Month: October 2015

October 19, 2015

Commune with your own heart, and in your chamber, and be still (Ps. 4.4).

8.45 am. Post-communion. A sift through incoming mail and a some further work on this afternoon’s Abstraction class materials. I’ve sheaves of material related to essay and dissertation writing, developed over the years for modules which I no longer teach. I should aggregate the best bits into a general document for my art history modules. Today, I’ll issue a slip that the students can fill-out anonymously, the returns on which should help me refine any further advice that needs to be issued on essay technique:

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10.15 am. A little research admin before … databending (which sounds far more exhausting and excruciating than it really is), again. Working with the same engraving that I’d addressed on Saturday, I took the RAW file version of the BPM format of the source image and re-imported it into Adobe Photoshop. The result: an instant abstraction of quite extraordinary complexity and austerity. I wish I could make paintings like this:

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‘Rhoddiad y Ddeddf’ [Conferring the Act] (tonal inversion)

When imported into Adobe Audition as a sound file and slowed by 800%, the image sounded like a low-frequency rumble. This was an apposite evocation of the thunder on the mountain which accompanied the manifestation of God to Moses.

Yesterday afternoon, I read through the full account of the patriarch on Mount Sinai. I now need to undertake a fairly close textual study to ensure that the context of the text, and the nature of the sound phenomena described therein, is adequately comprehended.

1.40 pm. After lunch, I travelled to the School and set up in readiness for the 2.10 pm Abstraction class which, today, was on:

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This type of session is more informative than interesting, more to be endured than engaged. Nevertheless, it was necessary (in my opinion). My ambition is that no student should pitch below a 2.1 mark for either assignment. After all, why should they?

3.15 pm. Post-class admin back at homebase. Then, back to the databending (lubricated with a small glass of ginger beer and a few squares of dark chocolate). The source image was converted into postscript, imported into MS Word, converted in a RAW file, and, finally, imported into Adobe Photoshop. In this instance, the output has a brooding abstract ambience, not out of keeping with that evoked by the figurative envisioning of the biblical narrative:

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I’m hitting the boundaries of the technique in relation to this particular image. At this point, one either backs off or tries for a breakthrough.

6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. Off to the Arts Centre to wish Nigel Thomas (one of the pillars of the university, and a man who has kept Information Services prospering) to wish him a fond farewell and smooth transition into retirement:

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In the background to the occasion, Kate Saunders, one of our Fine Art alumni, was playing an Appalachian dulcimer (a new one on me) with her folk band:

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8.30 pm. Back at home, I updated websites, and finalised prep work for tomorrow’s MA Vocational Practice class. 9.30 pm Practise session 2.



October 17, 2015

Just as we can hear silence, so also we can see the invisible.

9.00 am. Preparations were afoot for the Open Day. The ritual cake arrangement was well underway. Welsh cakes and bara brith were the specialities today:

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9.15 am. I made ready and manned the information desk …

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… and opened the galleries:

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I applied for BA Fine Art courses directly from School. The careers officers didn’t provide the very necessary advice, namely, that I needed (as was often the case in those days) to take a foundation course before applying for the degree. After my foundation year, I searched for a place that might have me, as far as Maidstone College of Art in the south of England and as close as the Faculty of Arts, Gwent College of Higher Education (where I was presently studying). I chose the latter, and never regretted it.

10.00 am. I’d several very challenging consultations with potential applicants whose position and needs were anomalous. One should do everything possible to accommodate ‘non-standard’ individuals, if it’s genuinely in their interests and doesn’t compromise standards.

11.00 am. Dr Webster prepared for the first of the day’s introductory talks:

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I was also ‘Tweet Central’ for the morning. 12.30 pm. Dr Pierse took over from me.

1.40 pm. After lunch, I began work on the image aspect of the ‘Image and Inscription’ project. In my research card indexes, which I’ve kept since 1984, I located two engravings, from the collection of the National Library of Wales, related to Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai:

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Both illustrations were published around the last quarter of the 19th century in Welsh Bibles. However, they were made by non-Welsh engravers, and originally intended for English language versions of the same. (The vast majority of engravings in Welsh Bibles of this period were similarly sourced.):

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In using two English engravings from two Welsh sources, the linguistic/cultural balance of the whole composition is maintained. There must be consistency at all levels, and in every outworking, of the conceptualisation.

3.30 pm. While still tweeting in the background, I began the process of image sonification, using the databending that I’d deployed on ‘The Wounded Heart Ministries’ sound work, to turn the engravings into noises:

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5.15 pm. ‘Shop Closed’. 6.30 pm. An evening with my wife.



