Month: November 2016

November 16, 2016

8.00 am: I caught up on the emails that had dribbled into my inbox since 1.00 am this morning, reflected, and then headed for the School to set up my materials in preparation for the morning’s lecture on colour theory and mixing:


9.30 am: But before that, I’d four rerouted second year painting tutorials to deliver. The painters are now on the second leg of the module. At this point, they’re are entirely self directed … with all the implications of taking responsibility for determinacy, strategic thinking, methodological action, and an imaginative engagement. This second project is also important because it’s the first time that they ask themselves serious questions about not only what they’re interested in, in relation to art and life, but also who they are in relation to those interests. Contrary to the students’ expectations, they aren’t spoiled for choice. Those things that are truly meaningful to us are (or ought to be) few. And, those things aren’t always obvious; they play hide and seek.

11.30 am: ‘Colour: Make-Up. Matching and Mixing’:


As one of our mature students astutely deduced — based upon her observations of the changing position of the Neutral zone on the the colour track mixes that I demonstrated — that the shape of the colour field is not circular. Indeed. It’s amoebic … like Mr Greedy of the Mr Men series.


How we deal with underachievement is one of the surest tests of our maturity. It’s natural (an expression of our human frailty) to feel defensive or self-justifying in the face of criticism. But however painful the sting may be, it’s incumbent upon us to ask two questions: 1. Is the judgement true and just?; and 2. What good fruit will it yield if I respond to the criticism positively?

After lunch, I began finalising the text and PowerPoint for the paper. (I’ve yet to speak it aloud, and this troubles me.) A small cup of Ovaltine eases the passage. I’m always less confident about a work at its conclusion. Perhaps, this is because I realise that it cannot any longer be bettered in the time I’ve available. My goose is cooked, as it were.

5.15 pm: Evening falls:


6.15 pm: Practise session 1. 7.15 pm: A feverish rummage for clothes, toiletries, medication, techno-stuff, notebooks, files, and folders in readiness for tomorrow’ afternoon departure. The script was polished, the slide indicators in the text checked, the slides on the PowerPoint checked, the script marked-up, and back-up for everything ensured:


11.00 pm: Another ‘night watch’. On this occasion, testing the timing of the paper.

November 15, 2016

Yesterday: The day was dedicated to completing the text for the conference paper, which I’ll deliver at the end of the week. By evening, I’d begun to insert slide markers into the text, determine further slides, and write short continuity statements to ease the discussion in and out of the image presentations. All these activities would have to be finalised by the close of the day. On Wednesday, the whole (text, image (static and kinetic), and sound) will be rehearsed in order to ensure, integrity, functionality, coherence, and timing. A public lecture on the same topic is now in the offing; this will take place at the National Library of Wales, sometime after the CD is published.

7.50 am: Email and diary catch-up. 8.15 am: Off, in the rain, to the Old College to begin a teaching-intensive day. (I’m having to cram the second half of the week into the first half.):


Two PhD Fine Art tutorials for starters. The Old College has some magnificent crumbly bits, My objective correlative:


Afterwards, I made my way back to basecamp to conduct triple-tutorials with my third year painters. At least two are on the cusp of ideas and manifestations that could (only could, mind you) evolve into the exhibition work, next semester. This is great progress, in my books. Never underestimate what hard work alone can achieve. But the risk is always that the students will peak too early. Pace, as well as consistency, must be observed.

Lunch was taken in and around MA Fine Art tutorials that were due to be received last week. Necessary today, but not good for the digestion.

2.00 pm: A further second year painting maxi-tutorial, followed by a cancellation, which allowed me space to deal with admin and all-comers. 3.00 pm. For the remainder of the afternoon I held residual Personal Tutorials — that’s to say, opportunities for those who should have turned up last week and earlier. A student’s commitment to Personal Tutorials is a fair indicator of the quality of their studentship in general.


6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm. On with the conference paper: slide marker inserted, and the beginning of the final phase of slide generation. I’m on the last lap. 11.00 pm: ‘The night watch’. Ever onwards. Further exemplifying sounds were added to the PowerPoint presentation.

November 12, 2016

8.00 am: Off to the School to complete the set up of my equipment and undertake a thorough sound check. I made notes as I proceeded, and throughout the day, on problems that occurred, limitations that presented themselves (with respect to both the equipment and myself), and their remedy. Longer cables are high on the list; it’s easy to underestimate the different geographical distances between equipment tables in a studio as compared those in the performance context. 9.00 am: Everything was operational and optimised. 9.20 am: Dafydd, my accomplice, arrived:


The initial generation of sounds proceeded cautiously. In Dialogues 1 to 3, only I made sound. The collaborators drew. Two noisy ‘so and sos’ is an entirely different proposition. We had, without discussion, and purely by being attentive to one another, to come to an understanding of our respective roles. And these roles weren’t fixed; they evolved, along with the sound composition, throughout the day. We were neither performing nor practising. Rather, we were ‘painting’, in synchronisation, on the came canvas; negotiating possibilities; giving way to the other, when required; asserting ourselves individually, when necessary:


Throughout the Open Day, Ambassadors brought into the room groups of puzzled visitors, who wondered why on earth sound was coming from an art school. ‘It’s complicated!’, I said. The squeaky drying rack was Dafydd’s and my object of study. It was a sonic enterprise, akin to drawing: a process of selective viewing/listening and rendering of only those aspect of the sound that pressed themselves upon our interests and imagination. Occasionally, we reached a point of equilibrium, when our contributions meshed and each person’s efforts was qualitative. At such points, recordings were made.

12.45 pm: I attended the funeral of Eifion Gwynne, at Capel y Morfa on the corner of Portland Street:


Reports said that over 1,200 mourners were present. I can well believe it. There were two moments of particular poignancy for me. First, my encounter with his van (his war horse), now valeted and polished; it had been parked – proudly and defiantly – in the middle of the road. Secondly, the fulness of silence that presenced itself among the crowd – as though the whole town had quieted itself in that moment. It was broken only by the clip of a pigeon’s wings as it flew at speed, like a Spitfire, below roof level and down the length and centre of the Street.

2.15 pm: On my return, the morning’s endeavours were taken up again. One would need several consecutive days to properly make trial of this collaboration. We willingly subjected ourselves to interruptions. (This was principally why we were doing it, after all.) 4.00 pm: Game over! Dafydd and I packed up and evacuated the Project room:


5.00 pm: I made my way down Plas Grug Avenue to the Aberystwyth Rugby Club, where a wake in honour of Eifion was being held. The main tent was crammed to the walls with warriors regaling their fallen hero. This was his greatest achievement: to be so loved for all the right reasons by his family and friends. Eifion’s two vans were arranged, heraldically, either side of the rugby posts:



6.30 pm: An evening with my family.

November 11, 2016

Yesterday: After the 9.00 am Art/Sound lecture (on this occasion, my desk lamp rendered up the ghost), Dr Forster and I had a ‘feet didn’t touch the ground’ sort of day, delivering interim, indicative assessment-cum-feedback tutorials to our second year painting students. This was a first, for us and them. These were intended to make them aware of their performance at the halfway stage in the module. In the evening, I cleared away teaching administrations for the week that’s past, finalised track modifications for the forthcoming CD (so that’s now ‘done and dusted’), and got back to the conference paper, with an increasing sense of urgency.

6.30 am: The first light of day:


7.00 am: Next week’s classes were organised, outstanding Personal Tutorials arranged, Open Day notifications posted, and my diary rationalised for the week to come. 8.15 am: Back to the paper. Full-steam ahead, and into my Hebrew/Greek lexicon.  10.00 am: A little respite, and an initial poke under the bonnet of Pedalboard I — looking for a space into which the new buffer unit can be fitted:


10.10 am: More writing; more PowerPoint slide generation. The two go hand-in-hand when it comes to the preparation of a conference paper. 12.00 pm: I began to dismantle the equipment in the studio, used to develop tomorrow’s Dialogues4 project, in readiness for transportation later this afternoon.

1.20 pm: Over lunch, I grated and carted boxes, PA speakers, stands and racks down three flights of stairs in order to begin loading the car. I really do try to use as little equipment as possible. But always … always … my load makes me look like Pink Floyd on a picnic outing. Some ideas demand a great deal of you and material commitment. Either you concede fully, and do what it demands, or else give up the idea. Either response is acceptable. What’s not acceptable, is going only halfway with it. So, the shunt: from studio to front passage to car to school to ground-floor concourse to upper studio to Project Room. At this level of complexity, a great deal could go wrong: things fail; problems inevitably arise. That’s not the issue. Whether you can fix them … now, that’s the issue.

