October 13, 2017

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest (Ecclesiastes 9.10)

8.30 am: Email catchup with correspondents at home and overseas.

Garden: Elysian Grove, pencil, 26.2 × 25.4 (1992)

It was strange seeing a work of mine from so long ago on a gallery wall again. I hadn’t forgotten the drawing; it had just been buried beneath everything else that I’d made subsequently, much like it had under the Turner watercolours in the School’s archive, I imagine. ‘Why don’t you draw like that again?’ someone asked. Because it was then and I am now. The drawing hasn’t changed, but I have. The artwork was an answer to a specific inquiry; today, I’m asking a very different question, one that requires an entirely other response. To undertake a drawing like this again would be as inauthentic as attempting to relive a day from my past. I can’t go back. And, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should … any longer.

9.45 am: Studiology. I rewired the sound set up for the  Turn Table project to permit two independent input/output paths for the two sampler/loopers in the system. On, then, with further tests. The solution worked, but only in part. A radical rethink was the call of the hour. For me, drawing = thinking. I can’t resolve problems of this nature other than schematically. In essence, the solution is about splitting and combining two signal paths before and after the looper/samplers:

There’re times when a simple problem requires a complicated solution. I remember one student, years ago, saying. ‘Why can’t painting be easier? I hate difficulty’. To which I replied: ‘If you didn’t have the difficulty, there’d be no painting’. Creativity takes place in the context of a battle (to adapt Matisse’s metaphor) against the recalcitrance of materials, the limitations of technology, and one’s own limitations, stupidity, and laziness. Artists worthy of that title are those who fight in spite. It’s too easy to throw in the towel when things don’t go to plan. That’s a symptom of creative immaturity.

12.00 pm: The revised sound system worked a treat: two desynchronous looper/samplers in parallel/independent operation. What next? Test the sound capture at the laptop. All was ‘okey-dokey’, as we’re apt to say in South Wales:

Playing this system is like painting in an abstract and improvisational mode. I add, layer, obscure, and obliterate in order to arrive at a resolved ‘surface’ – but a ‘surface’ that’s constantly undoing and reforming itself. Having built the system, I next needed to dismantle it for conveyance to the School of Art Gallery, this afternoon. This always takes far longer than I anticipate.

Good news on the conference abstract front. Against the odds, my proposal for a paper about the I. Nothing. Lack. project has been accepted for the Digital Past 2018 conference. Lesson: sometimes you have to give the judges what they need rather than what they think they want.

1.30 pm: After lunch, I tentatively initiated the ‘secret project’ and boxed equipment for transport. The advantages of having a studio two stories above the front door wane when it comes to lugging heavy equipment downstairs and up.

2.00 pm:  It suddenly and forcibly struck me: I’ve begun to conceive of painting more as an attitude of mind and a way of thinking than a discipline in relation to medium. I’m seeing the ‘painting’ behind painting – the spirit within the practice. This idea isn’t scrutable by logic, presently. I’m all at sea here. Either the ‘revelation’ is a harbinger of incipient lunacy, a result of sleep deprivation, or a genuinely meaningful awareness. I don’t know. I’ll remain suspicious of myself, as always. My study of art history has taught me that it’s not rare for artists, at a certain point in their career, to develop completely wacky and self-delusional notions and practices. I recalled the Welsh Painter Evan Walters‘ (1892–1951) who, in his mid 40s, started producing dreadful artwork based upon an utterly potty perceptual theory of double vision. (We need to be saved from ourselves, in so many ways.)

While looking for store boxes in the cellar, I alighted upon a Polaroid photograph that I’d taken around 1985, that captured a palette I’d used during my undergraduate years. The image brought with it the remembrance of those paintings for which that palette was the ground of being, and of which it remained their residue:

3.30 pm: I unpacked the equipment and began to reassemble the sound system in the double gallery at the School of Art, following my tried and tested procedure:

  1. Set up and secure the furniture: stands, table tops, etc.
  2. Take a cable from the wall socket to the power conditioner and plugboards.
  3. Take cables from the latter to auxiliary plugboards and PA.
  4. Set up equipment on table top.
  5. Take cables from equipment and laptop to conditioner and plugboards.
  6. Route signal cables from first piece of equipment to the last, in order.
  7. Switch on one piece of equipment at a time, in order, and the PA system last.

5.10 pm: Finished:

7.30 pm: Intercessions. I’d responsibility for leading congregational prayers on Sunday morning at the Harvest service. This was my last opportunity to prepare for the task.

