September 18, 2014


8.00 am. The proportions of the Scottish flag are not fixed, variously assuming ratios of 5:4, 2:3, and 1:2. Likewise, the background colour can be either sky or navy blue. Abstract designs, such as the Saltire (which is also the basis of the Jamaican flag) are far more adaptable than figurative ones. The Welsh flag has a 1:2 ratio. Change that, and the Dragon (an emblem shared with the Kingdom of Butan) starts to look decidedly dumpy.

I was on the homeward lap with the present Art/Sound lecture, and made a fascinating excursion into the sometimes dubious methodologies of archaeoacoustics. Could an ancient pot encode the sound of its maker? Whatever the demerits of such theories (and some of other theories of archaeoacoustics are eminently ‘sound’), it does make me long for the emergence of a strong interdiscipline that, for argument’s sake, one could call art-historiacoustics or acoustiart-history.

12.45 pm. At the School I gave out advice to finalising MA Fine Art students and confirmed decisions, where a nod and a wink was sufficient. Over the lunch hour, I endeavoured to upgrade a MacBook Pro to accept the input from a Tascam mixer via a usb connection. However, while I was able to record well enough, the usb connection from the laptop back to the mixer returned a grating hiss. But the problem seems to be peculiar to one MacBook, rather than to them all:


The afternoon and evening sessions were dedicated to completing the current lecture. (By 8.20 pm, all files were closed.)

6.15 pm. Practice session 1. Kasimir Malevich (1879-1935), Black Cross (1923):


The dominant form of the painting is a Greek cross, also known as the Crux Quadrata. Malevich was never a formalist. On one level, this cross refers to The Cross of his Roman Catholic upbringing. The shape fits snugly within the top and bottom of the support. However, the horizontal bar stops short on either side. Thus we read the black shape not as a division of the square but as an object set within it, and also against, rather than on the same plane as, the white ground.

The painting always reminds me of Richard Allen, who was born two years before Malevich died, in 1933. Richard died, aged 66, in 1999. He would have enjoyed the symmetry of that numerical sequence. I gravitated to his work when I was an undergraduate. In my estimation, he was ‘up there’ with Bridget Riley, with whom he exhibited. One of my heroes. I could not have guessed that one day I’d be his Head of Department; he joined the School of Art’s part-time tutorial staff in 1991, and remained with us for seven years. Richard was one of the most gracious, unassuming, and quietly thoughtful human beings I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. I miss him and our conversations still. One critic wrote of his work:

There are few artists who convey such a strong sense of spiritual purity in their work as Richard Allen. His paintings pull you in like an icon; devotional images that mesmerize with their myriad vestigial shapes beneath superficially plain and bold exteriors.

It’s those attributes that made him a true son of Malevich. Richard Allen, Untitled (Enc 16) (c.1974):