA and MA students over the past few days, and also discusses, moderates, and confirms the internal marks. The process of arriving at an equitable outcome for the individual student and their cohort is long and anguished. Professor David Ferry, our current external, is an astute and intelligent judge. His advice to us, as examiners, is always salt and light; salutary and illuminating. Proceedings concluded shortly after 2.00 pm:


I made a formal complaint to the examination board overseeing my degree, for imbibing too much wine during its deliberations. Bottle and after bottle were delivered to the room where the board convened. The examiners emerged clearly glassy-eyed. The School of Art boards, by contrast, are as sobrietous as an AA meeting. (Although, admittedly, we overdo the olives, cheese, and parma ham on occasion.)

2.15 pm. I returned to homebase and the remaining Chapels in Wales essay, with Derek Bailey‘s dry and angular free-jazz guitar playing in the background. Bailey is one of three accomplished  — and very influential — guitarists (the others being John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth) to emerge from South Yorkshire. What do they put in the water up there?

6.20 pm. Practice session 1: legato. 7.30 pm. Essays completed, I move on to the architectural reports for the module. A drizzle has settled in for the evening:


9.00 pm. A little banter with our hospitalised comrade. 10.45 pm. ‘The NIght Watch’: Onward chapel reports, marking as to …


May 21, 2015

8.45 am. When I arrived at the School, our external examiner was already in one of our comfy chairs awaiting his first examinee to arrive. We discussed his experience of a poltergeist infested hotel. I’m envious. 9.10 am. I’m working my way through a long overdue ‘to do’ list this morning:


The challenge is not that of executing mundane tasks well, so much as doing it in a manner that maintains one’s own interest. A little Miles Davis in the background vitalises proceedings. I’ve loved his music ever since I was in my mid teens. He is to jazz what Picasso is to art. When I was in New York, in 2011, I took my life in my hands (or so I thought) and took the number 4 train through the Bronx to Woodlawn Cemetery, where he’s buried:


Davis has been of the most significant influences on my creative practice. Not that anything I’ve created bears his stamp. My debt is, rather, to the example he set — his bravery, ability to conceive of previously unheard possibilities and to forge new directions (he reinvented jazz several times over in his career), and capacity to inspire those who worked alongside him to give of their best. (He was a great teacher of his peers.) To such an artist, dues are owed:


2.00 pm. A finalisation of the MA Vocational Practice presentation marks before attempting to complete the Chapels in Wales essays.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. Essays, again. A 5,000-word submission takes more than twice as long to mark as a 2,500-word one.

May 20, 2015

8.00 am. A flurry of email admin related to today’s postgraduate assessment before travelling to the School in order to execute my own missives. 9.00 am. The first in a long day of MA exhibition examinations.

On top of my filing cabinet, I have a fragment (relic) of my old art school that had been rescued from the ruins by the photographer Dr Pete Davis, who taught there. It’s one of the enamelled tiles that covered the lower half of the interior walls throughout. The effect summoned an association with a large, Victorian Gents’ toilet:


I engaged a more or less unbroken continuity of assessments, either in pairs or as a posse, until 4.00 pm, with lunch taken on the run. There have been moments in the day when I’ve been deeply impressed (moved) by the commitment and resolve, clarity of thought, and shear hard work evident in the students’ work, and by their advocacy of such.

By the close of the afternoon, my critical functions had been reduced to mush. No more! No more!


4.30 pm. Time to complete a number of feedback reports in readiness for the external examiner’s viva voce meetings tomorrow. 5.20 pm. Homeward:

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6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. Further assessment reports to write, provisional feedback forms to dispose, and a column of unread emails to fell. I have a theory that more emails drop into your mailbox when you’re away from the desk than when you’re present. Perhaps the phenomenon is a mode of experimenter effect. In other words, I’m actively restraining the number of incoming messages simply by staring at the computer monitor. 8.00 pm. Checked in with our comrade in hospital.

While sifting through albums for the period of my undergraduate degree, I came across a photograph of the only public artwork I’ve ever contributed to. In 1978, together with two of my Foundation Studies colleagues, we executed a Disney inspired mural for a local ‘mental’ hospital for children:

1977 (a1)

Then there was the end of year Foundation Studies picnic. (I was behind the camera.) Where are they now?:


And, my final day in Higher Education in 1981. Looking for all the world like a desert island castaway. I’m wearing one of my customary un-ironed shirts, about which a female friend once asked: ‘Do you sleep in them, John?’:


May 19, 2015

8.30 am. A mental scurrying among emails and papers —  considering requests, deleting spam, acknowledging the persistent, ignoring the ignorable, locating the lost, and confronting the overlooked. 9.25 am. Dr Pierse and I turned our attention to my own third year painters at today’s assessment. It never crossed my mind to dress up for an assessment when I was a finalist (apart from donning body armour, perhaps). What sensible and socially well-adapted students we have.

Having comprehended the whole, ‘Now I know in part …’:






2.00 pm. The annual, seasonal adjustment of figures; (or, the ‘walkaround’.) In practice, all fine art staff together form a moderating posse and tour the show. This is in order ensure parity of marks across the full range of medial disciplines, chiefly. By the close of the day, all undergraduate work will have been tripled marked even before it’s further moderated by the external examiner:

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 16.29.45



I cannot conceive of a fairer process of assessment. It mitigates any subjective and personal bias that there may be on the part of the tutor; permits the examiners to reconsider marks given earlier in the assessment cycle in the light of those given towards the end; and enables all examiners to adjust to a common calibration in order to determine the class of a student’s work and its position within that class. What makes this job less onerous, and more exacting than it might otherwise be, is the shared basis of values and judgement among the staff. They’re an excellent bunch.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1. 7.30 pm. An evening writing up feedback forms from this morning’s third year assessments:

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Some students achieve magnificently in spite of the odds. Personal ‘issues’ (sometimes, deep-seated problems), which would otherwise have brought most people to a standstill, have been confronted and worked through. Not in the sense of having been fully resolved; rather, they’ve pushed their creative endeavour forward in spite of, and sometimes because of, these problems. I take my hat off to them. 9.45 pm. Forms completed.

