Month: November 2015

November 18, 2015

7.50 am. A necessary, fast turnaround on a student submission. 8.45 am. Off to School.


On such a day as this, one can understand why storms are sometimes regarded as an objective correlative for certain mental states. The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), for his part, considered bad weather to be a manifestations of demonic malevolence. (That was the prevailing medieval view.) Some days, one can be seduced into believing it, almost; nature can be remorseless, cruel, and indifferent to its victims.

9.00 am. I completed a professional reference (this time) that also needed a swift turnaround, before addressing my list of essay tutorials for the morning. My Dictaphone had failed to capture the last Abstraction lecture. Mercifully, one of the students present had made a bootleg recording. However, the sound quality of such did highlight the appalling acoustics in the lecture theatre. 11.40 pm. Tutorials completed, I took a small group of students down the road to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, where they attended an Inspirational Archives event. I returned immediately, just in case stragglers had begun to gather in the concourse.

1.50 pm. Following lunch and email review, I revisited the Commission to see how our postgraduates were fairing. They had it all in hand; they were in their element. An abundance of materials, ideas a-plenty, and a sufficient wherewithal to induct and inspire strangers into free-fall creative practice. On one level, this was kindergarten for adults: an opportunity for productive and responsive play, without censure or embarrassment. We could all benefit from a bit of that.


The project builds upon a collaborative relationship with the Commission that the School has enjoyed for many years. The, now, moribund Chapels in Wales module (the first of its kind in Welsh Higher Education) was one of the first fruits of this partnership.


Ideas for future ventures and fresh teaching, research, and public engagement initiatives — linking the School with not only the Commission but also other public bodies committed to conservation and archives — fell from the sky, like rain. This is public engagement in a meaningful and uncontrived sense. Something one can believe in without either intellectual compromise or throwing-up.


One visitor had only begun drawing eight months ago. She was 92 years of age, frail but fully compos mentis, sparring with me, and agitating over the perspectival diminution of an area of railings on the seafront, represented in the photograph which she was copying. To be fair, a third year BA student would have struggled with this problem. Well, at the very least, her tenacity and willingness to think through the problem will help keep dementia at bay. A lesson for us all:


7.30 am. I took my first tentative steps into implementing Turnitin (the e-submission software for text-based assignments). So far so good. I’m late to this game. All my previous module assignments during the Turnitin era so far, have been non-standard (large-scale and original documents, sizable image files, etc.) To end the evening, I began writing the explanatory text for the I Saw her Soul Fly Across the Clouds suite of songs.

November 17, 2015

8.45 am. Where are my keys? Where are my keys? I went through, in my mind, every ritual of placement and concealment in my safe-keeping of keys repertoire. Eventually, I found them in the pocket of my trousers, in the washing machine, having suffered a thorough economy clean and spin. 9.10 am. A late arrival at the School; bag down, post collected, tea made, and back on track. Here we go again:


9.20 am. Admin catch-up (as ever). I rarely catch-up. Admin runs ahead of me like a figure in a nightmare. No matter how much I accelerate, it always seems to maintain the same distance away. The tree trimmer is in the School’s garden. His saw sounded like a very large wasp in extremis. 10.20 am. I launched the Facebook Community page for next semester’s British Landscape module. (I’m on a recruitment drive.):

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 10.19.10

10.30 am. An MA fine art tutorial. When we write, we accept that some lines, paragraphs, whole pages even, may not appear in the final script. But we write them, dispassionately, nevertheless. However, when it comes to making images, we too often burden ourselves with the expectation that everyone one of them has to succeed, and berate ourselves when they often don’t. This is wholly unrealistic, and a form of legalism that we’ve imposed from within.

11.10 am. Vocational Practice was on the topic of criteria assessment: the pros and cons. I also gave the group an opportunity to formulate their own criteria, one by which they’d be happy to be assessed. It’s rather like being asked to plat the rope from which you’re going to hang:


1.40 pm. The first of a series of one-to-one pre-submission essay tutorials for the Abstraction module. There are always common, underlying problems that dog written work at this stage in its development. To the end of putting some of them to rout:

  • One needs to attend to the essay’s structure from the outset. Separate-out the problem into manageable parts, so that you aren’t dealing with all the essay all the time. Divide and rule!
  • See each draft like a printer regards a page-proof: as a phase towards the completed ‘picture’.
  • Very often, by the essay’s half-way point, your writing will have improved and the discussion will read more cogently. So, invest that betterment; rewrite the first two pages when you get to the end of the essay, and the introductory paragraph especially. See essay writing as a circular rather than as a linear endeavour.
  • Don’t write anything that you don’t either believe is true or understand.
  • Better to write drivel than nothing. Drivel can be improved. Nothing be cannot be improved. (Nothing is perfect.)


