Month: February 2015

February 17, 2015

Shrove Tuesday

8.30 pm. At the School, I dispatched emails and cleared areas of the desk before escorting the ‘Chapels in Wales 8′ to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales (situated in the tax office, down the road):


There, Penny Icke took charge, and I returned to undertake overdue postgraduate admin. A full-day and full-steam ahead.

10.00 am. The first of two ‘off the radar tutorials’. 11.00 am. Peter Monaghan and Becky Backshall gave a robust response to my interrogations at the Vocational Practice module. There’s no better means to convince a group of artists in embryo that they are capable of succeeding than by presenting the example of new-born artists who are.

12.30 pm. My PhD student from Malvern had arrived.  We spent lunch and the remainder of the afternoon weaving in and out of conversational and tutorial mode. One of the main objectives in laying the foundations of a tutee-tutor relationship is understanding how each other thinks. That takes both time and a breadth of discussion which must, of necessity, range beyond the topic of study. A tutee’s opinions about literature, music, theatre, cinema, and the flight of birds may tell one a great deal about the sophistication of their intellect and aptitude for relational thought. As it did, indeed, in this case. Gold-star performance!

6.20 pm. Practise session 1. 7.20 pm. I spent the evening catching up on the day’s emails, administrating the registration of, and royalties pertaining to, the new CD, and making plans for a sound-art performance (not quite the right word) at the National Screen & Sound Archive, soon. Things move slowly; but move they must. 9.40 pm Practise session 2. My bedtime reading is The Writings of Marcel Duchamp:

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February 16, 2015

8.15 am. I responded to urgent emails before visiting the School to switch on the exhibition equipment and, hopefully, and once and for all, shutting off the TVs’ auto-shutdown ‘feature’. A few QR codes that didn’t refer to the works above them needed adjusting.

9.40 am. En route: an exceedingly small-headed child appears to have lost their headphones:


10.00 am. Third year painting tutorials at Old College (deferred from last Thursday). It’s not perishingly-cold in the West Classroom this week. A mercy. Some observations and principles:

  1. There’s a temptation to over design the final exhibition. While it’s helpful at this stage to have a vision for the whole, one ought not (in most cases) to have a blueprint. Rather, better attend to the paintings at hand, and let them determine their successors and, thus, the overall outcome. Better, too, to make more pictures than necessary, and to choose the exhibition from among them.
  2. There’s a temptation to succumb to the desire to ‘do something different’, rather than stick to the straight and narrow road that one began to walk upon at the close of semester 1. Do not deviate!
  3. Q: ‘When shall I begin making my final work?’ A: Last week!
  4. ‘More sound advice can hardly be packed into one sentence than there is there’ (J G Bennett):


1.00 pm. Lunch in the Quad. Mr Monaghan dropped by at 1.30 pm. He’ll be addressing the Vocational Practice class tomorrow morning on the topic of life as an artist, post-MA.

What students consume and produce are not so far apart:


3.00 pm. Back at the School, I make an assault on the ‘unread’ emails in my inbox: the ones that I’ve been dreading; the ones that require either action or commitment. 4.00 pm. A tutorial with a student from Scenography about a sound project that she’s engaged with. She’s asking a great deal of herself. 5.00 pm. Into the inbox, again.

6.20 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. I worked my way to the bottom of my inbox, updated my websites to include the latest publications and activities, and wrote research admin letters. Just because projects are in the public domain doesn’t mean that anyone is noticing them. The propaganda machine must still turn over. 9.40 pm. Practise session 2.

February 14, 2015

Had my mother lived, she would have been 88 years old today:


The morning after the night before. The studio requires a thorough dust, vacuum, and tidy. In so doing, I purge and prepare — at one and the same time cleansing the working environment of the previous project and making it ready for the next. While rearranging my plan chest, I came across a notebook which was kept during the earlier Pictorial Bible projects:


And, a drawing made of me at work during my third year BA Fine Art studies at Clarence Place, Newport in February 1981. Kate Hodges is the draughtswoman. She was studying graphic design at the time, on the floor below. (Fine Art and Graphic Design were deliberately kept a part. Fine Art was on the top floor — closer to heaven):

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And,  a small painting entitled ‘West Side’ (1983) made during my MA Visual Art studies, based upon recollections of an area in Blaina, South Wales, where my mother spent a great deal of her childhood:


Can the art one produced in an earlier period be connected with that made presently? Or is the essence of one’s past efforts always a part of whatever is done later on?

The decks are scrubbed. Everything must be restored, ship-shape:


The studio is put to order (and, therefore, so is my mind), and readied for the development of ‘Graven Image III’, one of the next sound pieces the The Aural Bible II project:


4.00 pm. Now, to put entropy to rout in my study. 5.15 pm. Done! An evening with the family.

February 13, 2015


8.30 am. Into the School to finalise peripherals and to lay ‘The Floating Bible.’ It was like tiling an uneven bathroom floor, and preoccupied me for the whole morning (as I’d anticipated):


1.00 pm. Overdue haircut. 1.45 pm. When I returned, one of the TV screens had an eco-type window (despoiling the text) asking whether I wished to proceed with the slideshow. Such things cannot be anticipated when using new and unfamiliar equipment for the first time, but they must be dealt with. I discovered a forum that addressed this question to a different model of TV. I was able to adapt the principle. However, the problem persisted.

It’s been too hot in the department. Some students have been a little dizzy. (‘A touch of the vapours’, as they used to say.) Why aren’t we allowed to turn the darn boiler down when required? Throughout the afternoon, I made adjustments to components on the wall, tested (again) equipment, and wrote down instructions for power up/down commands for others to follow when I cannot undertake the task myself. (An artist must take responsibility for their exhibition throughout its course.)

7.00 pm. To the School and a final check before the opening. Mr Holland and his team were already preparing the drinks. Guests began to arrive:


It was a rich experience to have friends from very different contexts of my life together in one room. Opening nights are a time for chit-chat and bonhomie and not for engaging with artworks, principally. I’m conscious that the works demand a great deal from the viewer/thinker. And, as such, I was encouraged that so many people took the time to read and digest the available information and interrogate the maker:



Of course, it doesn’t end there. Now begins the process of evaluation, sifting, editing, abandoning, and re-focussing: Where lies the leading edge? What (if anything) lies beyond? Does the exhibition justify its own case sufficiently? Do I, for that matter?  Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should continue to.

February 12, 2015

8.20 am. The Third day. I began printing out the verso pages for ‘The Floating Bible’ and assembling various balanced cables and adapters in anticipation of any problems that might be encountered while setting up the sound system. The photocopier is ailing. Each print has to be done separately. Will the copier hold out to the end of the run? I feel like a pilot who doesn’t know whether he has sufficient fuel to reach his destination. Will it fail on the penultimate print? Life is not always so melodramatic. Success!

9.00 am. Off to the School. An initial wobbly with the sound mixer. Not all outputs are equal, it would seem. A MacBook goes into sleep mode as soon as the lid is closed. And there’s nothing you can do about it short of attaching an external monitor. This is ridiculous. Clearly the bods at Apple decided that no one would ever need the facility.

10.00 am. I set up the captions and QR code labels. This always takes more time than I anticipate. After which, Mr Garrett painted the mirror plates (the pictures’ ‘ears’) grey, and I configured ‘Intercessions’:


1.30 pm. I interviewed a BA Fine Art applicant from Wrexham. 2.15 pm. The sound of ‘The Floating Bible’ droned in the background most of the afternoon. This is my first experience of it in surround, double-stereo, sound. I’m conscious that the volume level needs to be adequate for the gallery without being a distraction to anyone outside of it. My ‘suspension’ blocks arrived in readiness of the installation of the visual element of ‘The Floating Bible’, tomorrow:


6.30 pm. Back to the studio to complete a short list of small tasks (chiefly caption boards), before the final onslaught with ‘The Floating Bible’. To verso. This will be my work for the remainder of the night. The tireder one gets, the more mistakes are likely. The last lap is not always the longest, but it is always the one that requires the most concentration, and at a time when you have so little of it to give. 9.00 pm. The mounting of the verso verses was complete and readied for boxing.

9.30 pm. An earlier night (with toast and hot milk), perhaps.

February 11, 2015

9.00 am. The second day. Mr Garrett attended to setting up the TV screens, while I tried to bring some semblance of neatness to the sprawl of audio and electrical cabling coming from all four corners of the gallery:


10.30 pm. A glitch in measuring the distance between the TV monitors presented a solution to the installation that I would not have conceived ordinarily. Again, our mistakes may prove to be covert friends. Moreover, placing an idea in an extreme position (which this error of judgement did, by accident) can lead to more satisfying and appropriate solutions. Habitually, we think within boundaries. Sometimes failure pushes us beyond them.

On the way home to lunch: What? A numerologist would have a field day:


2.00 pm. Visiting Day. I and an MA student, interviewed one joint-honours applicant. She wants to teach art. And Wales desperately needs committed teachers of the subject, who can also practice the subject well.

2.30 pm. I conceived of a method of Velcro-ing the cable tight to the wall. This is as good a ‘tidying job’ as can be done under the circumstances. The galleries of the future will need underfloor conduit, if sound art remains a vital force. All my endeavours are going to plan and on time. By 4.30 pm, the final works were hung on the wall, and the TVs tested. (They are now so close to one another that a single remote can operate them all simultaneously. This has a downside too, as I’ll no doubt discover tomorrow.) And, tomorrow, I must put the sound system through its paces. (If anything is going to go wrong … this is it.) And tomorrow, I’ll need to caption and QR code the works:


7.00 pm. An evening with the family celebrating a birthday and watching a film. (A welcome respite.) 9.20 pm. Back into the studio to prepare paper and boards for the verso section of ‘The Floating Bible’. (An end is in sight.) This will be laid on the floor once the gallery is cleared of furniture.

February 10, 2015

8.30 am. Into the School to deliver the Chapels in Wales lecture. 10.00 am. Into the small gallery to begin the hang. Only when all the works and equipment are in the room can an order be imposed upon the disparate elements:


Initially, one is plagued by uncertainties: Are there too few or too many works to fit the space?; Can the size differentials between the works be reconciled?; and, Will the whole cohere? In every case, the answers can only be found as one acts intelligently. After all, it’s the artist who makes them all fit together in their due proportion and in unity. Thereafter, one has to determine the sub-groups of the work — which artefacts either form sets or naturally gravitate to one another. Then, one must resolve each wall in turn and, after that, all four walls of the gallery together. Oddly, if this was someone else’s work, then I could do the job far more quickly and confidently. However, as the maker, I’m too close to the work and the work is too new to me. I cannot see the brush marks for the paint, as it were.


I laid out the sound equipment early on in the day in order to assess whether power and audio cables were sufficiently long to extend from the speakers to the mixer. (I hadn’t taken into consideration the slight recess in the window alcoves.) That’s one thing I’d missed. But there’s a remedy. The speakers sit comfortably on their grey plinths in the gallery space. Visually, one has to treat them as a sculptural objects. And, as such, the placing of the works on the gallery walls have to take account of, and respond to, them. I’ve experienced too many sound-art installations where the visual presence of the equipment appears to have been either was ill-considered or ignored. Such things are not invisible to one’s audience.


By the close of the afternoon, most of the large and difficult pieces were on the walls. (The most testing and complex is ‘The Floating Bible’. But that’s for the floor and Friday.) My earlier decisions regarding the grouping of the works were confirmed. They sit together without a struggle.

6.30 pm A busy evening and late night ahead. I worked further on the phantom painting and then returned to printing out sheets for ‘The Floating Bible’. What if my photocopier gave out? I’ve no plan B. And, I wouldn’t put anybody’s else’s machine through what I ask of my own. Both the copier and the paper have exceeded their design parameters significantly:


By 9.00 pm, the phantom painting was finished (and was every inch what I saw in my mind’s eye), and the recto prints of ‘The Floating Bible’ were complete too. 10.30 pm. Back to the QR coding and web-based presentations of artwork explanations.

February 9, 2015

A quiet mind (‘Collect for the twenty-first Sunday after Trinity’, Book of Common Prayer (1662)).

8.30 am. T-minus 5 days and counting. The majority of the wall works are stacked and bubble wrapped, awaiting delivery to the School this evening. Today is set aside for completing the 54 units that make up for ‘The Floating Bible’, which will be exhibited horizontally and a few inches off the floor — as though miraculously suspended. The frame and mount for the ‘phantom painting’ has been prepared. All I need is for the cedar wood veneer to be delivered, and then I can make a start:

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9.00 am. There’s a potential problem with respect to the cutting a large window mount for ‘Preaching = Painting’. But, I have a backup plan if my first option fails. (One must always have a plan B.) Part of my attention is turning, now, to the sound version of ‘The Floating Bible’, and to the necessity of acoustically isolating the active speakers from their plinths. I must ensure that there’s no loss of bass frequencies through the plinths and into the gallery floor. Otherwise, ‘muddying’ may result. I love this type of problem.

11.00 am.  I cut and prepared the bible paper for printing:


12.30 pm. Trial mount of the first ‘Floating Bible’ verse. Not as straightforward as I’d expected. 1.30 pm. After lunch, I hurtled in the School to see whether Mr Holland can work his magic on an outsizes window mount.

2.00 pm. The veneer has arrived; looking for all the world like a wax cylinder. It’s amazing how thinly wood can be sliced. (But, then again, consider what scientists did to carbon in order to produce Graphene.) It’s like a thick paper skin. The odiferous cedar of Lebanon: ‘As smelt by Abraham, Moses, Solomon et al‘:


2.30 pm. Having glued one piece of veneer on top of another, I set it to dry and put ‘The Floating Bible’ into industrial manufacture mode. Always tidy as you go. Otherwise your studio will more and more resemble a hamster’s cage. Change your scalpel blades regularly, too. To break the routine, I returned to my cedar piece (entitled ‘Painted with Vermilion’; which it will be). 3.45 pm. I bubble-wrapped the final painting. Oddly, the veneer, on being soap cleaned to remove grease, does not take to masking tape or, rather vice versa. Absolutely no tack.

5.15 pm. All works were taken to the School. The studio breathed a sigh of relief. 6.20 pm. Practise session 1. A review of body/guitar posture. 7.30 pm. I scrapped the support for ‘Painted with Vermilion’ and made a new one, which I did not clean. (No compromises are acceptable where compromises aren’t necessary.) The masking tape has sufficient adhesion now. Sennelier egg tempera vermilion: the reddest of reds:


The painting is now underway. I returned to ‘The Floating Bible’.  I’m nearly a quarter of the way through the set. As such, completion of both works is entirely feasible by the deadline, and with time to spare. Nevertheless, by my estimation, two days’ work has been lost to mishaps, errors of judgement, incompetence, and failures of outcome. So it’s wise to build in a significant buffer time into one’s schedule.

9.45 pm. Practise session 2. 10.40 pm. ‘The night watch’. I explored QR coding: a means for the audience to access background information on the exhibition’s images via a smart phone or other IOS device. I’ve avoided putting texts on the walls. They not only crowd the visual field but also turn the artworks into illustrations of the text.

February 7, 2015

8.30 am. I caught up with a little teaching admin, before picking up the frames and remaining mounts from the School. 9.30 am. Undertook some small, fidgety, doable tasks and then took up the challenge of putting the frames together:


More things are likely to go wrong at the end than at the beginning of a project. Reckon upon it. The publicity machine is in full swing. I’m keen to contact all the biblical studies, theology and religious studies departments in the UK. [Reminder to myself: ‘Don’t forget to make a comments book’.]

