8.30 am. I wanted to complete Matt. 19.18 before going to the School. 10.00 am. An extended tutorial with Susan in the context of the Corbels exhibition. I’d seen the drawings before, but only in photographs. In the ‘flesh’, the scale and surface of the works surrendered previously unconsidered significances. A revelation attended our discussion. Such ‘visitations’ are rare, unsummoned, and often undeserved (although, not in this case). It disclosed a motif by which the entire body of her PhD work could be understood. I sensed the coming: a gentle ecstasy welled up — born of an unaccountable optimism and anticipation (as though something wonderful was about to happen) — and, then, broke — not into a fanfare, but as a quiet and chaste expression of thought:
2.00 pm. After lunch together, I returned to my desk to both to consider further the support and alpha-visual coding of ‘Sindebt’. In so doing, I recovered an idea (the source material for which I’d lost) founded upon a system of translating scripture into an abstract (and colourful) code that was already established in the Christian tradition: ‘the wordless gospel’. This is an idea that must be realised. Not only because it’s there to be done, but also because the principle is foundational to my whole outlook on textual-visual translation. It may also be adaptable as a system to govern the alpha-visual conversion of ‘Sindebt’.
7.30 pm. The School of Art opening of Corbels and (Im)memorabilia:
9.00 pm. It has been over a week since Steve disappeared. Now, he has been found. Now, he’s on the other side of the veil. For those who knew him, this is Black Friday in a very different sense:
8.30 am. Art/Sound set up. Millet’s The Angelus (1857-9) was the focus of the morning’s lecture. At the close, I played a ‘reconstruction’ of the painting’s implied sonic content: ‘An Acoustic Angelus‘. 10.00 am. The Thursday stroll to the Old College. A period for adjustment and preparation. Today, the sunshine is at odds with my spirit:
11.00 am. Third year painting tutorials. I feel for the joint-honours students, caught on the twin horns of a double discipline, trying to ‘serve two masters’. The first scent of an end to the term is in the air. It always arrives with the colder weather.
Some observations and principles:
1.30 pm. After a lunchtime of admin. catch up, I took a walk across the promenade and through the town in order to clear my head. The cold air invigorates:
2.30 pm. Further tutorials. The afternoon’s engagements were characterised by a rather philosophical and psycho-analytical approach on my part. Who one teaches determines how one teaches. That, at least, is the ideal. Which is why I don’t espouse any particular teaching methodology … apart from that one.
7.15 pm. Having taken my own advice, yesterday, I solved a fundamental problem that prevented ‘Sindebt’ from progressing. Three things had been neglected which, when implemented, resolved the structural network for the piece: firstly, the clause in the biblical text that mentioned ‘nailing it to his cross’ (which provides a formal container for the piece), secondly, the letters in the text (which provides an alpha-visual-value code content), and, thirdly, the number of letters, 112 in total (which fit exactly into a cross formation grid):
Sometimes, I wonder if I learn anything.
9.40 pm. Practise session 2. 10.15 pm. ‘The night watch’. On to Matt. 19.18. During his final year of MA Fine Art studies, Steve Chilton worked on a series which he called Musical Veils. The paintings were an analogical response to musical compositions by such as Thomas Tallis, Henryk Górecki, and John Tavener:
Whilst painting, the music I listen to in the studio becomes embodied in the paintings. The sound enriches my visual choices in setting a colour response notation. The sequences of colour applied, then oscillate with the base colour and I proceed to investigate the transitions of luminosity using translucent hues, each with a different pitch:
Tavener described his compositions as ‘icons in sound’. Steve’s aspiration was to compose sound in icons (Gk: eikon = image). At the time, it struck me that the paintings could, in turn, be converted back into sound. I had observed the construction of the works sufficiently closely to, in theory, recreate the accrescence of coloured layers as superimposed sound. For example, Sanctus Light: Requiem (2013) (above) is built up of thin, translucent washes of ultramarine, indanthrene blue, phthalocyanine blue, cobalt blue, purple, violet, and tints of white. All the chromatic colours are in the same quadrant of the colour circle. Musically, it’s the equivalent of scoring a composition using only the range of chromatic notes (including quarter tones) between D# and F#:
O God, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright (Collect for the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, The Book of Common Prayer (1662)).
Dr Paul Newland of the Department of Theatre, Film, and Television Studies was the guest lecturer on the Art/Sound module this morning. (I wish I could have been there!):
9.00 am. Two, 1-hour MA Fine Art tutorials. I encouraged both to atomize their painting — to isolate the components of their practice, and to understand and further them singularly and in relation to each other. The components form two entirely different sets. For the one student, the set comprises: time, distance, paint viscosity, paint medium, rate, impact, and spatter. For the other, the set comprises: pattern, tightness/looseness of paint, scale/size, tonality, and opacity of surface.