October 16, 2015

8.45 am. I cleared my virtual desk, and then broadcast tutorial and module reminders for the week ahead before booting up the sound studio for the day’s work. 9.15 am. The samples created at the ‘Image and Inscription ‘event at the Drwm, recently, now needed to be scrutinised, and their most useable parts extracted in order to provide collagable elements for the finished composition. In the background to my listening, I sourced materials which will allow me to press on with the My Heart is Broken in Three sound work (an aural décollage of sorts), and responded to an inquiry regarding aniconism. In some and subtle ways, two subjects aren’t so far apart:

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I’ve written about the theological rationale for aniconism in the Judaeo-Christian and, specifically, the Protestant Reformation traditions. My focus was on image prohibition, iconoclasm, the absenting of images from religious contexts, and the adaptation of non-religious imagery (Protestant emblems) to signify biblical concepts. My Image of the Invisible: The Visualisation of Religion in the Welsh Nonconformist Tradition embodies the core of that discussion, and references to other works on the same and related topics. 

Aniconism, and my endeavour to realise its negative potential, has been at the core of my interests since the mid 1980s, in practice-based and art historical research.

My volumes of the Scourby Bible records sit on the shelf awaiting my attention:

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I won’t address these until the current project is complete. This set of 16 2/3-rpm vinyls (a total of 72 hours of spoken Bible readings) were purchased on eBay from an American seller. The boxes included (unintentionally, I suspect) two handwritten lists (made by the previous owner, I assume). The first details the page numbers of certain Old Testament books and their correspondence to the recordings of the same, along with the dates on which, and the places where, they were read/auditioned in the period from October to December 1994:

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A second is a list of the days, in the period between July and November 1996, when specific sides of the Old Testament discs were listened to:

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 ‘Am I missing a trick here?, I asked myself. The lists represent, quite apart from their intended purpose, a set of divisions, portions, strictures, and co-ordinations that have the potential to be adapted as systems that could govern the process and outcome of one version of the proposed sound artwork. This is a gift!

1.40 pm. After lunch, I completed the taxonomy of the various sounds captured at the ‘Image and Inscription’ event. Thereafter, I apportioned them to different folders according to their type. This is akin to the visual collagist’s practice of separating the components of a proposed work in respect to their colour, size, surface, and so forth, before assembly. (Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell worked in this manner.):

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6.30 pm. Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. I completed extracting sub-samples from some of the larger tracks before engaging the School’s propaganda machine in anticipation of tomorrow’s Open Day:

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For the remainder of the evening, I focussed on what had emerged as the most recognisable (and, for this reason, problematic) vocal set of samples from the Drwm event. They’ve a vaguely operatic air to them; intrinsically interesting, but perhaps too upbeat for the likely mood of the composition overall. Nevertheless, I’ll press on with their organisation at the prompting of my instinct.



October 15, 2015

9.00 am. To begin the day: Old Colleging with a third-year fine art student:

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9.40 am. I returned to the School to finalise admin with Helen related to yesterday’s Liverpool trip, and to prepare for what the day may bring forth. 10.50 am. The beginning of second year fine art tutorials. Some principles and observations derived from our discussions:

  • Sometimes, we do not know what to do because we know not who we are. Sometimes, we discover both together. That is one of the blessings of art.
  • Leave your presuppositions and assumptions about how a painting ought to turn out at the foot of the easel. ‘Let it Be’, as the Beatles would say.
  • Painting is not capable of conveying every thought or perception or feeling. Its field of competence is circumscribed. Get to know the limitations as well as the virtues and capabilities of the discipline and medium.
  • If you don’t manage time, time will manage you.
  • At this stage of development, the key is to establish a step-by-step methodology for dissecting the creative process into its varied and sequential parts before assembling them again in the finished work.
  • To see our way forward we must look backward; the clues regarding where we ought to be lie in our past — in where we’ve already been and in what we’ve already done.

1.10 pm. The Professional Practice lecture on ‘Time Management’. Lunch was taken around and about it. Not ideal. 2.00 pm. A return to tutorials. For some students, I waited and waited. Emails regarding the new timetable regime have either been unread or undelivered:

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I’ve, now, a white board of my very own and, therefore, become a proper teacher for the first time. Very Robert Ryman:

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5.00 pm. An Abstraction essay consultation before wending homeward.

7.15 pm. Teaching admin, followed by teaching prep for Monday’s Abstraction class. Essay writing is a hard-won skill. One can know the principles, have the requisite subject knowledge, and be reasonably articulate in writing. But only with practice does the skill become instilled. In fine art, the closest equivalent to the process of learning how to write is life drawing. Both can be a humiliating experience.