It’s helpful to have a white surface under the frame’s glass, so that spots and blemishes on the interior of the surface can be identified before the frame is assembled. I’m using a glass-screen computer monitor cleanser. It leaves fewer grease marks than vinegar-based solutions:


1.30 pm. Fortified by a Cornish pasty bought from the Farmers’ Market, I made a foray into town to purchase a clean putty rubber. Keep everything clean. Wash your hands regularly, even if they don’t appear dirty. Sweat and grease cannot be seen on your fingers, but they become conspicuously visible on glass and board.

I enjoy using the ultra-violent frame stapling gun. Those little metal triangles spear the wood with an alarming ferocity:


5.30 pm. Much accomplished. 6.20 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. An evening with the family.

February 6, 2015

8.00 am. The busyness of the last few days has precluded my daily ‘diarations’. All but two prints are mounted. The ‘phantom painting’ (Diary, January 31, 2015) disclosed itself yesterday evening. For days I’d been thinking about a red rectangle. (I had a vision of the installation — and there it was on a far wall … something which was mine, but which I’d not made.) However, I’d neither a text nor a system to govern its creation or outcome. Then, one fell effortlessly into place at the close of work. There may not, now, be the time or the appropriate materials to hand with which to complete it. (They’ve been ordered, though.) One can only try … just so as long as the endeavour doesn’t jeopardise the finalisation of those works which I am assuredly committed to showing.

One of the MA Vocational Practice students shadowed my second year painting tutorials yesterday morning. A three-way interaction introduced a rather different dynamic to the discussion. It was invigorating. This was team teaching in the proper sense of the term. And everyone learns something from everyone else. I’d like to repeat the exercise. We have a duty to train-up the next generation of teachers.

Exhibition admin. One must always keep everyone in the loop, but particularly during the week leading up to the opening. Something will catch me out. This is almost inevitable. It’ll be the thing I least expect. The thing that is hiding on the periphery of my vision. The thing that I’m most complacent about.

Hoorah! Secured two tickets to see King Crimson with my elder son at Salford in September. The fulfilment of one of life’s ambitions:

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9.30 am. Into the studio and on to ‘Sindebt’.  I’m developing a faster method for piggy-backing the bible paper onto standard A4 copy paper. ‘Try Pritt Stick rather than invisible tape!’ Perfect! Bible paper print, well-prepared, and then  … I sneezed all over it. Ruined! A heavy digital wah-wah pedal makes an entirely adequate paper weight:


The old Bruceism: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’, was my lived experience throughout the entire day.

2.00 pm. I called into the School to choose half a dozen of the old standard frames to house my mounts. Back at the studio, I hit another patch of successive failures. But with every defeat, one’s understanding of the fundamental problem (and its solution) is clarified. However much one prepares, mentally, for a task, the reality of the materials and their resistance and the limits of one’s own competence never fail to surprise and unseat.

My waste-paper bin now looks like a mini Merzbau:


6.20 Practise session 1. 7.15 pm. A cautious fitting together of the five units that make up ‘Sindebt’. I’ll do the glue when I have the backing board to the frame, tomorrow. I wrote a short text for the phantom painting’s information sheet. All I have to do, now, is paint the thing. A tube of red arrived in the post. (Optimism mounts.) I now await a sheet of veneer. But when will my cable ties arrive?

Rumours of further and, possibly, compulsory staff cuts at the university are getting louder of late. This plague wind will no doubt touch every department to some measure. These days it’s tempting to live as though each semester is one’s last. (The old Puritan saints advised that we should live each day as if it were our last. There’s wisdom in that attitude. Tomorrow is one of the greatest uncertainties.) Come what may, one should always endeavour to go out on a high. And so we apply ourselves to our responsibilities and charge with gusto and vim. And, I discovered before the close of work, there are others among our number who face far more weighty challenges … and that valiantly.

9.10 pm. Practise session 2. I read this month’s copy of my learnéd journal at bedtime.