October 12, 2017

3.00 am: I’ve woken up at this time of the morning for the last three days. As I tried to still my mind in a bid to slip back into slumber, an image pressed itself upon me. I was standing on an empty road;  it inclined downhill and stretched beyond my field of vision. To its right was a very tall wall made of smooth concrete, the colour of pink plaster – unassailable. Above, behind, and along it, I saw the tops of telegraph poles. I wanted to scale the wall and get to the other side. But I didn’t know what was behind it, or why I sought to get there. I said to myself: ‘I can either stand here and look up at it, hopelessly, or else walk the length of the wall, trusting that I’ll find an entrance’.

7.00 am: I awoke again, more tired than I’d been at 3.00 am. 8.00 am: A communion. 8.30 am: Off to School. 8.45 am: The lecturing kit was assembled. (The Star Trek memory stick is optional.):

9.00 am: Third year painters were my priority today. Other tasks would be in orbit. Seasonal colds caught my first tutee off guard. But there’s always something to do when an unplanned space in my timetable arises. 11.30 pm: My new cables had arrived. I could hardly contain myself:

A rare trip to Mr Garrett’s workshop for a mole wrench (which men of a certain age will know of). None to be found. A plyers instead, then. I adore boxes of screws. Order, categorisation, index:

12.10 pm: Abstraction, two lectures, end to end. Today we were on more conventional territory. The way art always goes forward while glancing backwards is constantly fascinating.

2.15 pm: My final tutorial of the day, with an abstract painter, appropriately. 3.00 pm: A little uploading, a little tutorial management, a little folding of hands. 4.00 pm: Off to the Opening of  the Outside In exhibition (which included an old ‘friend’ of mine on the wall, who’d somehow got archived with the Turner watercolours in the School’s collection), and Frances Woodley’s (one of my PhD Fine Art tutees) Speak to Me: Conversations with the still-life tradition. Both were excellent and peculiarly relevant to current student interests and study:

5.30 pm: I was knackered (pardoning the expression). Homeward … now ghosting:

7.00 pm: My other life – Holy Trinity Church Committee, with the new Vicar and in a new Vicarage:

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Don’t try to be the artists you admire. That’s a form of identity theft.
  • The more like them you become, the less like yourself you’ll be.
  • Ensure that your inspirations are worthy of you. Pinterest has no quality filter. But you must.
  • By the close of this semester, I want you consider paint to be as much the subject of the work as what you represent.
  • Van Gogh focussed as much attention on designing the corners of his paintings and he did anything within the central field of attention. In a painting, the artist is responsible for everything.
  • Representational painters should look at cinema. It can be as important a resource as art history in some cases.
  • You can’t make painting without looking at other artists’ painting. Don’t work in a vacuum.
  • Make less do more.
  • Art may interpret art, but in a way that’s distinct from art-historical inquiry.
  • One has to be dispassionate, ruthless, and self-denying when making decisions about which path to follow, in art as in life.



October 11, 2017

From dreamland: I was at my breakfast table. At right angles to me sat an 8 year old girl with light brown hair, whom I’d never met. She asked: ‘How do you paint with sound?’ [This was an echo of a tutorial conversation which I’d had yesterday.]. I replied: ‘I squeeze some ‘SSSSSS’ out of one tube and some ‘BRRR’ out of another and mix them on my palette (which is also my canvas) – in other words, the software on my computer monitor, with a brush – that’s to say, my keyboard and mouse’. She smiled, approvingly. Then, I awoke.

8.30 am: Off to the Old College under a monochrome sky. 9.00 am: The first tutorials of the day were with painting students whom I’d taught last year, when they were undergraduates. We didn’t resume the same conversation. During the summer recess, they’d grown and I had changed. Painting is not like knitting; you can’t take it up again after a period of an absence. The pattern has altered, albeit subtly. 10.00 am: My first, formal tutorial with our new PhD Fine Art student. We endeavoured to establish one another’s wavelengths and discern the zone of overlap (which is broad in this case). I predict that this will be a fruitful professional relationship. Dalit’s palette:

Petrified wood forest (I recalled a Joni Mitchell song). Borth Beach was a great place to fly a kite. The aim of the course is not to obtain an MA Fine Art, principally, but, rather, to be a better artist. See more with your feelings than with your eyes. (This advice is not for all artists.) The original Polaroids were square format. I’d cut them from their mount, clean off the dried emulsion, and paint on the back of the plastic. Think of a static image as an abstraction of a kinetic encounter with the world. S: ‘You still use the word “truth” at this art school!’ T: Yes, and “beauty” and “craft” too. The old verities aren’t disallowed. We’re very liberal’ (Tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (October 11, 2017) 266–67).

