Month: November 2017

November 8, 2017

7.30 am: A communion. 8.00 am: To begin: a letter. 8.30 am: A preparation for departure. The air was keen, enlivening, heartening. Today, thereafter, my reflections were committed to a dictaphone. 8.30 am: Preparations for the the second year priming class at 10.00 am. 9.00 am: A re-routed MA Fine Art tutorial followed by administrations 10.00am: The priming demonstration:


10.45 am: Time for teaching prep and administrations before a peregrination to the Old College for an MA Fine Art tutorial:

Afterwards, a lunchtime consultation with the above. 2.15 pm: I’d time to set in motion several admin projects before walking the hill to the National Library of Wales for the second of our dementia working party meetings with the Commission. We seem, now, to be on point. There was a stronger sense of doability; more light and, with it, a clearer sense of mission.

5.00 pm: Back at homebase, I mopped up some of the incoming mail before making dinner. 6.00 pm: I caught up with the news headlines.

7.00 pm: I compressed my abstract for the Digital Past 2018 conference in readiness for publication. 8.30 pm had to be my cut-off time. My mind and emotions were idling. In this condition, work becomes toil and all positive affections are held in abeyance. Life out of kilter. Finally: a letter.


He’ll be there at the meeting on Thursday.
Some things are changing – coming into focus.
I’ll send a handwritten letter.
In the past, I gave up something very precious to me. Years later it was returned, polished.
When filling the water jug for the office kettle, I always think about the theme of Aphrodite at the water-hole.
I sense a change in the tide.
From my office window, I can see the sea’s horizon .
Some feelings, like some knowledge, lie below the surface of articulation.
In a cafe window, light and shadow cast through a Venetian blind reminds me of Hopper.
Descriptive texts substituting for photographs.
Not all possibilities are possible at all times.
A commitment and a determination, even in the face of failing feeling.
Someone with whom to be totally honest.
Imagining what’s impossible momentarily breaks the spell of it’s hopelessness.


November 7, 2017

7.45 am: A communion. Occasionally, in my study, when my mind is tired, I hear my late mother shout ‘John!’. I ‘heard’ it again this morning. Usually, the ‘sound’ appears to emanate from the foot of the staircase leading up to the top floor of the house. It reminds me of the times, when I was young, that she’d call my name from the bottom of the stairs at home in Abertillery, to summon me from my bedroom to the dining table. It’s an auditory hallucination, no doubt. But no less consoling for that.

8.30 am: Into the ‘tamping’ rain:

The wind inverted my umbrella. The sea filled my ears with brown noise. (Wonderful!) The waves churned and agitated; the waters were inconsolable:

9.00 am: At the Old College, I began the first of three MA Fine Art tutorials. There are always contrasting experiences at this point in the degree: sudden new departures that need to be reckoned on; a loss of nerve and indecision; painfully slow progress, even after an investment of determinate hard work; and moments of crystal clear insight.

11.10 pm: Vocational Practice. The class critiqued examples of professional lecturing. 12.30 pm: An MA inquirer’s interview. This year I’m nurturing students through the year of application by setting them projects designed to confirm and extend their skills and ambitions. 1.00 pm: A time for catching up and drawing breath before I launched into the afternoon.

2.00 pm: MA Fine Art tutorials continued. Bridgette introduced me to her hand-made drawing tool. (My mind gravitated to fly fishing):

Objects finding themselves. Obliterated edges. Trying to be playful. Naked representation. The vessel/the body. ‘Should?’ ‘What do you mean? ‘And what of desire?’ Covering up/obscuration. But also confronting. What’s authentic? Excavation/burial. An energy held back in reserve. That knowledge is accessible with time and effort. Art is so full of metaphor. Hot pink. Whispering painting. Each painting – like another voice in the choir (Tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (November 7, 2017) 275-6).

