September 20, 2014

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5.45 am. An early morning alarm, breakfast of a fundamental kind, and a walk to the railway station to catch the 7.30 am train en route to Cardiff to see Frances Woodley’s curated exhibition ‘All Coherence Gone?’ at the Bay Arts Gallery. I’m attending in my capacity as an enthusiastic supporter and the supervisor of her PhD Fine Art studies, of which degree this exhibition forms a part. En route I began to realize some of the resolutions agreed at the Le Figaro’s conference, yesterday, and worked on a draft of a small-grant application. The truly mobile hot-seat office of a train carriage is particularly conducive to this genre of writing. The mid-Wales landscape slowly bled through the vaporous grey air like a photographic image emerging from developing fluid. By 9.00 am, the sun had started to burn off the fog and enhance the scene’s depth of field (quite literally in this case):

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9.40 pm. When I was undertaking my PhD studies in Art History, during the late 1980s, I rode the train from Aberystwyth to south Wales on a weekly basis to work as a part-time tutor in art history at the, then, Gwent College of Higher Education, Newport. The automated announcement advising alighting passengers that ‘there is a gap between the train and the platform edge’ always sounds vaguely metaphorical. It’s a visualisation of a degree of ill-fitness between two things that clearly belong together, or are meant for each other. Perhaps this is a fundamental axiom of all human relationships.

On entering Newport station, I passed the familiar green (copper-oxidized) dome of Clarence Place, once the site of the Faculty of Art & Design, where I undertook my BA (Hons) in Fine Art between 1978 and 1981. Inside, it had green-glazed ceramic tiles on the lower half of the walls throughout, which made the building feel like a commodious gents’ toilet. Indeed, the actual gents’ toilet was of the same design. 12.01 pm. The last leg of the journey had me hopping from Cardiff Central, to Cardiff Queen Street, to Cardiff Bay. I felt a board-game player who, having consistently thrown ‘6s’ on the die, could manage no more than ‘1s’ on subsequent turns:

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I found a wifi spot at the Millennium Centre and touched home base. Frances hailed me as I neared the Bay Gallery. On arrival (early), the attendants were preparing tables and drinks for the opening:

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It gave me time to make notes on the exhibition before the guests arrived. Writing makes me think, thinking makes me look, looking makes me think, and thinking makes me write:

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Transcription (from ‘The Black Notebook’ (Jan. 2, 2008 – , 176-7 )):

Not over hung / groups of works by individual artists /framing, where used, is discrete / contrast between a high degree of refinement of surface and open brushwork /space and intervals / removed from the opulence of ‘the age of riches’ / photographs that look like paintings, and vice versa / still lifes that look like landscapes / the tabletop; the plane / confrontational and intimate / evoking memories of other still lifes: vestigial presence / still lifes with historical consciousness: defining and defying the genre / still lifes can be disgusting, repulsive; mocking mortality / a sickly cynicism / obsessive looking / the madness of making / finding a place in a world detached from the theology and social strictures of 17th century Netherlands / I heard and saw a flock of geese fly overhead as I entered the gallery; I recalled Cuyp / the sense of ‘dead nature’ is like a rotten smell / sometimes the genre gets in the way of the painting / sometimes I cannot see beyond conspicuous craft / objects put down (placed) / Ben Nicholson / the camera is no longer obscure / ‘What is that in the background?’ / Ah! Richter / Clichés can be enjoyed, intelligent, redeemed / guests at the opening photograph the works: stealing a skin / watching others look / a table-top world on the wall / like reflections in the glassy dark screen of an old cathode-tube TV / still life: a partial world; bits of life wrapped in paint; familiar objects, alienated / I’m always converting the visible into words / stills lifes never make me feel hungry / which works pull me back? //

I left the gallery at 3.20 pm and arrived at a Travel Lodge,  Newport, Gwent around 4.00 pm:

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It’s not Premier Inn, but entirely adequate. As my Mam used to say: ‘Just so long as its clean and tidy’. Which it is.

After a dinner in the local free house, I retraced the walk I used to take to my alma mater from the centre of the town (now, a city), over Newport Bridge. Some of the landmarks have disappeared and paths have been rerouted. My eyes scanned above street level for signage that looks today much as it did in the late 1970s. (‘Skinner Street’ — summoning an old fur trade, perhaps.)  I ran my palm across the surfaces of still extant moulded concrete walls, and touched the brass plates (which were polished every at 8.30 am) of my former art school’s entrance door. I’ve not done so in over thirty years. At such moments, time-travel seems entirely plausible:

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