11.00 am: I established basecamp in the Quad, so that I could press on with incoming mail and ongoing admin. I used to eat my lunch here, every Thursday, when our undergraduates were ensconced in the building. Rarely do I have the occasion to sit here and write, listen, and be observed these days:

Never give up on the hope that things may be different one day: more fulfilling, deeply meaningful, loving, and fashioned according to your own needs and identity. Ask yourself: ‘What’s there in my power to change, right now?’ Great revolutions are often the aggregate of small incremental adjustments to one’s context of life and operation, orientation, ambitions, and expectations. So, begin.

12.30 pm: A lunchtime discussion with one of my MA troop, followed, at 2.15 pm, by a PhD Fine Art tutorial and, afterwards, a series of engagements with the new MA painters at the West Classroom:

Worrying and dissatisfaction are two entirely different states of mind. Even if the whole world lauded your work, you may yet be unconfident about it. The problem really begins with ourselves. You must fight in order to win. There’s no point to struggling otherwise. Begin with chaos, if you must. And maintain the energy and disorder of such, if you must. Such a painting is a bucking bronco – wild and angry – but you must remain in control and in the saddle at all times. Lucien Freud: flesh= paint (Tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (October 11, 2017) 267).

5.20 pm: The campaign closed. All in all, a day of new beginnings, visions, and resolutions, and of renewed determination, among the postgraduates. I don’t know what it’s like to teach another subject, but a pedagogical engagement with fine art and art history students draws upon skills far broader than those intrinsic to the disciplines. This is because the teacher must first confront and comprehend the tutee’s humanity and totality before they can even begin to talk business.

7.30 pm: Admin and lecture preparation in readiness for the next two sessions on Abstraction tomorrow (Joni Mitchell’s Hejira in the background.)

An aside: On the anticipation of various endings and departings:


October 10, 2017

7.00 am: I awoke with a melody running through my head. It wasn’t so remarkable as to require setting down. From whence had it arisen? Was it the soundtrack to the night’s final dream – forgotten in the instant of regaining consciousness?  Mental music as the residual echo of a dream. 8.30 am: Off to School. I often take the long-route on the outward journey. It’s 3 minutes longer than the short-route, which takes only 4 minutes to complete. Now this is commuting. I look forward to the walk; it gives me just enough time to gather my thoughts, prepare my soul, and steel my nerve for the start of the day:

With acknowledgement to Google Maps

9.00 am: I’d two re-routed 3rd year painting students to teach. The first tutorial of each new semester is focussed on the student’s and my understanding their past, present, and prospective trajectory:

On discovering a subject matter: S: ‘I really didn’t know what it was at first’. T: ‘But you can discover it in the process of painting’. There’s always a subject that lies behind the subject. You must, at the same time, turn your eyes inwards; painting is not just about what’s ‘out there’. Painting is like a chess game; the ideal is to play and win using as few moves as possible. When you find the appropriate subject you’ll also find yourself. The watch-word: integration. Winnow: shake your work through the filter regularly, so that the chaff of redundancies, irrelevancies, and inconsistencies falls through the mesh, to leave the wheat of quality and relevance (to you). T: ‘All I can do is give you a map and a set of instructions (principles) that, if followed, may one day lead you to yourself’. S: ‘When I come home from a party, drunk, I take off my shoes, bra, and earrings first’. [To anyone outside the culture of Fine Art, such a statement would seem bizarre. Today, in this context, it opened a door to a previously unconsidered possibility.] Aim to include an element of surprise. All considerations are subservient to the needs of the painting. Painting: it’s another world that’s only based upon this world. Laundry in a basket as a still life. (Tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (October 10, 2017) 265–66).

10.00 am: I popped in at the life room to see how some of my painting students were developing in this area of their studies. The morning’s model had an extraordinary command over her pose. She knew how to test the students:

10.30 am: Administration and preparations for the MA Vocational Practice at 11.10 am. Today we dealt with techniques for small-group teaching. The session ‘rocked’! Together, they’re a formidable, no nonsense, clear-thinking bunch. I learned so much.

2.00 pm: An afternoon of MA Fine Art teaching:

Something being prepared; something falling away. Where does your picture take your mind? What’s it saying to you? Determine the fundamental, non-negotiable, and necessary attributes of the work. Then strip everything else away. T: ‘It reminds me of cathedral walls that I saw in Florence’. Do we go back to artists that were important to us during our formative years, or do we meet them once again on the outward journey. Formidable but not assertive. Look at Rembrandt’s Self Portrait with Two Circles. Did it ever occur to him to paint only the background? Don’t pressurise yourself to work any faster; let the work draw you forward at its own speed.  As artists, insecurity comes with the territory, and may be a necessary condition for creating something of value. The older I get the greater the significance and poignancy of the still moments become. Tradition is like a blackhole; if you dance too close to it, It’ll suck you in.  (Tutorial notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (October 10, 2017) 266–67).

3.30 pm: A breather. I walked around the School and enjoyed witnessing work in progress downstairs in the Printmaking areas. The first year students were exhibiting an industriousness reminiscent of a medieval guild in operation:

4.00 pm: The final tutorial of the day. It has been good to resume discussion with some of former undergraduate painters. 5.20 pm: Back to home.

7.30 pm: I took time to order tomorrow’s teaching, made a response to the implications of today’s engagements, and opened emails that I’d been avoiding. These tasks were interwoven with Instagram updates and arrangements for the Exploring Your Archive project.

October 9, 2017

In the Christian bible, ‘Transfiguration’ denotes Christ’s glorification on the mount (Mt. 17.1-9, Mk 9.2-8, Lk. 19. 28-36). More usually, the term refers to a marked change (or crossing-over) of one form into another. Within the context of [The Pictorial Bible and The Aural Bible series], the form (that is, the pre-compositional material which is subjected to a process of conversion) comprises texts drawn from the Judaeo-Christian bible, principally, while the resultant ‘transforms’ are visual and audible artefacts. The objective is to produce, what Mia Mochizuki has termed (with reference to seventeenth-century Netherlandish tradition of Protestant word-based decoration) an ‘anti-image’: one that is shaped and delimited as much by Judaeo-Christianity’s theology of God’s invisibility and aniconicism, and the exigencies of scripture (as understood by Calvinist exegesis), as by formal and abstract visual values (John Harvey, The Bible as Visual Culture: when text becomes image (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013) 183.

The concept of transfiguration has been one of the dominant methodologies underlining my work since the beginning of The Pictorial Bible series, in 1999. That series was conceived as a trilogy, and concluded in 2015. When I return to painting, following the completion of The Aural Bible series’ trilogy, it will not be as it once was. But that is the only thing of which I’m certain. For now, sound = paint:

The First Day (Gen. 5.1–5) oil on board, 70 × 70 cm (2007)

When Christ was transfigured, he became radiant: ‘his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light’ (Matthew 17.2). Moses’ face had shone on his return from the summit of Mount Sinai. He had been in the presence of God for forty days (Exodus 34. 29–35). In some ways, it was like having been exposed to intense radioactivity, but without harm. In Mark’s account of the narrative, the writer adds: ‘his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them’ (Mark 9.3). I like that last phrase, particularly. It earths the transcendental moment. A fuller dyed cloth. Christ was white beyond what anyone could have achieved using bleach. White is the colour of heaven and the presence of God; and that presence was disclosed momentarily when Christ parted the curtain to reveal the fullness of his divinity. In the tradition of icons, the radiant white of the transfiguration was transmuted, by a theological and symbological alchemy, into gold. Therefore, for gold read white. Whereas, in the icon, white pigment denoted the light of this world; gold connoted a super-light: variously the light of God, a state of blessedness, and spiritual illumination made resplendently physical and sensual.

8.45 am: As is my routine, I laid out the accoutrements in readiness for the day ahead:

camera, ‘the Black Notebook’, dictaphone, pen,
keys, wallet, phone

These black objects will be deposited in a black bag with a black lining, and promptly lost therein. I enjoy black to the extent that I’ll put up with pretty much any inconvenience.

9.00 am: A column of unopened emails rose like the Tower of Babel, heavenwards. A demolition job began. 9.45 am: Off to School. 10.15 am: Then on, courtesy of the Garrett-Mobile, to the Old College to haggle over additional space for the burgeoning postgraduate contingent. The ‘Spaceman’, Mr Macey, introduced Mr Garrett and I to some of the old chemistry labs. One still had what looked like scientists’ Lego and  … an oscilloscope. Oh!! (Love at first sight.):


A successful shopping trip. In the end, we were on the way to securing both rooms. 11.00 am: Back at homebase, the people of the world had begun reconstructing the tower of inbox in my absence. More dynamite.

12.00 pm: On to writing a brief overview of the various chapel-based presentations arising from The Talking Bible project. This will be used to promote the projects to radio broadcasters.

1.30 pm: A disrupted night’s sleep was taking its toll. I dozed for 15 minutes after lunch. If I’d allowed myself to sleep, I would’ve lost half the afternoon. So, I balanced precariously (like a tight-rope walker) on the threshold of unconsciousness, between two worlds. In this condition, ideas have presented themselves out of the blue; and consoling, felt memories (as distinct from visual memories), associated with experiences long ago, have arisen spontaneously. They’ve been so vivid that, for all the world, it seemed as though I’d returned momentarily.

2.15 pm: Studiology. Why do I get so excited when new patch cables arrive in the post? I removed the temporary, over-long connections and replaced them with the new cables. [LOUD]: ZZZRTTT—K. (‘Turning up the monitor speakers to maximum volume wasn’t a clever idea, John!’) Agreed. The sound system was thoroughly tested, once again. Next, the three records representing the Gospel accounts of the cleansing of the temple (Matthew 21.12–17, Mark 11.15–19, and Luke 19. 45–48) were marked up to identify where the narratives were on their surfaces:

7.00 pm: Further acclimatisation to the sound system.  I need to develop certain dexterities pronto. There was a need to split the signal to the two loopers in order for both to have separate, switchable paths. Running two loopers into one wasn’t sufficiently open to possibilities:

But even minor changes can be resource intensive. More patch cables were ordered. (Something to look forward to excitedly, I suppose.)

I felt a weight that wasn’t mine upon my soul.




October 7, 2017

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day (Genesis 32.24)

1.00 am: Behind everything, is prayer. And behind prayer, is God. There’re times when praying = wrestling; like one-to-one combat, with all the implications of struggle, throws, grapplings, pins, pains, and  bruises. It can be a very lonely, spiritually unnerving, and physically exhausting ordeal. ‘Violent’ too, in its own way. As Jacob’s experience shows, the contest can go a great many rounds before it’s called. Of course the angel (‘a man’) let him win; they were mismatched from the outset. And so it is with God and us: the purpose of the bout is to test your determination rather than God’s strength. ‘Are you serious about what you’re asking for’, he challenges? ‘Then, prove it.’ God always concedes the fight, not because he has to but because he wants to, by giving us the blessing that we need (which may be distinct from the one that we’ve asked for). We can takedown God through prayer. Now, that’s a thought to wrestle with.

So, after a prolonged struggle and much self-searching I retired, but with no answers … just more clearly defined questions.

9.00 am: There were adminy-bitty-thingy-things related to tutorials next week to settle before I could fire-up the electrics in the studio. 10.00 am: A review and modification of yesterday’s work. It’s still at little wobbly. But I prefer irresolution at this stage. If a work is nailed down too soon, it’s that much harder to raise the lid again and take the piece somewhere better. The object, following on from last evening, was to create parallel pairs of ‘musical preacherly rant’.

One sample retained the sound of an electrical glitch made by the equipment used to capture the sermons. Should that be kept (as part of the given) or removed (because it may be a distraction)? Time will tell. The glitches are the equivalent of accidental drips of paint on a canvas: ‘To be or not to be?’ To preserve or to expunge? On Mark Rothko’s Black on Maroon (1958), a few drips of the black have been cast onto the two parallel maroon columns, in the process of painting. (For me, those columns recall the pillars of smoke and fire that went before the Israelites during their sojourn in the wilderness). A lesser artist might have shouted an expletive before carefully painting over them. In letting them be, Rothko honoured the process – the authenticity of the act that brought the art into being.

1.30 pm: After lunch, I walked into town to fulfil domestic duties and take a ruminative stroll across the promenade. (It’s better achieved in the early hours of the morning while out on a run.) I could smell the sea – that mildly unpleasant odour of seaweed, salt, and dead fish – before I saw it:

Looking seaward, the Llyn Peninsula was barely visible on the horizon. From where I stood, at the centre of Cardigan Bay’s reversed ‘C’, one could draw a 90-degree line across the Irish Sea that passed between Arklow and Enniscorthy on the coast and, in land, directly through Kilkenny, and onwards to Limerick. Directions and connections:

2.15 pm: Studio time is not a commodity to be wasted. Task: To listen to everything completed or partially resolved for the I. Nothing, Lack, project. It’s like standing back from a suite of works on a gallery wall and surveying their distinction and unity. In the foreground, while I listened, I completed cabling the sound system for the Turn Table project, in readiness for a thorough test:

Everything A-OK. I’ll ‘rehearse’ my approach to next Saturday’s event, Monday afternoon.