11.30 pm. A walk and a talk. Since Steve disappeared, the days have become markedly colder and brittle:
2.00 pm. After a haircut and a late lunch, I uploaded today’s lecture material for student access and moved forward with Matt. 19.17. It’s mechanical work that permits my mind to engage other ideas at the same time.
6.55 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. I returned to the ‘Sindebt’ proposition. So far, I’ve failed to discover a process of smearing and obliterating a handwritten text which was not either obvious or facile. If I were my student, I’d be saying to me:
9.45 pm. Practise session 2. 10.40 pm. ‘The night watch’. Dealt with a few outstanding purchases of materials, appraised the progress of a number of recent projects, and reflected on the day that has been.
Images taken from Stephen Chilton’s website of his Dark Light Series (2013):
They are abstract paintings that slowly evolved through the judicious application of ethereal, luminous colour (reminiscent of the northern lights), variously stained, washed over, poured, rolled, lightly brushed upon, and sunk beneath the warp and weave of the canvas. The resultant images are visual metaphors that, through the process of multiple, thin, translucent overlays, evoke — what the English painter Samuel Palmer (1805-81), referring to the Creation, spoke of as — ‘the veil of heaven, through which her divine features are dimly smiling’. Steve’s creations, likewise, offer a partial and tantalizing vision: a promissory and an anticipation of that more perfect and satisfying ground of being that beckons from beyond.
8.30 am. A battle with the central printer in the School’s office. This was inevitable. The machine holds a grudge against me. (I once described it as looking like Darth Vader’s toaster.) In Art/Sound, we dealt with the principles underlying the construction of the PowerPoint essay. 11.00 am. The Vocational Practitioners were on good form. Each presented a 500-word, pre-prepared text with the aim of hearing (and finding) themselves in public speaking. The emphasis was on talking through their respective personalities. That’s the hard part — speaking comfortably and authentically. Tweaks to the tone, volume, and speed of the voice are minor matters, and easily implemented.
2.00 pm. Susan, our PhD Fine Art student from Vancouver, is at the School setting up her exhibition of large-scale drawings, entitled Corbels:
2.30 pm. Two consecutive 1-hour MA painting tutorials. There is a pain at the heart of painting — not of the order of birth pangs but, rather, of a teenager’s growth spurt. Maturation is achieved incrementally, without warning and, sometimes, without any effort on our part. As we move closer to artistic adulthood we become increasingly aware of our adolescence, unpreparedness, and the weight of what lies before us.
4.40 pm. One of those consoling sunsets that grace Cardigan Bay during November:
6.15 pm. Practise session 1. 7.00 pm. I prepared the slides and text for Thursday’s Art/Sound lecture on Millet’s The Angelus.
I have one of Steve Chilton’s paintings hanging in my bedroom:
The title is Little Miracle in the Corner, by which I referred to it when visiting his studio space. My intention was to encourage Steve to acknowledge the painting’s modest merits and to redeem it from possible oblivion. He did, and gave it to me as a ‘thank you’ gift on completing his MA Fine Art degree. Since Steve disappeared, the picture has taken on the additional identity of a relic. He was once present before it and, in a sense, is still present in it. I see his decision making, as well as the movement of the brush which, in turn, describes the gestures of his hand and arm. My eyes, following the path of his own, survey the support’s terrain, trace the length of the strokes and the boundaries of the format, and peer through the white overpainting into the picture’s layered history. Had I not intervened, I suspect he would have re-gessoed the whole surface and buried the image with the zeal of some sixteenth-century iconoclast wielding a charge of lime wash. This painting was saved from vanishing. I pray that Steve will be too.
9.40 pm. Practise session 2.
8.30 am. I responded to emails, and set up my appointments and tasks for the week. In the latter respect, I try to create a menu that combines the interesting with the irksome but necessary things to be done. I’m an inveterate list maker (and completer). A list makes a lot look doable. (There’s one for the T-shirt.) 9.45 am. First task on the ‘research’ list: Matt. 19.15 — the shortest verse of the two chapters — which was completed by 10.30 pm. Thereafter, a period of sourcing, resourcing, and sounding out my precision carpenter before making a start on Matt. 19.16 (a moderately long verse):
Completed just before lunch. 1.30 pm. I began constructing a new set of handboard networks to process ‘Graven Image II’. This could get wonderfully complicated:
2.00 pm. On to ‘Sindebt (Cheirographon)’, and into the Greek lexicon. The source text is ‘… blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us … nailing it to his cross’ (Col. 2.14). The form of the artefact and the process of manipulating the text is given in the text itself: ‘ handwriting’ and ‘blotting out’ — a smearing, obliteration, and rubbing and wiping off, suggested by the word exaleipho.
