February 3, 2018

In that solid city

8.30 am: A communion. 9.00 am: I intended to finish the penultimate section of the paper substantially by the close of the day. I’m also, presently, reconsidering the abandoned composition based upon a deceleration of MacMillan’s recitation of Psalm 23. (Rarely, do I let go of any creative possibility without a fight.) Having alighted upon software that can facilitate an even and progressive slowing of the source, without generating unpleasant artefacts in the process, my enthusiasm for the idea had been rekindled. When I played the draft version of the decelerating source in Bethel Welsh Baptist Church in November, the sound had a plaintive, almost dispiriting, quality; but I wasn’t able to capture it, digitally, either in situ (you had to be there, as it were) or in the studio, subsequently. The vocal sample also requires a complementary undertow. ‘Think on, John!’, he piped up:

While writing my paper, I fielded two parallel and entirely unrelated social media conversations: one about effects pedals and the other related to the curatorial storm that has blown up over the removal of John Williams Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs (1896) from Manchester City Art Gallery. One of my FaceBook friends rightly drew attention to the work of the contemporary American painter, Eric Fischl.

A painting such as his Bad Boy (1981) – showing a young boy covertly putting his hand into a purse (traditionally, a symbol for the vagina) while looking at a woman (his mother, perhaps) naked and pleasuring herself on a bed – is far more ‘problematic’. But the ‘problem’ is both salutary and necessary. I replied to their post:

Fischl made a number of, what some might interpret as, unseemly and lewd images showing uncomfortable juxtapositions of children and adults. To my mind, he speaks a social truth that we must confront. (By the way, Hylas, the male in Waterhouse’s painting, was gay. The Nymphs abducted him, poor chap. ) … Fischl was a devotee of Edward Hopper. And Hopper showed naked women in hotel rooms looking out of open windows in order to be seen. What was that all about?

Some art ought make us feel uncomfortable; it should throw us back upon ourselves, put our moral compass into a spin, force us to better define the basis of our ethics, and face the hard realities about the human condition. That is art acting responsibly, in my opinion.

Many years ago, I taught a male painting student who made works based on pornographic images in magazines and on the internet. While I drew a line at reviewing his source material, I (and his girlfriend, too) fully supported his endeavour to translate that material into works that were, in some respects, not so far removed from Wilhem deKooning’s controversial series of Women (c. 1950s). I do have moral objections to pornography; but, then again, so did this student … which is why he made the paintings in the first place. So I felt able to commit myself, as his tutor, to his intent. During my second year as an undergraduate, my painting tutor, John Selway, produced a series called The Use of Women to Sell Beds. The paintings were sumptuous, bold, and mildly erotic (in the manner of Georges Rouault‘s images of prostitutes), but in no sense exploitative or uncomfortably problematic like, say, Allen Jones’ Chair (1969). Indeed, the title of John’s series suggests that his raison d’être was to draw attention to the issue of  female commodification.

11.00 am: Tea time:

Meanwhile … back at the paper … . I intended to type the phrase ‘I shall not want’ but it came out as ‘I shall not lunch’. (No way!) My mind and fingers clearly had different agendas.

1.30 pm: After my frugal repast (a cold, lifeless, left-over slice of pizza) and some manly domestic duties, I returned to my desk for the afternoon’s onslaught. In the background: Miles Davis’ Circle in the Round (1967). I wrote a short essential description of the modus operandi for each of the works the works that I’d be playing at the coming conference. Distilling an intent is hard. You can’t afford to tell the whole story. And the ‘devil’ is in the detail. Rain, rain, rain, rain. I’ll never leave my house again:

3.00 pm: I went into PowerPoint slide design mode. In the background: Van der Graff Generator’s Least We Can Do is Wave to Each Other (1970). 3.25 pm: It’s strange how some pieces of music create in me an intense desire to revisit a place that I know only as a mood memory. The place has neither a name nor a location nor a position on my timeline, as far as I can discern. But it’s no less real and consoling for that. The sense of that place, like an after-image on the inside of your eye, fades very quickly. Each time I experience this phenomenon, I’m left with a profound wistfulness. For, I know for certain that I’d find peace there:

Towards the end of the working day, another FaceBook friend asked me: ‘Do you think you’ll return to painting in the future?’. My response: ‘If ideas present themselves as realisable only in terms of painting, then yes’.

5.20 pm: Close of play.

Some observations and principles derived from today’s reflections:

  • The aim is to live at peace with yourself; to be reconciled to yourself.
  • I find those that desire, and delight in, solitariness to be very attractive.
  • You can be in a satisfying relationship and still a loner. The two conditions aren’t mutually antagonistic.
  • The acceptance of solitude is often the gift of the only child.
  • We are incomprehensible to ourselves. Small wonder that others misunderstand us.
  • Think of it not as an end.


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