3.45 pm: The final proofs for the CDs artwork and text arrived for review. 4.15 pm: Off to the School to set up the equipment for tomorrow’s open-studio project. The whole builds incrementally, like a painting upon a blank canvas: 1. The empty room; 2. the installation of furnishings (desks stands, and plinths); 3. organising the electrical supplies; 4. setting up the mixer and amplifiers; 5. connecting sound equipment to the mixer; 6. Testing the system, one section at a time:



6.30 pm: Homeward. I still need to complete a sound check on my part of the system, tomorrow morning. An early start is in order.

7.30 pm: My sons begin to return for the weekend of Eifion Gwynne‘s funeral.

November 9, 2016

Change and decay in all around I see (Henry Francis Lyte (1793–1847)).

Is putting the interests of your own country before those of other countries any different from putting your personal interests before those of other people?:


8.00 am: Off to School to set up my demonstration materials for the 11.10 am BA fine art workshop on priming board:


8.30 pm: Forward, to the Old College for a partial morning of MA Fine Art tutorials. Encouraging. Not because solutions to problems are being acted upon, necessarily, but, rather, because problems are being defined more clearly. There’re times when that’s the best a student can hope for.

Within the side wall of Aberystwyth’s Unitarian Chapel, on the corner of New Street and Castle Street, is the still visible entrance to the coach house (the building’s previous incarnation), now bricked up and painted over. It’s, variously, a scar, a residue, an undoing, and a still-present absence:


In 1906, a classical façade was stuck on, what is now, the front of the building. It’s unconvincing, anomalous, and vaguely pretentious in the most endearing manner:


11.10 am: Advanced priming for second year students.  There were moral lessons to be drawn from this skill: We should attend, with the best of our abilities, even to those things that’ll not, in the end, be outwardly visible. If the foundations are not sound, the building will likely crumble. We should consider our workspace, tools, and materials with the assiduity and conscientious care of a master chef.

After lunch (spent pouring over the news, as the world comes to terms with the unthinkable), I began an afternoon of Personal Tutorials for first year students. For the most part, they’ve settled-in well. The greatest difficulty some face is how to manage non-timetabled periods in the week. Perhaps third year students should advise them. Some of my third-year tutees have grown in confidence enormously. They’ve found themselves, their strengths, and a determination to go forward. This was heartening.

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: I reviewed and revised the draft for the CD cover design and booklet. Nearly there.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • ‘I don’t know how to know’, remarked one of our MA students. But they know they don’t know how to know. And that’s more than half the battle.
  • Don’t shrink to the size of your own or other people’s expectations.
  • Sometimes, you can achieve more in one day than in a week. Likewise, you can undo a week’s work (like the good reputation of a lifetime) in a moment. So be careful how you tread.
  • Nothing grows where no seed has been sown.
‘All that glitters …’, Trump Tower, New York (October 14, 2001)

November 8, 2016

8.30 am: Off to School to begin a day of MA fine art tutorials and seminars. Palatial palettes:


11.10 am: In the MA Vocational Practice module, we listened to one another read a short passage to an audience (us), with a view to better understanding the principles of public presentation. To a woman and man, they each performed above their own expectations:


2.30 pm: A final MA fine art tutorial before an afternoon of third year Personal Tutorials. In some ways, its rather like a GP asking you to come for an appointment in order to tell them what’s wrong with you … when, clearly, nothing is (more often than not). I took in Becky’s project exhibition The Yuj Series in between appointments:


6.15 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: The proofs of the cover design concepts for The Bible in Translation CD arrived today. I’ll need to scrutinise these of the next few days. Back to the conference paper.

9.30 pm: Practise session 2. 10.30 pm – 1.15 am: US Electionism:


Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • The subject will determine the manner of its representation.
  • It’s sometimes useful to first write an essay in a notebook before committing it to a computer. By this means you can also divide the conception of ideas from their precise articulation in the finished submission. Separate out the problem into more manageable phases, in other words.
  • It may not always be appropriate to ask of your work questions such as: ‘What do I want to say?’ and ‘What does this mean?’ Rather, inquire of it: ‘What do I see before me?’ ‘Where has it come from?’ ‘To what does it incline?’ And, ‘What has this to do with me?’
  • Our own prejudices about our work — what it should, needs to, and can’t be — will hamper its ability to confute our expectations. Don’t short circuit the path to surprise.
  • We often return to where we’ve come from in many departments of our life, art included.
  • Our own sense of how we come across in a public presentation often bears no relation to how the audience actually perceives us, mercifully.
  • If you know the direction in which your work is heading, might it suggest that you’ve taken that route before? Do you really want to go there again?
  • The old church saints used to talk of ‘understanding with the heart’. In this way, thinking and feeling, mind and soul, were inextricably bound up with one another.