October 14, 2015

6.00 am. Arose! Into the day and off to the bus station to join the coach for Liverpool. The morning temperature had dropped noticeably, within a day. The autumnal air was invigorating:

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8.11 am. The low-lying light filtered through an ethereal ground mist and topped the mountains. (I recalled Yosemite.) Approaching Ponterwyd:

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Once the last of our number had been picked up at Welshpool station, we slowly headed north for Liverpool and the Albert Dock to see the Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots exhibition at the Tate Liverpool:

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We’d arrived earlier than anticipated and before the period assigned to our timed tickets. A wait was inevitable. Having bundled our bags into a cupboard (for which I, as ‘group leader’, was key holder for the morning), I acclimatised over hot chocolate and walked the harbour until noon. Notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 10, 2015-), 39-40:

the significance of the more figurative titles / use of the rough side of hardboard as an absorbent surface / 1953+ works anticipate late Picasso / extraordinary control and draughtsmanship / figural-abstract cohesion / he was always looking back at the European, grand master tradition / art history has tended to reduce him to the ‘drip painter’ / the underlying calligraphy of the earlier works emerges more self consciously in the later period / late paintings anticipate the ‘new image in painting’ phenomenon of the early 1980s / building opaque paint — layer by layer — by a process of superimposition / in this process, the earlier marks cannot be changed, only responded to by applying subsequent layers / his return to figuration coincided with a re-assertion of colour / Glen Ligon Encounters and Collisions: many artists of my generation exhibit a consistency of concept but a variety of process and technical style / ideas become the embodiment of style, instead.

1.40 pm. A walk into the city centre …

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… up Paradise Street (a misnomer if ever there was one) to the Walker Art Gallery. Always a joy:

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I attended the Reality exhibition of British realist painting are from Sickert to the present. There were two works by one of the School’s alumnus, Clive Head. Quite a number of the contemporary artists came from other than the London schools. Mercifully, these days, good artists can come from anywhere; it’s not where they were taught, or who taught them, but who they are that makes the difference.

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3.30 pm. A return to Paradise and the Albert Dock to visit the Beatles’ Story. Notes from ‘The Black Notebook’ (March 10, 2015-), 41:

unsure whether the artefacts are the actual ‘relics’ or types of objects associated with the B / my friend Andrew’s brother had a Hoffner violin bass, like Paul McC  / mum and dad took me to see Yellow Submarine (1968) at a cinema in London. They were appalled; I was enthralled / this was the first time that I became aware of the widening gap between their and my sense of qualitative visual culture / I heard about Lennon’s murder while going to breakfast at my hall of residence in Caerleon, Gwent

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In the late afternoon, under the darkening sky, the waterfront area of the old docks was cast in a peculiar and consoling melancholy — the sense of another place in another life. (I recalled, too, the Battery district of Manhattan.)  5.00 pm. We made our way home amid the crawl of peak time traffic that bled from the city. 7.30 pm. The dark country roads felt interminable:

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8.50 pm. Arrived.



October 13, 2015

8.50 am. A vitalising Autumn morning, with a low raking light that draws one out-of-doors:

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9.00 am. An inbox cull and a diary reshuffle. My aim was to compress similar activities into the same block of time, and to, thereby, create a space in which to think and act in relation to one thing and not to others also. 10.00 am. The first MA fine art tutorial of the day. 11.10 am. Vocational Practice:

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A ‘fake’ seminar debate on the proposition: ‘One day, digital art will replace traditional, manual mediums such as painting, illustration, photography, and printmaking’.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Art is a game that we invent and play with ourselves. If the rules are not sufficiently difficult to follow, the risks sufficiently great, and the prize worth attaining, we lose interest.
  • Participation is an indicator of confidence in ourselves and of our commitment to the community.
  • Artistic growth involves the perpetuation, extension, and variation of what we do best.
  • Every idea that we have is of significance: either now or in the future; either as a contribution to, or a consolidation of, or a distraction from, our present trajectory. Discernment is everything.
  • We’re apt to hit around the nail before we hit upon its head.

2.00 pm. The second MA fine art tutorial:

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3.00 pm. I finalised arrangements for tomorrow’s outing to Liverpool with Helen, one of our stalwart secretaries, before heading home to work. The smell of spirit-based paints drifting in from outside the building, where the decorators were at work, had made me woozy. 3.30 pm. Some email, bitty admin clean-up, schedule adjustments, and teaching prep for Thursday.

