Summa: Diary (January 2022)

January 3. We relented of the household tradition, and took down the Christmas decorations several days before twelfth night and Epiphany. Tomorrow would be a workday. And there are few things more dispiriting than confronting the grunts and grind associated with the first day back at a job after the holiday with reminders of the festivities at every turn. Our 1950s US Nativity scene assumes that only one of the three wise men was a person of colour. In reality, they’d all have been. I’m surprised, given the historical period of its manufacture, that the tableau hadn’t segregated the non-white from his fellow travellers.

January 4. 9.00 am: Officially, I’m still on annual leave. (I’ve still a great deal more accrued holiday time to spend before my contract terminates at the end of July.) Nevertheless, there were examination obligations to fulfil. The day began with reflective writing. It helped to lubricate the mind and prepare it for more demanding applications; evaluate what as been; and plan what may be. Over the Christmas break, I reassembled and reoccupied my study. (It’d been put out of action on January 23 last year, when a bookshelf collapsed. This, in turn, had been caused by damp into the chimney breast, which destabilised the mortar into which the fixings had been secured for the past twenty years.) The offending chimney having been demolished, and the breast and flanking walls replastered and repainted, the room was once again home, safe, and dry.

I took the opportunity to lighten my shelves and filing cabinets by ruthlessly weeding out books and documents that I’d no longer read or need. Some had been either bought or acquired second hand, over thirty years ago, in order to supply reproductions for lecture slides. This was prior to the availability of digital images of artworks on the Internet. Back then, I spent a significant part of my academic career bent over a retort stand, pressing a cable release with one hand while holding open a thick and heavy tome with the other.

One book, which had been given me in my early teens by a neighbour (who’d been a school head mistress), shall always remain among my collection: Masterpieces of Modern Art (1932). I used to lie on my bed and pour over it. Singlehandedly, it opened my eyes to painting. ‘Modern Art’ meant European figurative painting (rather than abstraction) made since the later part of the nineteenth century. The examples included works by Roger Fry, Mark Gertler, Augustus John, and Laura Knight. Ethelbert White’s The Village Store [n.d.] was a particular favourite of mine. The authors describe him as ‘the most typically English landscape painter in the country’. I demur. (British art criticism could be so complacent and provincial in those days.) He was one of the most winningly oddball representatives of the genre. His stylisation bordered on the so-called ‘primitive’ and surrealist, while the paintings’ evocation of time, mood, and a sense of place summoned the spirit of Samuel Palmer. Graham Sutherland’s early work was in the same vein.

January 11. 10.00 am: It is the day of the annual MA Vocational Practice presentations. (My last.) Each student gives a 20-minute account of their work. Usually, they trace a line from the beginning of their undergraduate studies to the present. They’re assessed, principally, on their ability to project, articulate, connect with their audience, and deploy PowerPoint appropriately. Quite a part from being an occasion for assessment, the event is an opportunity for students to share their work and ideas, peer-to-peer. It provides me with a snap-shot overview of the whole cohort’s work in art practice, and a chance to sit at their feet and learn. They impressed me with their candour, self-cognisance, humility, and conviction. Some have made a long and arduous journey from where and who they were to where and who they are, in their life and work. We none of us know what we may yet be, with a little encouragement and direction from others.

13 January. The first of the new suite of compositions about Penallta Colliery began. This would be the first track of what may very likely be the last album in The Aural Bible series. Having completed six albums in as many years, it’s time to let this land to go fallow for a while and plough a different field. When I was a young academic, one senior member if the university advised me, sagely, that in their experience one ought not to publish too many of the same type of output for too long. And nor would I have in this case, had not opportunities for publishing the CDs followed swiftly on the heels of each other. There’s a book that needs writing, and conferences papers to prepare. God willing, these things will commence after the present project is published and ‘Year “0”‘ (August 1) has begun.

At the outset of a new project (whatever the medium), my aim is not to improve upon its forebears but, rather, to innovate, conceive, and execute in ways that are unprecedented for me and the series. The unique nature of the subject and source of my inquiry will inspire these changes; for the interpretative ideas will emerge from within them. Thus, I must be attentive to their content, form, and idiosyncrasies throughout the process of composition, from the beginning to the end. My initial efforts have been encouraging.

January 18. Wolf Moon, early morning. In some cultures, the full moon is auspicious — a harbinger of good luck and prosperity. Not that our PhD Art History needed luck at today’s viva voce. They were on form and knew their material. And, just as importantly, they’d put in the necessary commitment and effort to craft a commendable thesis. They were in charge of their success. I served the examination board as the School’s internal examiner.

January 20. The artwork for the Seven Prayers for Stephen Chilton: Requiem CD album was now finished. This, the fifth instalment in The Aural Bible series, would be released by the Screen and Sound Archive of Wales in a few month’s time.

January 23. At Ynyslas, some of the sand dunes, it is said, are 9000 years old. If you turn back to the car park and Visitors’ Centre and ignore the town of Aberdyfi, which is situated on the far side of the Dyfi Estuary, you could imagine yourself unmoored from time itself. The banks of the estuary collect more than their fair-share of drift wood. The partial trunks and branches of trees, felled by storms that have torn into the west coast of Wales and east coast if Ireland, are strewn upon the sands like dinosaur bones among the ancient remains of petrified trees, which are visible only at low tide. The latter reminded me that, 5000 years ago, the ground beneath my feet was not a beach but, rather, a forest floor. Perhaps, 5000 years from now, I’ll be standing upon the seabed even at low tide.

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