‘There’s a storm coming!’ Turner would have loved this:


I continued with tutorials until 5.15 pm. The wind is up. This is hurricane Barney; one of the USA’s cast-offs. Storms invigorate.

7.30 pm. An evening translating and commuting slides to PowerPoint in readiness for Thursday’s Abstraction lecture. A number of the original images were too poor in quality by today’s HD standards, so they had to be re-sourced on the internet. This took longer than I’d anticipated.

November 16, 2015

8.30 am. Before returning to the sound studio, I uploaded Friday and Saturday’s diary blog, updated software, responded to emails, and filed documents and photographs. Yesterday, before making for home, I’d attended the retrospective exhibition of Frank Auerbach’s paintings at Tate Britain. I much prefer this site to that of the Tate Modern. Here, the walls soar upwards, there’s more latitude and space between things (space to think), the soul can breath, and the eye enjoy the natural light:


From ‘The Black Notebook’ (10 Mar. 2015 – , 48-49):

his paintings: repellent (in a compelling manner) / something rots within them / realism, but in a direction opposite to photography / paintings as palpable equivalences for their subjects / ‘uncompromise’ and high seriousness mixed into the pigment / his ravaging eye / portraits: in death even as the sitter lives / no concession to the audience whatsoever / the mundane as magnificent and worthy of our attention / acrylic doesn’t serve his mode of painting / mapping pins retained in the drawing of  Reclining Head of Julia (1994) / Rothko left the gumstrip surrounding his late stretched paper works / the relation between A’s drawing and painting is absolute / little evolution in his paintings since the 1950s — magnificent consistency / the imposition of a formidable personality and sense of certainty / models’ names denoted by their initials / he abbreviates reality too, in painterly lines, hatching, and slurs / Sickert is evoked/invoked throughout.


10.00 am. On with a review of the sound compositions completed last week, followed by a process of reacquainting myself with ‘Image and Inscription’. Coming back to a work, even after only a week’s absence, can be a struggle. And, returning to a composition that I know must work, the more so. I began with a section upon which I’d established some purchase already. (When in doubt, begin with what you know.) In tandem, I took up once more the source text’s narrative and timeline chart:


I’m more and more persuaded to use the narrative sequence as a structure for composition — in short, to make a programmatic sound work that establishes correlations between the narrative and the development of the ‘music’. The original story begins in the wilderness or in the desert (מִדְבָּר (midbar)) — literally, either a place where flocks are lead (such as a pasture) or an uninhabited land. Today, as then no doubt, the area around the mountain and its range is largely barren of event:

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 21.18.25

7.20 pm. So, at the beginning: a wilderness on which the Israelites pitch their tents in front of Mount Sinai. I began with a single drone, extracted from the bitstream of one of the engravings of Moses on Mount Sinai, which I’d lowered in pitch by 5 octaves and slowed down by 1000%. (Multiples and divisions of 10 (being the total number of commandments) govern the tonal and temporal modifications of the digital samples used in the composition.)

November 14, 2015

9.00 am. The full extent of terrorist attacks in Paris was now evident. Clearly this marks a new and dangerous escalation of IS’s operations. It has now come to our door. On the streets of London — and today was the Lord Mayor of London’s Day – armed police were very much in evidence. How much more so in response to yesterday’s atrocities is impossible to tell. The armed forces were out in great numbers too, but strictly on parade.

10.30 am. I attended Lanyon’s Soaring Flight, an exhibition of his gliding-based paintings at The Courtauld Gallery:


From ‘The Black Notebook’ (10 Mar. 2015 – , 46-47):

Silent Coast – never as blue in reality as I remember it, or as it’s often reproduced / a sharp turn in flight – like the personal abandon of sexual ecstasy / DeKooning – an ever present influence in L’s heavily gestural works / but L is more object directed / Movement made still / but what were those ‘feelings’ L was intent on expressing? / a detached stillness-silence / abstraction using local colour predominantly / landscape as a vehicle for, stimulus of, emotion (as in the 19th-century Sublime) / aerial views – but the suggestion of a profound depth between the artist’s position and the ground / L nevertheless remained loyal to the flatness of the support / caption interpretations are often too poetic — too literal and specific / the theme of the crucifixion occurs periodically throughout L’s oeuvre / the landscape seen and experienced as dynamic and mobile / the glider was a much an artistic tool as L’s brush / the movement of the glider in the air becomes the movement of the artist before the support and of the brush across it / there are mythic connotations present —  metaphors for something grander than the ostensible subject / one art historian mistakenly describes the direction of a brushstroke in one painting; you can see the error, if you’ve ever made a brush mark like it / art historians should make art; then they wouldn’t make such mistakes

Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat was also on show. Just one room; but enough to demonstrate how a past painter can be a later painter’s teacher. One can learn a great deal from breaking into and assimilating (not copying) the principles of another artist’s work. She distils from Seurat a pure, optical phenomenon. Her paintings are very ‘loud’, but without being assertive. Their precision of execution reflects a corresponding exactitude of intellect:


Like Agnes Martin’s works, Riley’s are beautiful but never pretty. Both painters could achieve in one work what lesser artists do in an entire exhibition. Riley’s pictures are without fixity – shifting, oscillating, adapting. The visual equivalent of a pulsating drone.

12.10 pm. Forward to Oxford Street and a period of consumer consultation at a major department store. 1.40 pm. On, then, to the Duke of York Theatre on St Martin’s Lane to see Claire Van Kampen’s Fairinelli and the King:


This was something of a ‘must see’, The only tickets obtainable were for standing at the very back and top of the theatre. A snip at £10. The pace, intelligence, wit, inventiveness, and quality of actors (fronted by Mark Rylance), kept one’s attention on the play and away from any physical discomfort endured. Like last night’s fiasco, the central theme was mental incapacity. However, the playwright and Rylance achieved more in the first two minutes of this play than the other had done in its entirety:


5.10 pm. A search for a place to eat. It would have been advisable to book in advance. After a short run-around, I secured an acceptable Cumberland sausage and mash potato at a pub close to Tavistock Street. 7.45 pm. Back at the flat, the landlord introduced himself. He’s studying theology en route for clerical training in the Anglican Church.

November 13, 2015

9.30 am. Neither the threatened rail strike nor the downpour of rain last night had prevented the trains from running to time. On, then, to London with my laptop engaged (albeit without the ‘courtesy’ power supplied by an on-board ‘plug socket’ — as it was referred to by the announcer — which had failed throughout both carriages). The weather switched, as though between the seasons, from dark and heavy to bright and vibrant, and back again, throughout the journey to Mid Wales:


12.35 pm. I arrived at Grand Central, Birmingham. (Will they cease calling it Birmingham New Street, now that the station has an additional name?):


12.50 pm. On to London Euston and, on arrival, to Bloomsbury Publishers on Bedford Square. I’d come to discuss the conceptual framework and intent of a new book on the Bible, art, and visual culture. 2.00 pm. A face-to-face discussion with the commissioning editor is preferable at this stage of the negotiations; it’s possible to get through a great deal of business far more quickly than by an exchange of emails. I left feeling a strong sense of the (potentially large) work’s direction and of what would be its distinctive characteristics. (Harry Potter does not live here, by the way!):


3.45 pm. Then, I travelled from Gower Street to an Airbnb flat off Fleet Street: a homely, comfortable accommodation with formidable security:


Having settled and brushed up, I ventured back into the city for a place to eat. As a matter of tradition and habit, as much as of a baneful lack of imagination (I’m no foodie), I ended up at my usual Chinese restaurant on Gerrard Street. The standard of cooking has declined noticeably, visit by visit. For desert and solace — an artisan ice cream on St Martin’s Lane.

7.00 pm. I’d tickets for Florian Zeller’s The Father, at Wyndam’s Theatre, which was built by the architect William Sprague in 1899:


It has the feel of a fusty old hotel that still uses blankets rather than duvets on the bed: charming, eccentric, and teetering on the vulgar, in the best sense of that accusation. (My late Auntie Rosie possessed the same characteristics, as I recall.) The set was disciplined and imaginative, but the play was, to my mind, dismal, tedious, and lacking in development and conviction (on the actors’ part):


I’ve a suspicion that actors and directors alike feel an obligation to entertain, rather than to enlighten and challenge, their audience when they play on the West End. One doesn’t attend a play about Alzheimer disease and expect an almost farce-like delivery. But the play has received, in the main, 5-star reviews. There are rumblings in the air about dreadful events in Paris this evening.