Appalling news is now circulating on the internet and via Facebook regarding the whereabouts and safety of Stephen Chilton. He was a student and remains a cherished friend:
He has been missing since Thursday. One’s instinct is to fear for the worst. (Perhaps, that’s how we prepare ourselves.) But rarely do these incidents end well. This is one of those times in life when I desperately want to be proved wrong. ‘Scaled down’. Does that mean the search is now more focussed or less optimistic and determined?
6.15 pm. Practise session 1. 7.40 pm. I push on with finalising the feedback sheet for the Art/Sound workshop tomorrow morning. My heart is not in it this evening. But I’ve always had the capacity to separate heart and mind. (The gift should not be envied.) Throughout the evening there was a flurry a Facebook messages between his friends and associates expressing shock, profound concern, and deep affection. This is happening to one of us … to one of the family. And to us, he’s not a ‘missing person’ (nonesuch ever are to those who know and love them). This is Steve; he’s a ‘missed person’. For we are presently without him and (as yet) a reason to be hopeful.
Task complete. 9.40 pm. Practise session 2. 10.40 pm. ‘The night watch’. A vigil:
10.00 am. I’m playing catch up with The Floating Bible series of visual transcriptions. Matt. 19.14 was the focus of this morning’s labour. Having worked on my colleague’s sound sample last week, it struck me that I could adapt the same approach to my own work. ‘Graven Image II‘ (2013) is, currently, the recording of an engraving device inscribing lines from the first part of the Second Commandment on a metal matrix. The sound is modified by an incremental delay only, line by line:
I’ll begin processing the sound through filters in order to discover whether it’s feasible to evolve a live-performance version of the source. This particular endeavour is part of my drive to review and compile material from my Sound site for The Aural Bible II: The Bible in Translation CD.
1.40 pm. Into the sound/vision studio to ready it for painterly practice. I cleaned down several MDF boards to serve as supports for stretched paper. The paper is a 40 gms, thin grade ‘bible paper’, which has been cut from a bible published in the late 1950s. There’s a possibility that this fragile, permeable paper will not withstand the process of shrinking once dampened, or be irremovable from the board once dry, or be discoloured by the surface of the MDF. Any one of these scenarios is possible. But often, practice confutes expectation. So, I remain optimistic:
Mid afternoon, I reactivated some old palettes and put together an inventory of immediate materials and equipment purchases. The ‘great’ palette (glass top in sunken wooden frame, 100 x 80 cm) is inspired by a former tutor, Jack Crabtree, whose own palette was an adapted snooker table. (Palette envy.) But then again, he had an exceedingly large studio:
5.10 pm. Shop closed. 6.15 pm Practise session 2. 7.30 pm. An evening with the family.
8.30 am. A visit to the churches of St Mary-at-Hill and St Margret Patten, Billingsgate, in the vicinity of my hotel. The former survived both the Great Fire of London (astonishing, because Pudding Lane is close-by), and the blitz:
9.30 am. On to the Tate Britain, to see Late Turner. One of the Tate’s exterior walls is bespotted with the wounds of shrapnel from enemy bombing. Buildings do not heal by themselves. (Much like us in that respect … assistance is required.):
The ‘Painting set free’. Alas, the exhibition was not. Observations from ‘The Black Notebook’ (January 2, 2008-), 184-5:
There’s no boundary between the observed and the imagined / angels in the Alps / T. was least good when he was most particular / anticipations of John Martin / an impressionism of memory / T. had the capacity for consistent hard work even when his health was failing / you have to believe in the incontrovertible worth of your art to persist so defiantly / sketchbook autography: I’m sensible of his presence / there are some quite appalling examples of figure drawing; he was not cursed by exceptional draughtsmanship / every artist lacks something, and this deficiency contributes to their visual identity as much as the things that they do exceptionally well / an independence of painted form and graphic description in some of the watercolours / I see in some of the works de Chirico and Delvaux – a proto-Surreality: War: The Exile and the Rock Limpet — the figure of Napoleon seems to belong to another style of painting — another painting — altogether / sometimes, only the titles anchor the painting’s subject in the earthly realms / black sails in Peace: Burial at Sea remind me of the escutcheon plaques in Saenredam’s church interiors / the sea, like a vast pot of turbulent pigment / T. rendered the world inundated with paint – a primal, pigmental deluge / in the final paintings, he brings together the abstraction and lightness of the earlier watercolours with the substantiality of oil / the last paintings are unfinished, perhaps; but they are resolved, certainly.
12.40 pm. The homeward journey. 6.00 pm. I caught up on emails and uploads, and put away my life of the last few days.
