Monday, 8 December 2014

No posts these last few months

Once again I have been removed from my proposed phased retirement and thrown back into teaching virtually full-time. Hence the lack of posts and the fact that I could give no notice of returning back into the fray.
I did deliver the life class and I feel managed to do this whilst not quite descending into the worst of what these classes offer. Some sessions were challenging and enlightening and the final three sessions which were much more student led, began to hint at possible ways to actually work from the model and not simply repeat what had gone before.
The key sessions were perhaps mid way through, once I had covered measurement, tone etc. I started to look at perceptual problems, one in particular being the problem with eye scan and size constancy. Students were asked to build images of the model, starting by looking at the feet and then moving up and using a new sheet of paper for each field of gaze. These were fitted together, to build large-scale images, which were themselves big enough to stimulate a more ‘phenomenological’ engagement. Each session following took on another aspect of looking, including a session on portraiture and how we gradually become aware of ‘likeness’, using soft focus techniques to gradually shift the face into view.
The collaborative sessions were fine and the mobile phone portraits in particular were fascinating glimpses into how quickly groups of students can work with this technology to make convincing pieces. Tiny videos were synchronised across lines of mobiles, or played off against each other when blue-tacked into geometric shapes on the wall. One piece in particular worked very well, students miming an idea that parts of their bodies were trapped within metal cages, then when run on a stack of mobiles new composite bodies were made, bodies that were banging and bumping into the ‘frames’ of the mobiles. The head bumping and bouncing off the sides of the mobile frame, creating a very physical presence in such a small series of linked frames.
Some of the small-scale joint work made for the miniature galleries was surprising and fresh and the invention levels were high and continued on into the construction of the galleries themselves. So perhaps I needn’t have been too worried about this module. The first mobile phone ‘concert’ was a great success and has already been used as part of an external event ‘icebreaker’. However these were just small drops in an ocean of teaching, once more having to support all first year modules, as well as taking over responsibility for third years on Fridays. The Friday work is however one to one tutorials and small critiques with usually highly engaged students who are well into what they are doing. This is nearly always a rewarding thing to do, just exhausting, because at the end of the day you feel as if you have given out just about every idea that you have. It takes a full day to recover and then another morning before I can start to think up some new stuff that I can use on myself.
This working almost full-time will continue and I have just been asked to carry on doing so until the end of this academic year.  So my idea of a gradual reflection will have to be put off once again. Perhaps next year will be less frenetic.
In the meantime Glynn Thompson has been showing his Damien Hirst inspired show at the Tetley and Terry and Colin went to see it. I’m not sure what they thought, but I presume they enjoyed the story. Terry contacted me to let me know that the experience had reminded him of another couple of stories, and so it goes, one story sparks off another and so on. Frank Lisle had told him a story about Jacob Kramer, Kramer not just giving his name to the art school, but providing a romantic role model of the artist/drunk, a role model, (according to Glynn’s story) apparently one that Patrick Oliver could have been responding to when he was a ‘wild young artist’, one of the ‘Teddy Boys of British Art’ as Patrick liked to remember. Tales of Kramer would have of course circulated around the Oliver house from the time when Patrick’s father W. T. Oliver was art critic for the Yorkshire Post.  Then of course according to Glynn, a young Hirst bumped into Patrick, a man who had refined his wild man artist image to perfection, and who would thus be an inspiration to said young man, and so it goes, and on we go into an eventual art history. I’m not sure, but a good story is a good story, myths are always better than reality, they strip out the dross and boring bits and leave us with what we need.
I am now of course part of the art college story myself. I’m not sure what role I take anymore, perhaps one of the old codger, or the historian or maybe it’s a bit like ‘Goodbye Mister Chipps’, O’Toole’s role in that film cementing another Patrick connection into place. Patrick used to say I was a good translator, working to help students understand all the things that were flying over their heads. Perhaps I was worried about bad teaching. I still want to see the business done well, I still want to see students fired up by excitement, but putting out stuff too far above their heads can mean they look up for a moment and miss it, but of course it can mean that some will look up and keep their eyes posted, these are of course those blessed with good eyesight and they will go far, but others need someone else to get them to look up again, and to help them focus, because if there is nothing there when they first look, they might not do so again.
Patrick’s wife has contacted me and wants to house his old notebooks somewhere, luckily the college has an archive now and they can go there, however I'm pretty sure they will need the services of a translator again if those old notebooks are to make sense to anyone.