4.30 pm: As this Saturday’s working day entered its final hour (the evening is for chilling), the strong sunlight broke through the grey skies, which had dogged the town all day, and caressed the side of my face. The sensation was vaguely maternal … certainly womanly. Physical warmth evokes its own consolation:


4.30 pm: A letter to a friend was begun. 5.30 pm: Press ‘ESC’.

October 6, 2017

5.30 am: I awoke, frustrated that I could sleep no longer. This issues of life began to seep back into consciousness. 6.00 am: Tired of fighting. Rise! The harvest moon looked down upon my study with a kindliness that only this heavenly body can suggest. (Palmer! You got it so right.) A consoling metaphor:

8.15 am: A communion. 8.45 am: I played John McLaughlin’s interpretation of Victor Young’s and Ned Washington’s My Foolish Heart (1949), and laid claim to its sentiment. 9.00 am: There were just a few administrative untidinesses to bring to book before I could open the studio in good conscience.

9.20 am: When heartfelt distractions press, the trick is keep busy and set your focus on something outside of yourself. The double agenda for the next few days: 1 Complete a second section (at least) for the I. Nothing. Lack. composition; and, 2. Construct a sound system for the Turn Table project. (This would entail partially dismantling the system for The Talking Bible project.)

1. The tape hiss track was added to a sample of MacMillan reciting the whole of Psalm 23. Sections of ‘bit-dropout’, from the spaces in between phrases, were extracted, amplified, EQed, and compressed. These sections have an ecstatic-chaotic and musical quality, which serves as a counterpoint to the dismal degeneration of the preacher’s voice. A reverberant version of the voice track was bled into the mix incrementally. Thereafter, each part of the extraction was re-EQed to enhance its frontal presence in the mix and vary the tonal dynamics throughout the track. Processes like this can take an age:

1.30 pm: Following lunch, I reviewed the morning’s work. On, then, to: 2. Setting up the Turn Table sound system. I’m deliberately trying to not over-think this project. I’ve a tendency to complicate things in an endeavour to cover all my bases and envisage all eventualities. (Be more spontaneous, John! You’re too much a creature of habit.) On this occasion, Ill be throwing caution to the wind (as I seem to be in life as well, increasingly.) The equipment will be kept to a workable minimum. It’s the ergonomics of the set up that’ll be most difficult to resolve. I’d connect it up, as far as I could, in the evening.

1. I’d now two tracks in states of partial resolution. (I’m not sure whether they are backgrounds or complete in themselves.) I made a bid for a third.

7.30 pm: 2. The anticipated connection fest began: Devices to PSUs, PSUs to mains conditioner, mains conditioner to wall socket, phono to phono, phono to TRS, USB to firewire, firewire to laptop, and so forth. Done!:

I’ll test drive (John! You don’t drive) the system tomorrow. 1. For the final half an hour of the evening session, I turned to the more ‘musical’ samples of MacMillan’s sermon – those passages where MacMillan’s enthusiasm translated his speech into song, almost. (What is referred as Hywl, in Welsh.)

11.00 pm: In 2010, I was invited by Eric Lesdema to contribute to a book of experimental writing by artists and art historians, among others, entitled Drowning the Moon (pp. 86–89, 2013). It was an opportunity for authors to step outside their skins (and other people’s expectations too), and re-invent themselves (albeit temporarily) as ‘another’. I submitted a short piece entitled ‘Ann X’, based upon conversations that I’d had with one of my former PhD Art History students. She was a spiritualist medium. I played safe. Recklessness was not called for on this occasion:

The ‘typewritten’ ‘aside’, which has had an occasional presence on this page over the summer months, furthers this excursion, but far less cautiously. I’m neither a poet, nor a novelist, nor a playwright. The texts present discontinuous ideas – a fractured and tangled narrative – drawn from ‘someone’s’ past, present, and anticipated future(s). The distinctions between fiction and fact, biography and autobiography, remain deliberately blurred. Nothing should be inferred, necessarily. It’s only art, after all.

An aside: Pyramus and Thisbe:




October 5, 2017

These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other … (Zechariah 8.16)

‘Just out of interest, John, what’s the Internet bible verse for the day?’ Like the Oblique Strategies, these randomly chosen extracts from the scriptures aren’t difficult to apply to some aspect of one’s life. I’m committed to that precept. But not all truth can be spoken to everyone on any occasion. Some truths are too fearful and hard to bear. There’s a time and a place for telling. The hearer need to be in a frame of mind to receive it. And you need the empathy to deliver it compassionately. (Truth isn’t a weapon; it’s a key that unlocks and liberates.) Never confront someone with a difficult truth by email or letter (let alone Twitter or Messenger). Meet them face-to-face, if at all possible. You need to be there to support their response.