9.30 am. Off to London. It’s wise to sit on the right side of the coach on bright days like this, to avoid the screen of a laptop being bleached by the raking east sunlight:
I’m now in a position to begin writing the final Art/Sound lecture. I can see the end from the beginning, and the beginning of another beginning. The concluding lecture of every module that I’ve written has seeded concepts that have formed the basis of a future module. There’s a danger that a final lecture will serve only as a mop to absorb all those worthy topics that did not find a place in prior deliveries. Ideally, it should draw together, and offer a provisional conclusion to, existing strands of the discussion.
2.00 pm. I arrived in London. My Premier Inn room (bland, familiar, and consoling), sported a diptych quite unlike anything that I’ve seen in PIs elsewhere. The allusions here are to the hard-edged upward ‘thrusting’ metropolis rather than to the consolations of the rural idyll. (I rather miss the latter. Even bad art can endear itself.):
6.30 pm. I arrived at the Royal Festival Hall and the London Jazz Week to hear John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension:
I’ve heard McLaughlin on three previous occasions, once with this present group, another time with his Indian ensemble, Shakti, and most recently with Chick Corea. A Norwegian power ensemble, the Hedvig Mollestad Trio, opened the show: two female guitarists and a male drummer. (Oh, that more women would take up the axe!) They are an exceptionally gifted young bunch who fused hard rock (with shades of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin) and an intricate, intelligent contemporary jazz:
There was something ‘present’ in the auditorium tonight. The audience felt it; McLaughlin and his band seized it. In his guitar playing, I heard the fruit of fifty years’ experience focused within one and a half hours. He’s as fluent, fast, dexterous, and melodically inventive as he was in his 30s. But what impresses me more these days is a hard-won restraint, evident in his ability to articulate and situate a single sustained note within the bracket of silence. By the admission of some of the best guitarists today … he is the best of the best.
The great man’s pedal board, which was pored over by men of a certain age with cameras:
As one of the stage technicians wryly remarked to us: ‘It’s not the pedals, you know’. No, indeed. It’s the player’s genius (not a word I use often) and a sacrificial devotion to his craft that is frightening to contemplate.
11.30 pm. Fulfilled! Zonked! Bed.
8.15 am. Greyness. Such days do not draw one into the open. An exterior shot of my office:
10.15 am. An MA Fine Art consultation, followed by a Skype tutorial with a PhD Fine Art student. (I always look so tired and old on cam.)
9.28 am. The initial ‘feedback’ exchange with my collage about the Hatton Cross [working title] submission:
DR: Just listened to your track, I am very happy with it. I can’t recall my own track particularly and this didn’t sound like me, I would not have done it. The sound quality is good, some nice crunchy sounds and in the short time you manage to do something evocative, layered-it has space, too. Yes! I like that this is noisy, but it is not out of control which I can tend to (email, 19 11 14).
JH: Thanks for your comments. Oddly, I approached the process of recomposition with the proposition: ‘What would Dafydd do?’ As such, I searched for textures and timbres of sounds that were reminiscent of qualities that I’d encountered in your own pieces. The most satisfying aspect of the intervention was the limits imposed by the palette of modifications. All the sounds are yours; I merely re-recorded them, acoustically, in different contexts (from a back garden to a tin box), through amplifiers and speakers of different outputs and quality. (I particularly like the close of the piece, where you hear distance shouts from a rugby match that was taking place when I recorded your sample out of doors.) (email, 19 11 14).
11.00 am. A tutorial with a photography student. They wanted advice on how to develop a sound that would provide an appropriate adjunct (?) to an animation that they’d produced. Principles and observations:
12.07 pm. My response to an eager painting student’s aspiration:
‘Integration’ has been one of those motif-words (‘thought-symbols’), that has governed my own creative ambition. Can one make artworks that consolidate all that we are and are interested in? Or is that too much for any single work to bear? An intoxicating thought (email, 19 11 14).
12.30 pm. An Interdisciplinary Studio Practice student visited (like a ghost) my office to photograph the workspace (specifically, the desk). She has haunted me like this for several weeks now. I’m intrigued:
2.00 pm. I return to The Bible in Translation project, concentrating on a subset of images corporately called ‘Bible Studies’:
Six diptych-format images will make up the suite. By mid afternoon, I’d alighted upon the text for the final piece ‘Line Upon Line, Line Upon Line (Isa. 28.13)’. Each study consists of a photo-reproduction of two bible pages. These are exposited, using drawing and painting, following instructions, or by the application of processes, that are suggested in the text. (Content gives rise to form.)
A quick FacePaint ad:
6.20 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. In the evening, I began constructing the model PowerPoint ‘essay’. It’s intended as a model, rather than as a template: