February 20, 2020

‘Let it all fall to the bottom of the lake.’ (Heard in a dream, February 20, 2020)

I photograph every aspect of the School these days. The familiar things are forgotten first, in my experience. I’m storing them up for the future: the substance of recollection. Sleep was elusive last night; I’d had too many cups of tea too late in the day. Maintaining focus throughout today would require further cups of strong tea at regular intervals. (A rather self-defeating strategy, I admit.)

The painters and decorators were still at work in the galleries. The smell of emulsion paint reminded me of the week of preparation leading up to the undergraduate show. (An olfactory anticipation.) ‘But is it art?’:

My day for third-year painting tutorials. Some students battle-on against the odds. Our body and mind are not always on the side of ambition and determination. We’re none of us ethereal spirits; corporeality brings with it limitations and challenges. Health and strength may give way just when we need them most. To say that our infirmities and contrary circumstances are no excuse for failure may seem unduly harsh. But some of the very best students that I’ve ever encountered have succeeded in spite of every discouragement imaginable. I vividly remember one undergraduate who continued working towards the final exhibition having just lost their mother to cancer. But not everyone can be like her, I realise.

12.00 pm: Into the unruly world – tossed by wind and rain – towards the Old College for one of the day’s tutorials. A student showed me their recent procurement: an intensely dark black. It’s not the blackest black manufactured today, but the colour’s frighteningly high light-absorption index is sufficient for the purpose for now. I ate lunch, washed down by a decaffeinated coffee, at my favourite table in a watering-hole nearby. This place is haunted by the ghosts of past conversations. Good times. Mentally, I honoured them all. The sun shone. Glorious! Uplifting!

When I was young, the word ‘Corona’ had a very different resonance than it does at this present time. Corona was a local brand in South Wales. The ‘Corona Pop Man’ would pull up outside my parental grandparents’ home on High Street, Blaina every Thursday. Pop (the familial name for my grandfather) bought the pop. His order always included a bottle of dandelion and burdock. My favourite. The bottles had a raised pattern of pimples that I’d caress as I downed the drink and burped shamelessly afterwards:

1.30 pm: Back to the mothership via the egg shop. Office door firmly locked, I indulged a ten-minute catnap. 2.00 pm: The afternoon shift. Deadlines don’t make solving really difficult and important problems easier. But solutions will come when they come … if the student is committed to intelligent hard work. For the most part, my conversations are now on another level. We’re talking about making art, rather more than fulfilling module objectives and achieving high marks.

Observations and principles derived from today’s engagements:

  • An idea in search of an image; and image in search of an idea.
  • The implication of meaning, but without the interpretation of it.
  • Size and scale are not the issue. Rather, a picture’s strength lies in its intensity.
  • Search for answers in the work of other artists. That’s how the very best artists have, in part, risen to be the very best. You can’t hope to succeed in an art-historical vacuum. The task is too difficult to undertake alone.
  • The more confident you are the more careless you can afford to be when painting.
  • Think of what’s taking place on the canvas are your collaborator.
  • Ensure that the artwork demands as much from you as you do from it.
  • T: ‘It’s your work, not our work. I am a teacher and advisor and not a collaborator.’ The responsibility for every aspect of the artwork’s conception and execution lies, in the end, with you alone.

5.30 pm: Homeward.

7.30 pm: The Thursday round-up: teaching admin, research and publication admin, and a preparations for tomorrow’s postgraduate training workshop.

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