8.30 am: Off to School to, first, test out the lecture theatre’s audio-visual equipment:

Then, I prepared for the first painting workshop/surgery, which Dr Forster and I presided over. We never had anything like this when undergraduates. It’s an essential provision. In this context, all of us (tutees and tutors) recognise our obligations to each other to share insight and encouragement, engage critique, and offer challenges. Here, truth is spoken with tact and understanding. It’s a truth that winnows, builds, focusses, and enables:

Some principles and observations derived from today’s workshop/surgery:

  • The acquisition of skills and techniques should never be an end in itself.
  • Practise and execution proceed in parallel; never one before or after the other.
  • A way of working that fulfils the demands of the artwork, and a way of working that fulfils you. Ideally, these two ambitions ought to be congruent.
  • Some artworks proceed from content to form, others from form to content, and yet others present the form as the content and the content as the form.
  • Choices have to be made and sacrifices, endured.
  • The genre is not the subject. Rather, it’s merely the domain in which the subject may be found.
  • It takes more than art to make art. Therefore, look to your life.

11.15 am: A dash to the newsagents to add to my arsenal of cold and flu remedies. (‘I can’t afford to be ill!’). The first fews weeks of term represent a critical period, within which far more than welcomes and well-wishes are exchanged. (I’ve also a bottle of anti-bacterial hand wash on my desk):

12.10 pm: The Abstraction module was launched. The first lecture had to be taken on trust. We went, as the old mission-hall chorus proclaims, ‘deep and wide’. The last thing I wanted to do is either play to the students’ expectations or deny them difficulty. After all, education is not entertainment; it’s endeavour and endurance:

Fuelled only by the half-bag of crinkly crisps, that I’d discovered in the bottom draw of my desk, and drinking Lemsip, I ploughed through two consecutive hours of lectures. But listening is harder than delivering, even when the lecturer’s resources are taxed. 2.00 pm: The finishing line. My voice held up.

2.15 pm: Homebase. There was a great deal of admin either pending, or dormant in my inbox, or resulting from the morning’s teaching. Tomorrow will be my day.

7.30 pm: Postgraduate admin, project publicity, micro-messages, and the finalisation of an MA dissertation assessment. I can now draw lines under some things.

An aside: ‘Perhaps you shouldn’t commit these things to writing, John, even obliquely!’:



October 4, 2017

8.30 am: Off to School to prepare the Painting (levels 2 and 3) induction class. Dr Forster and I laid it on the line about developing a good work ethic, passion, commitment (which is the fruit of passion), and all-round exemplary studentship. In an age where students are paying a premium for, and (understandably) asking a great deal from, their education, educators are tempted to tread softly softly, avoid offence, and kowtow to the ‘client’. To my mind, the two don’t necessarily follow. If I paid a personal trainer, I’d expect them to give me a hard time. I don’t buy the ‘client/provider’ paradigm anyway. The tutee/tutor dynamic is of an entirely different order. The relationship is built upon mutual trust and respect and a joint submission to the authority of the subject. I treat my students as I would my own children: with courtesy, tact, support, and a recognition of their individuality and rights, but with discipline and stern warnings too, if I fear that they’re in danger of frittering away their talents and opportunities:

Following the class, Mr Prigmore and I took a table to the Project Room and turned it upside down. This was not a gesture of defiance on our part. A photograph of the object would form the basis of a poster form my Open Day presentation, Turn Table. This was the idea that had presented itself to me at my ‘communion’ yesterday morning. The sound artwork will be based on the narrative of the cleansing of the Temple, when Christ turned over the tables of the merchants and money changers (Matthew 21.12–17, Mark 11.15–19, and Luke 9. 45–48). The piece will be improvised, using a DJ turntable, effectors, and the techniques of so-called abstract turntablism, and Scourby’s reading of the texts. In this respect, the presentation will be a manifestation of The Talking Bible Project.

11.00 am: Back at homebase, I attended to bitty administrations while banging together a draft poster for the Turn Table presentation:

Before and after lunch, I continued to communicate minor shifts in arrangements regarding postgraduate studio space. Hopefully, by Monday, we’ll have further options on ‘properties’ at the Old College. If we are to continue to recruit well to the MA Fine Art scheme, then the School needs to procur a container big enough to accommodate the contingent in the coming years. 3.30 pm: While fending off incoming mail and Occupational Health follow-ups, I reacquainted myself with the first few lectures for the Abstraction art history module, which kicks off tomorrow:

4.20 pm: Gradually, I moved towards what I had intended to do this afternoon before being waylaid by necessary incursions related to other matters. That’s life at this time of the year. Welcome to the world of circus plate-spinning. Managing my MA Fine Art tutorials, however, was going to be something closer to a conjuring trick. There were so many competing considerations to be taken into account.