4.45 pm: A brisk walk to the Old College again, as the sun began to set, for the final tutorial of the day:

6.30 pm: Back at homebase, there was much to catch up on. The hospital radio had to cancel tomorrow’s interview, so this was one preparation that I could shelve for now. However, tomorrow’s meeting with the Commission beckoned.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagement:

  • What we’ve done, are doing, and plan to do can turn out the same, if we aren’t careful. Habit of mind and action is fundamentally conservative and debilitating.
  • Sometimes (most times) it’s impossible to conceive of an artwork’s outcome in advance of the process of making. Thinking and doing as best engaged in unison.
  • One should not underestimate the fulfilment factor. A work may receive praise, be awarded a good grade, and be technically and conceptually impressive, and yet fail to fascinate you, the maker. It has to touch your heart and imagination too.
  • Don’t presume what the work should be, or how it should develop, or the way it should end up looking. It may have ideas of its own, and draw you towards a way of working and a conclusion that you couldn’t have possibly conceived at the outset.
  • Is the exceptional and unexpected work an anomaly or a breakthrough? Only the work that follows it can decide that.
  • When we begin university education, we’re apt to abandon many of the interests that kept us buoyant while in school. Perhaps it would be useful to reinvigorate some of them. After all, both you and art must be fed on something other than art alone.
  • The weaknesses and idiosyncrasies of our work and personality can sometimes be part of their charm.
  • ‘You are first a human being, then an individual, and then an art student’. This is how I’ll regard and respond to you. This is non-negotiable.
  • In art we try to resolve what we cannot reconcile in life.
  • We cannot do this on our own. No one ever has.
  • Painting is not about the length of time invested in the work but, rather the intensity of our application over time (however short).


November 6, 2017

7.45 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Full-throttle admin and state of the week review. There’s so much to pack in (again). Planning is half the battle; anticipating, a further quarter; and doing, the remainder.

9.00 am: Studiology. The task was to try and reconcile several alternative approaches to the Turn Table composition, without creating the proverbial dog’s dinner. First, I regularised the rhythm pulse (8-repeat base) of what would be the spine of the piece. The sample was created at the recent gallery event, and comprises the looping of the lead-in groove on one of the gospel discs. Creative wisdom is, in part, knowing what can be left out, even the really good material,  in order to allow other really good material space in which to breath. What can be left out didn’t belong there in the first place. In the end, ‘enough is enough’. For, it’s the whole rather than the parts that counts. There’s a logic to compositional structure (be it a sound work or a visual work; be it discerned rationally or intuitively) that determines the development and resolution of the whole.

10.30 am: I had something that was listenable. However, the sample that I’d evolved initially – for which all the subsequent samples were designed as adjuncts – wasn’t part of the whole any longer. Like the first stage of a Saturn V rocket, it had taken me into orbit and could, now, be jettisoned. Perhaps, I’ll deposit it, and one other groove-based sample, on my Studium site. 10.45 am: Tea time:

For the next hour, I jiggled sub sections of the samples around the beat track. There were times where the voice track needed to enter right on the beat; but, for the most part, it could ride alongside it, casually. As in life, one must know when to assert and when to back off. Dynamic and differential volumes were, then, modified to secure continuity of loudness throughout, while key moments were emphasised with discreet amplitude boosts.

12.30 pm: The sound system for Turn Table could now be dismantled:

1.00 pm: Off to School with an oat bar for lunch. Turns out that the oat bar had been dropped at some point in its lifetime. It poured from the packet onto the table like coarse sand. Talk about spoon fed. 1.45 pm: An afternoon of second-year Personal Tutorials, with a pile of admin at my elbow to undertake in the spaces created by absenteeism. I can appreciate why some don’t turn up. I’m like a GP who asks patients to visit the surgery when there’s nothing ailing them. I’m constantly astonished at the capacity of some students to overcome the deep-dyed disadvantages and traumas of their past. They deserve a medal, as well as a degree.