6.30 pm. I watched a TV programme on Sir Alex Ferguson: Secrets of Success, which looked at his approach to leadership. I’ve as much interest in as knowledge of football, but one should recognise and applaud greatness and success in any field of human endeavour. The one thing Fergusson didn’t (in all likelihood) do as a leader was study leadership technique. Instead, it emerged from his personality — one that had been shaped by the values of his upbringing.

7.30 pm. I returned to the small-grant application, which I’d completed in draft form on Saturday. Having received comments from colleagues, I was better able to bolster its claims and deal with dimensions of the qualifying criteria that I’d not yet addressed.



October 12, 2015

8.00 am. I’m walking and siting with the delicacy of a ballerina, having wrenched the muscles of my lower back over the weekend while convalescing with my cold. Today, the cold has eased partially, but the back pain persists. I shall proceed until circumstances advise me to stop. The medication is causing moderate (and rather pleasant) symptoms of derealisation. 8.30 am. Off to School for a morning of personal tutorials. 9.00 am. The tutorials began. I was keen to impress upon them that our discussion would be non-judgemental. The meeting was not about academic assessment but, rather, an opportunity to review — openly and without prejudice — their apprehension of personal attainment:

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Some principles and observations that emerged from our conversations:

  • Secondary schools no longer prepare students for essay writing. School pupils rarely have the opportunity to write more than paragraph-long responses to questions, or reports at best, before they begin higher education (which is now not so high as it used to be, because its staff are having to laid foundations that, a decade ago, the schools would have been responsible for.)
  • Fine Art students often struggle with essays due to a lack of a prolonged and consistent application to the discipline. They make images on a daily basis, but essays are written only when a deadline demands it. Some form of writing needs to be routine.
  • For some students, the first year experience was a rough passage between the two harbours: the one, of secondary school, the other, of university … with attendant seasickness. Adapting to an entirely different educational culture makes considerable demands on them.
  • Some students avoid taking art history modules (even those they’re passionate about) which have examinations as one of the assessment components.
  • Cumulative stress is a problem for some students (as I suspect it is for us all on occasion). It strikes in the final third of the semester, when time is short and assessment looms.

2.10 pm. Abstraction, lecture 5:

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3.10 pm. Adminy things: uploads, registers, file conversion, and so forth. 4.00 pm. I continued with personal tutorials. 4.45 pm. A spot of disentanglement was in order; one of life’s familiar but nonetheless potent visual metaphors:

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6.30 pm. A little horizontal elevation to ease my back and recuperate before the evening shift. 7.30 pm. The evening shift. I finalised the handout for the field study and some preparation for tomorrow’s Vocational Practice class, and reconfigured the module’s file folders. My cold persists; ears are full; brain fizzes; even concentration requires concentration. A somewhat earlier night is called for.



October 10, 2015

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8.30 am. Facebookery. One of our MA Fine Art alumni had responded generously to the Strictly No Admittance composition, thus:

I thought that was excellent. I was listening carefully on headphones and I particularly liked how the layers of sound filled the frequency range so well. The high guitar part had a real Robert Fripp feel to it, and it added more to the whole than I might have expected from its relatively small part(s). Lovely sustained overdrive sound too. While I was listening I could picture the exhibition well, but I did find the ending a bit abrupt.

My return:

Thanks … for your encouraging review. Sonically, I had to do much with very little … as Sandra had done in her painting. The abruptness of the end was predicated on two rationale: first, I wanted to include an sound analogy for the uncompromising boundary, or termination, which is the edge or enclosing frame of the canvas support; secondly, the work was premeasured, at 6 minutes, much in the way that painters preordain the measure of their painting when they construct the stretcher frame. (For example, some dimensions of Sandra’s works are 6 feet.) You’re right about modern CD players. They are now so laden with anti skip devices that glitching is almost impossible. (Do you know the work of Yasunao Tone?)

The abrupt end is also anticipated by the guitar drone that cuts off in mid flight at 04:22 into the composition. That dramatic moment in the part needed a response in the whole. There’s always a logic in an artwork to which the maker must succumb.

9.15 am. Slowed by a cold, I dragged myself to the computer and pressed forward with  a small grant application, aided by periodic, hot lubrication:

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It always seems so obvious why others should throw vast quantities of money at a project. (Delusional thinking.) Rarely do potential funders see it that way.