November 12, 2015


8.50 am. A glorious morning (gratitude abounds), much needed after a succession of dull, draining, and drizzled days. 9.00 am. Third year painting tutorials at the Old College. The interior graces the wide-eyed and attentive with moments of illumination, beyond the literal sense of that word. A window and its ghost:


10.30 am. Back at basecamp; the School’s garden has more than its fair share of evergreens, a realisation that we only fully appreciate at this time of year. On such a day as this, all things might be possible:


10.50 am. The start of second year painting tutorials. Outside, the clouds gather; inside, the light of understanding enters both the tutee and the tutor:


Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • The painting is its own reality, governed by principles and requiring decisions that may have very little to do with the reality which it seeks to depict. Learn to let the picture be what it needs to be.
  • The tyranny of the photography: photographs can be a useful point of departure for a painting; but unless you have some stylistic commitment to photorealism, you shouldn’t feel obliged to slavishly adhere to it thereafter.
  • One may learn to paint by teaching others to paint. And we may all teach each other by showing and sharing what we do.
  • An army marches on its stomach. An art student studies on a nutritious diet. Your stomach may seem along way from your brain, but they’re intimately connected. Look after them both (he said, parentally).
  • Your life is of incomparably greater value and importance than your work. Therefore, first, look after the bigger picture, and the little pictures will take care of themselves.

5.10 pm. At the close of the day, the 13th Abstraction lecture. Today, I was on my third wind. I ended the afternoon session knotted by exasperation. (And, I’m not alone in this.) There must be a better way.

7.30 pm. A readying for the morrow and, then, a shifting of postgraduate co-ordinator admin, composing email rants, and developing my research self-appraisal further. A bit of John Martyn’s Solid Air (1987) (a very sexy, sultry album for listening to on dark winter evenings with a glass of Vimto and good company) to ease the pain.

November 11, 2015

7.00 am. I awoke. (7.00 am now feels rather late in the morning, following my bout of 6.00 am starts.) 8.30 am. Into the drizzle, onto the School. 8.40 am. I set up my materials for the board priming demonstration at 9.10 am:


As a painter, professionalism of craft and responsibility for one’s actions begins at the painting’s support and with the process of priming. These attributes of the finished work are often invisible — hidden from the viewer. As has been said often, it’s what we are in private that’s the true test and measure of our character. Similarly, it’s our carefulness in the execution of those aspects of a work which no one else will ever see or laud us for, as much as our concern for those which are evident, that commends integrity.

10.00 am. On with refreshing PowerPoint slides for tomorrow’s Abstraction lecture, responding to emails, resolving absenteeism, and ….


… evolving (in consultation with homebase) a workaround to overcome the Arriva Trains Wales, two-day rail strike, which begins tomorrow and will disrupt my travel to London on Friday:

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 12.27.27

12.30 pm. A final MA Exam Board Meeting.

1.45 pm. At homebase, following a late lunch, I returned to the book proposal. This needed to be completed and mailed to the publisher by the close of this evening:

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 15.30.05

It was off my desk by 3.40 pm — sooner than expected. That bought me a little time to correspond with the new temporary director of the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, and further update my CV. In the background, I played Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (1848-74). I anticipate that operatic and other magisterial classical music of this order will exert a considerable influence on the composition of ‘Image and Inscription’. The BBC news suggested that the forecast rail strike may have been averted. 

6.30 pm Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. I made a start on my research self-appraisal. This was an irksomeness to the flesh, as always. Before the close of work, I established PlayStation2: a practise hub, set up in the study, for early morning guitar work and learning music theory (which I’ve let slip of late). This was a balm to the soul:


9.40 pm. Practise session 2 (at PlayStation1, in the lounge).

November 10, 2015

6.00 am. An opportunity for an extended reflection, before and after breakfast. 8.45 pm. To the School and my weekly hour of Personal Tutorials — a drop-in shop for those who need either a quick fix or else the promise of a fix, quickly. In between consultations, I chased up absentees. Students are rarely wilfully miscreant; their failure to turn up for classes consistently is more often symptomatic of a larger problem in their lives, with which they’re doing battle.

A battle of a very different kind: our students ‘womaned’ a cake stand in support of Breast Cancer Care. Clearly, their talents extend beyond the visual into the culinary. A delicious fayre, made with a great deal of love, effort, and commitment to the cause of health awareness:



10.00 am. The first of the morning’s two MA Fine Art tutorials. Before the next, I’d time to rifle through Mr Garrett’s off-cuts shelves in search of materials for tomorrow’s ‘guest appearance’ at June’s Painting Workshop — where I’d would be demonstrating the joys of priming boards. (Great honour!):


10.30 am. The second MA Fine Art tutorial. Melissa’s forest floor salad:


11.10 pm. At the MA Vocational Practice class, I introduced the three assessment elements: the presentation on personal work, the website design project, and the small-group workshop. 12.30 pm. A Personal Tutor engagement.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • When we learn how to paint, we’re always teaching ourselves. Little of what we need to know, little of what is really important, is understood from words alone. Knowledge worthy of the name comes through the exercise thereof.
  • The best that a tutor can hope to do is articulate their own experience of the same, in the belief that this might spark a glimmer of recognition in the student.
  • When we mix a colour we also combine perception and recognition with insight and illumination.
  • One cannot overestimate the importance of persistence.
  • We do not need to understand what we do in order to do it. Although it’s incumbent upon us to understand what we’ve done after we’ve done it.
  • You don’t have to enjoy painting in order to be good at it. By the same token, You can be a poor painter, and still enjoy it.

1.40 pm. Back at homebase, and after a little tutorial admin, I edged my way into the book proposal once more. Now to put some solid flesh onto the bones. 7.10 pm. I pressed on in the same vein. The plot was thickening.

November 9, 2015

6.00 am. I completed the adaptation of a set of slides of works by Rothko and Newman in readiness for today’s Abstraction lecture. 7.10 am. Ablutions and breakfast, followed by a time for reflection and scriptural reading. 8.30 am. The week’s teaching was allocated, emails considered, and my desk cleared in readiness for the meat of the morning’s work. The low light of an overcast Autumn morning can dull and enervate the spirit:


9.00 am. On, then, with the new book proposal. To begin: I drafted notes on the scope of the themes, disciplines, media, and theories that could be included, and on the limitations of existing scholarship. 11.00 am. A change is as good as rest: back to the mixing deck to make some minor modifications to the I Saw Her Soul Fly Across the Clouds tracks:


Having listened to them repeatedly over the weekend, certain less than obvious flaws in the timing, editing, and the continuity of the three pieces had pressed themselves upon my attention, such that I could not rest without resolving them. (The coda to the third piece sounds very like Shostakovich.) 12.15 pm. Completed. Back to book. I’m careful not to over-tighten the proposal’s content, for I cannot, as yet, fully anticipate the publisher’s ambitions for the publication.

2.10 pm. The Abstraction lecture on ‘The Existential Sublime’:


3.00 pm. My PhD Fine Art application appointee was waiting outside my office door on my return from the lecture theatre. We discussed the nature of the PhD, their intent and aspirations, and the practicalities of undertaking this adventure. This is a big moment in their life; we both need to be sure. 4.00 pm. A much needed interval in which to gather together the threads of some outstanding module admin. In the background, I played my three new compositions repeatedly, listening either closely or ambiently to any glitch, crease, smirch, or stain that might otherwise mar by enjoyment. I must be able to engage any composition that I’ve written with the same abandon as I would another artist’s work. When I can, then I know for sure that it’s finished. That point has now been reached.

6.20 pm. Practise session 1. 7.20 pm. The evening shift:


Number crunching; I endeavoured to calculate my teaching-time commitment over the academic year. (It appears quite appalling.) 8.45 pm. A review of an undergraduate student’s pre-submission draft report and, finally, of material for tomorrow’s Vocational Practice class.

November 7, 2015

7.30 am.  Arose. 8.30 pm. Open Day, with the Ambassadors preparing, welcoming, and touring, or Helen with her clipboard (in her role as Duty Sargent), or the display of cakes. Instead, I posted images of the School and the town on a sunny day, as an antidote to the prevailing dismal weather. Not being able to do one thing presses you to do another — to be more inventive. 9.30 am. I reviewed last night’s compositions. They sound complete in themselves. (I think I knew all along that this would be so.)

10.00 am. I returned to the book. I need to distil an account of its scope, rationale, and intent for my meeting with the publisher in London on Friday:


In between bouts of heady conceptualising, I began opening up the third composition again; it had begun to suggest the need for a dark and uncertain coda, in acknowledgement of the tragedy that had beset Jeanne Deckers‘ life, and its abrupt conclusion.

12.30 pm. My Open Day shift began. To begin: Tweet Central re-opens:

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 15.01.23

Several of the parents had associations with the School of Art from the time when it was a chemistry department. A surprising number of students follow in their forbearers’ and siblings’ footsteps in applying to this university.


A welcome brighter sky emerged periodically, following lunchtime. I manned the Information Desk until 2.00 pm, when I stood in Dr Cruise’s stead and delivered the sample art history lecture to a small but engaged gathering. We should really offer this in the morning session, when the crowds appear. (Note to self: Download the PowerPoint file and test it on the desktop rather than on Dropbox.) 2.45 pm. Back to the desk. The visitors were attending today’s second introductory talk:


Time, then, to thin my inbox. 4.30 pm. Homeward.

Back at homebase, I tweaked further the trio of compositions before pulling down the shop blinds, at 5.15 pm. 6.30 pm. An evening with my wife.