Throughout the afternoon, I punched my keyboard in a bid to fight off the backlog of small but pressing teaching prep and admin ‘to dos’ that had accumulated on my Post-it washing line:

5.00 pm: A consultation with the dementia project working party. We need to be more assertive about our contribution to the endeavour

5.30 pm: Home and a rummage around for dinner materials and tool. ‘Where did I put all the tea towels, and the oven glove, and washing-up liquid and …’.

6.30 pm: Back into the study for the evening (with David Bowie’s Black Star in the background):

I wrote down, for the working party, the undertakings we had agreed at this afternoon’s consultation. On, then, with choosing a shortlist of music for the radio broadcast recording on Wednesday, I wanted to address the prescription regarding ‘Christian’ music only a little more obliquely and broadly than might be anticipated:

  1. J S Bach, Choral Prelude BMV720 ‘Ein Feter Burg ist Unser Gott’.
  2. John Tavener, ‘The Lamb’
  3. John Harvey, ‘Preach to the Beat’
  4. Steve Reich, ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ [extract]
  5. Gaelic Psalm Singing: ‘Psalm 79’
  6. G F Handel, ‘Zadok the Priest’ from Solomon
  7. Philip Glass, ‘Hymn’ from Akhnaton [extract]


November 3, 2017

6.30 am: I could sleep no longer, and so attended to bits of admin that I was too tired to clear last night. 7.45 am: Following breakfast, a communion. 8.30 am: Further admin arising from admin completed last evening. (‘Of the making of [emails] there is no end’.) 9.15 am: Studiology.

The objective over the weekend was to complete the composition arising from the Turn Table project. Most of the elements were in place. I needed only to complete an extraction of further aggressive and tospy-turvy table turning, and to integrate that into the collage. To the decks, then:

I didn’t know what type of wall I wanted to build. But I did know what type of bricks were required. That was sufficient at the outset of the endeavour. You can only know what you know at any given time. And knowing something is better than knowing nothing. By 11.00 am, I’d nearly half an hour of useable material with which to build.

The first pass over the material involved deleting all the silly Alvin and the Chipmunks sounds resulting from manipulating the disc at too high speed. This is easily done on a disc that’s designed to rotate at only 16¾ rpm. Sounds which were too closely associated with the culture of DJ turntabling were also omitted; most of these were either predictable, cliched, or otherwise inappropriate to the tenor of the composition. I was searching for something darker and more unsettling. 12.00 pm: The studio was getting cold; on with the oil heater.

1.20 pm: I find it harder to turn order into chaos than vice versa. What I had in my ‘mind’s-ear’ was something that sounded dislocated, up-ended, and scattered … and yet remained, fundamentally, deliberate and coherent. Our life’s experience can sometimes be like that: furniture is over turned, objects fly passed our heads and smash against the wall, the carpet is pulled from beneath us, and little about us makes sense. However, behind the furore and disarray we suspect that there’s a principle at work, the pattern and shape of which will become clearer with time. We just have to endure the present and wait patiently.

2.00 pm: Once all of the ‘cards’ were on the table, I could begin to shuffle them. ‘Ah! Cards’, John. I consulted my Oblique Strategies. Advice (with a choice):

I opted for the former, and endeavoured to integrate all the extracted samples. 2.30 pm: A thought: What if I assigned the sound samples to cards, shuffled them, laid out the cards in the order in they’d been chosen at random, and assembled the samples accordingly. A chance procedure, then … just to kick things off:

I don’t believe in chance as a general principal of life. ‘Things don’t just happen’ (as the old hymn goes). I don’t consider myself an unwilling victim of the arbitrary and fortuitous, blind fate, or impersonal destiny. Such concepts don’t fit within my world view. However, as a method for non-intentional decision making, I’m all for chance. The outcome of the shuffle presented me with a linear and discontinuous set of statements. This I could work with; this I could disrupt. Thereafter, I played it by ear.

By mid afternoon, I could sense the growing darkness, as a, now, prematurely closing and overcast day entered the studio. The onset of winter has its own peculiar melancholy. I’d been asked to advertise on the School’s social media sites events to advise students on dealing with sexual harassment. I was more than happy to. The recent rash of disclosures about inappropriate contact perpetrated by male government ministers and celebrities has appalled me. Men in power are not above decency. And truly powerful men have mastery over their passions.