November 7, 2016


Yesterday: ‘Organising’. The Holy Trinity Church organ’s mighty Watkins & Watson Discus Blower had packed-in last week, in a puff of thin white smoke. I unscrewed the ‘acoustic box’ (so called), in which it’s housed, to determine the problem. What a lovely electric motor! Meaty, heavy, British, industrial, intimidating, and Army green — like an old diesel locomotive. I’m hoping that a failed capacitor only is to blame.

As I fell into slumber last night, a thought pressed itself upon my mind: ‘When the tree is shaken, the fruit falls’. A grim foreboding, perhaps.

Today: 8.30 am: I made preparations for teaching over the next fortnight. Various other commitments will unsettle the routine over this period. Provision needed to be made for what I would not be able to attend. 9.30 am: To the paper, once more. When am I distracted? Why am I distracted? And, how do I distract myself? Distractions are sometimes necessary – in order to give the mind a periodic break from task at hand – but they should always be under our control. On occasion, distractions beckon when I don’t:

  • comprehend the problem at hand;
  • comprehend my response to the problem;
  • engage with the problem, because I’m not convinced that I need to;
  • engage with my response, because I’m convinced of its appropriateness.

12.30 pm: Mr Davies, a keen amateur astronomer, kindly came to help adjust the family’s new telescope:


While he was focussing on unobservable planets (the top of Pen Dinas, in actual fact), Mrs Raikes, our gardener, was working in the opposite direction – liberating hitherto unnoticeable plants from a century’s old tangle in the undergrowth. This is called Bear’s Britches, I was told:


1.30 pm: Back to it. I’m half way to completing the writing, and the PowerPoint presentation is shaping-up well. On track. I seem to write to the computer more quickly when the font is red. How odd. 5.15 pm: Pause:


6.00 pm: After dinner we went out into the cold evening and pointed the telescope at the Earth’s sole natural satellite, now in its First Quarter, seven days after the new moon. Telescopes not only magnify but also, and more importantly, bring things closer. By such means, enormous distances give way to merely great distances. 6.45 pm: Practise session 1.

7.30 pm: Onwards. Keep writing. Free fall. Swap things round. Move a word to the end of the sentence. Delete the punctuation. Remove 4 out of 10 words. Be poetic. Then, avoid poetics. Find a metaphor. Strike-out perfectly good stuff in order to incorporate perfectly better stuff. When the prose gets constipated, make notes or PowerPoint slides. Always return to images.  Read down the centre of the page; capture the essence of what was written. Remember, errors of judgement and interpretation can be beautifully wrought. Therefore, distrust elegance of expression.

November 5, 2016

7.40 am:


… and a time for reflection and a conversation between earth and heaven. 8.40 am: To town and a haircut, followed by a brief hunt and gather for eggs and vegetables at the Farmers’ Market. The greens (and the stall owners) were a little forlorn today:


9.40 pm: I made a first stab at putting together a handout for next Saturday’s Live Art: Dialogues 5 event at the School of Art’s Open Day. 10.15 am: On, once more, with the conference paper composition (along with conference booking and other pertinent practicalities). Henceforth, I’m writing against the clock.

Occasionally (if only to read someone’s writing other than my own), I dipped into Samuel Pepys’ diary. His accounts of philandering would make even Donald Trump blush. What a rogue! (Both of them.) The research for the paper is moving towards, what’s for me, new territory. This is way it ought always to be, ideally. Cecil B DeMille’s first and silent film about The Ten Commandments (1923) is divided into two parts: the first is an account the biblical story and, the second, a morality play about the consequences of disobeying the Decalogue, set in contemporary America. A kind of Rake’s Progress, if you will. Fascinating. It gives me useable metaphor for the transition between the biblical past and the present, one which underlies the fusion of the textual source and technological intervention in ‘Image and Inscription’.