10.45 pm. ‘The night watch’. Research and exam admin catch up.

May 18, 2015

8.30 am. Cruel rain; glowering dark clouds; the first day of third-year assessments. 9.30 am. Dr Pierse and I were the double act on this occasion. Assessing those I’ve not taught is always insightful. It permits a degree of objectivity that is denied in relationship to one’s own students. I had six assessors at my ‘last judgement’ in 1981, half of whom I’d never before met. They delivered a fairly fierce interrogation. And, some of their questions were designed to trip you up. How things have changed, and for the better. The process is more humane today.

My art school at Clarence Place, Newport in Gwent, where I undertook my BA Fine Art degree in the late 1970s and early 1980s, had a number of architectural features and an essence that was not unlike that of the School of Art. I’ve always appreciated that dimension of continuity:

1980 06 (a3)

The fine art studios at Clarence Place were illuminated by tall, skyward-pointing windows that ran the length of upper wall. In most other respects, the interiors were identical to today’s studios. Some things don’t change: paint bespattered floors, tables, and chairs; a forest of inclining wooden easels; partitions; unclaimed drawing boards; broken portfolios; and gesso-readied canvases that would never be used. The only notable difference was that there were more men studying art then:

1980 06 (a2)

The art school closed in 1996 and moved to Caerleon, just a few miles away. There’s a blog site with photographs, by Paul Williams, of the building in a state of dereliction. I find them hard to look at. The rooms where I heard ideas that turned my thinking around, fell in love with art history (and other things), discovered painting and myself, ate Reg’s (the canteen chef) glorious Chicken Supreme, and urinated, collectively appear like some disinterred corpse.

My painting space in 1981, during the third year of studies. (I’m reading the music manuscript of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. This was a first, tentative attempt to relate images to sounds through notation.):

1981 (a1)

That same space (on the left) and the studio, post-1996, in Paul Williams’ photograph:


One day, the School of Art may suffer the same fate.

The building has now been redeemed and converted into smart, commodious flats that sensitively preserve many of the original and remarkable architectural quirks and features. Who could resist becoming an abstract painter in such an environment:

College 4

(The above photograph is taken from the YoungManGoneWest blog site.)

From 12.00 to 1.30 pm, Prof. Meyrick and I ‘processed’ several Illustration students whose time slot had to be moved to today from tomorrow. (Best wishes for their postgraduate interviews in London tomorrow.) 2.00 pm. After a hurried lunch and email catch up, I undertook a viva-prep discussion with one of my MA painters. 2.40 pm. An MA application interview, followed by a rescheduled second year ISP/Painting assessment. 3.45 pm. Homeward, to continue marking the Chapels in Wales module submissions.

6.30 pm. Practice session 1: slow, clean, and deliberate note progressions.  7.30 pm. On with the essays. 10.30 pm. Further on, and into the next day.

May 16, 2015

8.15 pm. I greet the day of the degree show opening with the same anticipation as one would a very large wedding. But first … my fortnightly egg hunt at the Farmers’ Market (15th anniversary today), and an appointment to mow my mop. 9.45 am. No egg lady (again); now less hair. 10.30 am. Marking and a messenger exchange with a comrade who’s currently in hospital.

1.30 pm. Off to the School to oversee the set up of several technical-based exhibits and complete a runaround the exhibition to remedy any window mounts that had ‘popped’ during the night. Then …

2.00 pm:


The teaming hoards ascend. For many years, the degree show has welcomed huge numbers of guests. It always feels like the first day of the Selfridge’s Spring sale. And there’s as much good will shown towards the students and their work. From Professor Richard Marggraf Turley on the School’s Twitter page:

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One observation that is made almost every year, and by those who have a knowledge of education and culture, is that the School has no house style. I concur. As I wrote in  a recent letter to intending students for entry in 2015:

The show is the culmination of three year’s endeavour, and of the final semester’s studies in particular. On view will be a range of medial disciplines including drawing, illustration, interdisciplinary studio studies, painting, photography, and printmaking. The works reflect a diversity of styles too, from realism to abstraction and conceptually-orientated practices. The one thing that all the works and students have in common is a commitment to quality, integrity, authenticity, and individuality.


Throughout the first few hours, I served as one of the roving reporters ‘snapping’ encounters between the spectators and the work. I’m one of the amateur photographers who needs a plausible visual idea in front of me before I can countenance pressing the button. A shoot-out with Mr Croft (a fellow rover). I fired first with the panache of a seasoned gunslinger:


The wine ran about at around 4.00 pm. Short of a biblical miracle, it was only either a rather pleasant elderflower and fizzy water or orange juice thereafter. By 5.45 pm, guest and students were ready to tear themselves away. (Heat and dehydration can be very persuasive.) Good to see so many former students, and that they’re still in the game and doing well in their careers. School of Art kids, more often than not, land on their feet.

Some of our MA bunch. It’s Calendar Girls all over again:


7.30 pm. An evening with the family.