4.40 pm: I and one of my colleagues were booked to present a talk on blogging at 5.10 pm (the final class of the day; the graveyard shift). Karen and I did a sequential double-act.

6.00 pm: Finished. Hungry. 6.30 pm: Following dinner (quick to cook; quick to eat), I uploaded the afternoon’s teaching materials.

7.30 pm: I returned, briefly, to the turntables to generate a little more ‘noise’ in order to offset the clarity of the speech recordings (which had been captured directly from the vinyl, without digital processing):

Back, then, to sample sequences that I’d begun to assemble during the afternoon. The composition doesn’t need to be resolved; it’s only one contributor to a greater whole that has to be resolved. It was raining outside; I could hear the irregular and somewhat manic pitter-patter of raindrops falling from the troughing. The sound was both a comfort and an unwanted distraction.



November 2, 2017

6.30 am: I was awoken by distant voice – unfamiliar and yet fully known. 7.15 am: Having showered and breakfasted, I sat down to review the day before me and set my heart in order. These days, my internal landscape is constantly reconfiguring; landmarks move in and out of focus; the furthermost distances are lost in a haze; the frame at first broadens and then contracts alarmingly, and without warning; and I no longer have a sense of where due north lies. But ‘through all these changing scenes of life’ (to quote the hymn), there are constants, certainties, assurances, and reasons to be grateful. These are the days. Days I’ll always remember. Days of change (so long in coming), maturation, deepening, opening, knowing, and of being known.

To work:

9.00 am: The beginning of a long day of teaching covering third year painting, the Abstraction module, and PhD Fine Art teaching. A small still life: one needs very little from which to create something of significance:

12.10 pm: The Abstraction double-bill, once again. Into socio-historical territory for the first time. The second session looked at the module essay, followed by a discussion about where we should travel to undertake the Exhibition Report submission. The students’ financial limitations are decisive. I took lunch on the hop. (Rubbish food!)

2.00 pm: I’d half an hour respite, before blundering into third year tutorials again at 2.30 pm. 4.00 pm: Off to the Old College for a final tutorial with one of my PhD Fine Art tutees. 5.45 pm: Homeward:

6.30 pm: The Thursday diary routine, wherein I endeavour to clear the decks in preparation for a studio day tomorrow. This means addressing all incoming email and reconciling my teaching timetable (something which is become increasingly difficult to achieve).

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • T: ‘I don’t actually know what I’m doing’. J: ‘But just acknowledging that is sufficient for now. Think off yourself as being within a dark room. All you can do at the moment is bump into furniture as you establish a mental map of the interior. There’ll come a time when your hand will find the light switch’.
  • The future always emerges from the present. What you’re doing presently is unlikely to be what you’ll be doing in a year’s time. However, what you’ll go onto do is dependent on what you’re doing now. So commit yourself to the present and to the work at hand wholeheartedly, enthusiastically, and without reservation, and walk with it towards the future.
  • For every creative project that we engage, there must a game plan – a let of rules by which to play and delimit our possibilities. Without them, anything and everything is possible and, as such, nothing will happen.
  • Her middle name, in Welsh, is Grug [Heather]. That name tied her to the landscape she painted.
  • T: ‘I think of the Llyn Peninsula as being like a long arm stretching towards an apple’.
  • The motif is the fixed element in the series – like a wire hanger; each painting is like a different shirt that’s hung upon it.
  • J: ‘What are you searching for?’ ‘Would you know what it was if you saw it?’ ‘What is searching for you?’
  • Frequently, the game plan that we establish for one work can generate a variety of permutations. Realise the full potential of an idea, therefore. Make many works – all the same, yet all different.
  • The integrity of a set of works is predicated upon the integrity of the individual pieces and their shared identity.