Is there a missing element in the ‘Image and Inscription’ artwork as it’s currently conceived? Possibly. In the trialogue of text, sound, and image that informs the composition, ‘image’ is present in absentia only (under prohibition). However, pictures of Moses on Mount Sinai (for example, an engraving of him receiving the commandment that forbade Israel from making a graven mage) could be integrated into the soundscape, sonically, via the process of databending, which I’d dallied with in ‘The Wounded Heart Ministries’:

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Lanfranco Giovvani (sculp.), Moses Receiving the Commandments on Mount Sinai, from the series of etchings Biblical Scenes, after the frescoes by Raphael in the Vatican Loggia (1607) (Courtesy of the Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco)

5.00 pm. Some tasks take all day, and this was one. My eyes burn, throat rasps, cough persists, limbs ache, and head tingles. Enough for today. 6.30 pm. An evening with my (reduced) family.



October 9, 2015

‘The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets (Prov. 22.13).

8.30 am. The possibility of risk, jeopardy, and calamity are the inevitable concomitants of reckless bravery. Life must be lived, and work undertaken, with one’s head in the lion’s mouth … always. 9.00 am. Into the sound studio to face the Cerebos of several uncompleted tracks. Friday morning is often a challenge when it comes to sound mixing. Noise (in the sense of the wrong sound in the wrong place at the wrong time) seeps into the studio, from within the home, in the form of a whirring vacuum cleaner and, from without, through the interference of  low-flying jets, yappy dogs, motorised street cleaners, heavy footfall, and the occasional traffic. These things are sent to test my headphones:

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9.30 am. I undertook the final mix and mastering of the recordings made at Sandra Sagan’s Suspension installation last week. By lunchtime, the lion’s share of the task was complete.

1.40 pm. For the next two and half hours, I poured over the visual patterns of crests and troughs that had begun to emerge on the graphic rendering — pushing the tidal motif further in order to introduce a slow irregular rhythm reminiscent of deliberate, meditative breathing:

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It’s peculiar how some parts of a composition (be that an image or a sound) require a great deal of brow furrowing and teasing to resolve, whereas other parts seem to look after themselves. And it’s the latter which provide the clues as to how the more recalcitrant bits and bobs should be dealt with. Creativity never loses either its mystery or capacity to surprise. But the hardest part, by far, is knowing when to let go of the artwork. 5.10 pm. That time is imminent! Back pain is growing, manoeuvrability is beginning to be impaired. Careful!

7.30 pm. Replaying a composition, after only two hours absence, enabled me to hear for the first time those desperately small inadequacies that needed adjustment before the composition could be released. This piece is as close as I’ve come to the the evocation of a landscape in sound. Strange that it should emerge in response to such an abstract visual proposition.

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 (Eccl. 9.10).

I live by this wisdom. Neither the size nor the significance of a task should determine the standard of its execution. We have this day only, and in it our metal must be proven.

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I’m commissioning a new custom guitar Crimson Guitars. In essence, it must have no headstock, be light, and of a length that can be taken onboard an airplane. After that, it’s all up for grabs. So begins of a genuine collaboration between the artist and the luthier. I’m looking forward to it.



October 8, 2015

8.30 am. Off the School to begin the first second-year painting session of the year. The studio awaits:

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I haven’t taught painting in the School’s main studios in a long while. It was good to be back. The tutorial conversations were intelligent and passionate. But there needs to be a greater sense of community imperative within the studio. This can be only nurtured, rather than either prescribed or dictated. Some absentees. They’ll be pursued for their own good. Later in the morning, more students turned up, and a buzz emerged in the room. Apparently, an Art Society pub crawl last night had put pay to early rising, and any rising at all in some cases.

I’m intrigued:

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2.00 pm. Following lunch, I had one further second year tutorial before shifting venues to the glorious Old College to engage my third year painters:

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Some principles and observations from today’s encounters:

  • We can all be equal in our measure of commitment to the subject and capacity for hard work.
  • Trust that you are capable of extraordinary things. Sometimes you must have a faith in your potential that flies in the face of past achievement and your own and others’ the low expectations.
  • Don’t anticipate the outcome of an artwork at its inception. (Destroy preconceptions with the passion of an iconoclast.) Let the idea determine the process determine the evolution determine the outcome of the work.
  • A direct correlation can be drawn between attendance and attainment.
  • You do not know what you’re capable of; but, then again, neither do I.

4.00 pm. Back to School to update admin and prepare for the 5.10 pm lecture. The low, saturating light of Autumn against an unsettled sky draws forth the town’s sense of place:

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I was on my knees by the end of the day, with the prospect a full-evening of work ahead.

7.30 pm. I dealt with publisher’s correspondence, Blackboard uploads, registers, absenteeism, and personal tutee lists. A myriad of small tasks robs us of ‘quality time’ as effectively as sluggardliness. 9.30 pm. Done in!



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