7.30 pm: An MA Art History dissertation was on my table wooing me. I succumbed to its charms, helplessly. (No choice, really. There was a deadline for completion beckoning.) Thus, I courted the text. (‘Don’t slouch, John!’):

11.00 pm: After an hour in stand-by mode, I returned to complete the first reading. The wind rushed through the branches beyond my study window, with the sound of an incoming tide. (‘Who are you addressing here, John?’ Will they ever know?)

An aside: Fixing and teasing apart a transient and layered emotion:

‘Save’/’Don’t save’.

October 3, 2017

Yesterday evening, I received news that an old school friend had passed away following a prolonged and difficult illness. Throughout her life Lisa had been, what an older generation described as, ‘frail’. In her early 20s, she contracted ME and was severely debilitated for several years as a consequence. Lisa and I were members of Blaenau Gwent Baptist Chapel, Abertillery, where we both found our way to faith. Of all the friends that I had back then, she was the most sensible and circumspect – a person in whom one could confide confidently. Lisa possessed a wisdom beyond her years and experience. She died in hospital surrounded by friends, representing the many stages of her life, singing with her Thomas Chisholm’s (1866–1960) hymn ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ (1925). (It sounds like a closing scene from a Frank Capra film.) Now she sings a ‘new song’.

8.15 am: A short communion (out of which emerged an idea for a sound demonstration to be presented at the Open Day on October 14.). 8.30 am: Off to School:

9.00 am: A tutorial with one of our new first year students, to whom I’d given a set of projects to undertake over the summer in preparation for entry this year. Their response had been exemplary: a credit to them and the virtues of home education.

10.00 am: The annual MA painters’ pep-talk was followed, at 11.10 am, by the first Vocational Practice class, looking at the ‘Elements of Higher-Education Teaching’ in Art. This was ‘Magna-VP’: the largest class that I’d ever taught for this module. And boy, did they engage. Good students bring out the best in a teacher:

1.10 pm: I took a very fast lunch before heading, via the School, to the Old College. There I met with my latest PhD Fine Art tutee and gave them a tour of the ‘house’. The porters at the Old College made themselves known. They bend over backwards for our students. An exemplary bunch. A university is built upon the foundations of such loyal and hardworking employees. We should honour them more.

3.00 pm: The first of two MA Fine Art tutorials. My tutee – who’s too curious and wilful for their own good – had discovered a wonderful old Bechstein upright piano, which appears have been lovingly maintained, in one of the practice rooms. I didn’t even know we had practice rooms at the Old College. They occupy a part of the building that was once the Finance Department. From bank notes to clef notes:

She’s a distinguished old ‘lady’. (Pianos, like guitars, are always feminine. Because they dispose grace and consolation.) 4.30 pm: My second tutee is at a turning point, waiting and working for the final push to get them round the corner. It’ll happen and soon, of that I’m confident.

West Classroom: homage to Jim Dine (b.1935):

6.30 pm: I was on ‘smalls’ duties. The rate at which I’m presently losing single socks in the wash now borders on a supernatural phenomenon. I strongly suspect that either the washing machine or tumble dryer is haunted, and that solo socks are being apported to another part of the universe. There can be no other possible explanation.

7.30 pm: I faced-down the skip-load of emails that had filled my inbox during the afternoon. The task was eased by the arrival of the John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension, Live at Ronnie Scott’s CD. My elder son and I were at the performance on a Harvey Boys’ night out in March this year. What a memorable concert:


Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Life drawing is vaguely humiliating. At every class. you’re confronted with what you cannot yet do.
  • Draw in order to better understand, see, and articulate, visually, rather than to make art. Art will be the bi-product of that process.
  • The more you entrust to art, the more art will entrust to you.
  • True teachers are born to the task. But it takes many years before some realise that they’re alive to the role.
  • Parents are teachers of an incomprehensibly larger magnitude.
  • Some things need to be said. Some things must remain unsaid … for now.
  • Our most heart-rending losses and harrowing endurance, as well as our most rapturous joys and soul-satisfying contentment, together, create a chiaroscuro that gives solidity and depth to our personality and, thereby, to our work.
  • Risk taking is predicated upon the confidence either that things might work out well or that you can redeem the situation if they don’t.
  • The work is the dynamo that generates the energy, not the other way around.