November 1, 2017

8.00 am: A communion and a reaffirmation of mutual commitment. 8.30 am: Life is curiously vitalised, presently  – like a blessing bestowed; like an immersion in a soothing warm bath after a cold day. I would not have dreamt that such days were still possible. 9.00 am: I and my PhD Fine Art tutee and her other supervisor, Professor Cruise, met on the steps of the School like anxious parents anticipating a new delivery. Today was the student’s viva voce. 9.15 am: As the External Examiner began his tour of the gallery, where the student’s work was hung, I finalised my preparations for the day ahead and chipped away at admin and preparations for tomorrow’s tutorials.

9.50 am: I wrote to a ‘sister’, to the effect:

There’s a particular grace that attends suffering, and only suffering. And in that grace there’s hope (even in the face of what appears impossible to bear and expect, humanly speaking). And, with those things, comes the experience of enabling and support. And, because of those things, there’s great joy and thanksgiving.

10.15 am: I received a ‘wrong number’ call from a woman who had manually, rather than speed, dialled her mother. A very human error. We laughed together. I didn’t ask who she was, and she never knew my identity either. Some ‘chance’ encounters do not extend beyond the moment, while others stretch into eternity. I needed to finalise a field-trip destination for those on my Abstraction module. London is a possibility (setting out at 5.30 am and returning at 11.30 pm). Quite a hike! Cardiff is also on the horizon, and more realistic.

11.25 pm: Outwards and upwards: my return to the National Library of Wales. Evidenly, I’d arrived already:

I met again with the audio-visual technician to check over the system. (Gremlins often come at night; it’s a well-established fact.) Afterwards, I was given a ‘free lunch’ (there is such a thing) at the Library’s restaurant – a light salad. (I don’t operate well on a heavy lunch.)

1.15 pm: Kick off!:

A reasonable number had dared act upon their curiosity. I made no bones about how difficult this work would be to explain and receive. Baring a few minor muffs caused by my congestion, the delivery (orally, visually, and acoustically) went reasonably well. Public speaking is always a self-education. The more familiar you are with the context of delivery, the more proficient the dispatch. This was only my second endeavour at Y Drwm’s lectern.  I need to believe more in the audience’s willingness to accept. The informal comments I received afterwards were very encouraging. I hadn’t lost them, or mired them in tecky-talk, or frightened them witless with all my ‘sound and fury’. A number even bought the CD from ‘the little shop’ in the Library. By the close of the hour, I was spent out.

My host took me for a cup of tea (I looked the type, obviously) afterwards. She’d been so helpful throughout the process, as have all the staff involved in this project. 2.30 pm: I stayed at the restaurant to pick up, and respond to, emails, and catch up on news from beyond the building. My PhD Fine Art student had passed their viva voce with flying colours. I was everywhere … and very self conscious:

3.30 pm: Another meeting with the Royal Commission related to the dementia project. Our objective, today, was to firm up a set of project initiatives that would be the basis of our workshops on 22 November, and to look at some of the representative artefacts in the Commission’s archive:

4.30 pm: Homeward. Aberystwyth’s evenings will be at their best for the next few months:

I caught up further with the world that had taken place in my absence. 5.30 pm: To dinner. I lay down afterwards on the settee in the lounge and lost two hours – Morpheus had prevailed over me. In a dream, I heard the noise of an unbalanced and irate man outside my house railing against me for some perceived affront (undisclosed). I knew that I had to confront him, armed and prepared. Then, I awoke … feeling unusually hungry. Breakfast cereal was called for.

Late evening, I listened to my lunchtime efforts, while preparing for tomorrow’s classes. It always surprises me how many ‘muffs’ can be made while reading a verbatim script. And these are often made towards of the lecture, as one begins to ‘race’ to the finishing line in the realisation that time is running out. Maybe no one in the audience noticed; I doubt if any remembered them. There’s so much one can learn from even small and inconsequential errors. But, today, I wasn’t firing on all cylinders; the cold was still very much active.

10.30 pm: Time up!