Over lunch, I inserted a levelling amplifier/limiter into one of the signal paths of the sound set-up which I’ll be using at next week’s event:


2.00 pm: Then, on with a combination of writing, note making, reading, video capture, and video and picture editing for paper’s PowerPoint presentation. 5.20 pm: I have notes sufficient to start from 0 and accelerate to a 100 miles per hour at 9.00 am on Monday. ‘Enough already!’

6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: An evening with my wife.

November 4, 2016


Yesterday: I spent the day on the ‘shop floor’, after a fraught two hours of lecturing on the Art/Sound module. The sound system in the lecture theatre had failed. Mercifully, I’d anticipated that inevitability (whenever it would finally arise), and brought into the School my own amplification system as a back up. So images were presented from one computer through PowerPoint, and sounds, from another computer, via the amplifier. (Hairy!) The evening was spent completing the week’s teaching admin and preparing for the week ahead.

Today: 8.00 am: A little tidying of my PowerPoint in readiness for today’s talk on blogging; a little email correspondence; a little dairy updating; and further preparations for the week ahead in teaching and admin. 9.00 am: The meat of the day — I returned to the conference paper and the governing questions (again), and moved on to the topic of hermeneutics.

10.50 am: Off to School to present the ‘Blogging for Beginners’ lecture — a double-act with Mr Iliff:


Ms McKay, who spent some time at the School as a visiting American student two years ago, was in town. She’s been on a European tour. London, Paris, Aberystwyth: the three ‘must sees’ on this side of the Atlantic. We took lunch together at Tree House. Kassie is one of those rarities with whom you can have a conversation that spans across politics, visual art, literature, experience, ethics, food, vocations, and vacations. At her heart is a passion for reading (voraciously) and for savouring each moment, deliberately. ‘Live life intensely, Kassie!’:


1.30 pm: Back at homebase, I sat down, vanquished emails, and typed as one possessed. ‘Write with the urgency of a dying man, John’. Completing this paper will be very hard work. But the last thing I want to feel is that the most difficult tasks, intractable creative problems, and challenging endeavours are behind me. Everest must ever lie ahead.

5.15 pm: Evening:


7.15 pm: After making some adjustments to Pedalboard IV, I settled down to continue the paper. Some times one must write in order to discover, rather than to articulate, ideas. The important thing is just to keep on writing … even if its rubbish. Petula Clark singing Down Town (1965) never fails to lubricate and uplift mind and heart.

November 2, 2016

8.30 am: To the School, then, to the Old College for the first half of the morning, to work with the MA Fine Art painters. Tutorials, when at their best, are always a collaboration between the tutee and tutor towards the common end of understanding, discerning, improving, enabling, and humbling:


11.30 am: Second-year painting. Light is beginning to break-in at both postgraduate and undergraduate level among the painters. It’s visible on their faces: the mild shock of realising something that now seems to them to be so startling obvious that they wonder why they’d not noticed it before. Of course, the ‘revelation’ (as one student referred to it, today) was always there, on offer, but they weren’t yet ready to receive it.


Lunchtime: I caught up on emails and a little module admin before settling down for two hours on the conference paper. The paper’s aims and the underlying questions required my attention. Get these wrong and the whole enterprise drifts like a stricken space craft. The revised proofs of the CD content had arrived. I’d need review these in the evening.

4.10 pm: I returned to School to conduct a final MA tutorial, with a student with whom I was at Newport art college, back in the late 1970s. We share a common sensibility derived from ethos and values of that period. 5.20 pm: Homeward:


6.30 pm: Practise session 1. 7.30 pm: The record company requires more images with which to illustrate the CD booklet. I searched and prepared files while reviewing the revision of ‘Image and Inscription’. The project is within site of port.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • Spend much time looking at the works of great artists. Because that’s what they did.
  • Discipline the problem: attempt to define it in the simplest and most straightforward terms … to yourself. Divide the problem into manageable parts. Discipline the process: explore each of the parts independently. Discipline the product: discern the relevant parts and combine them artfully.
  • Potentially, you may be a more interesting and idiosyncratic artist than the one that you imagine you’ll become.
  • Periodically, you should review work made earlier in your training. We find ourselves in our past.
  • Distrust your taste, your predilections for certain colour combinations, and what you enjoy doing. They may prove to be false friends.
  • The problems of art are, in part, the problems of the heart; attend to one and you’ll attend to both.
  • Just once, try and paint like you’d never picked up a brush before.
  • The important things always return to the centre of our attention.