My son has made a fantastic video of my performance, time to get that bootleg video editing software installed.

My daughter enthralled the audience by making weird noises into the microphone.

Simply having children has a dramatically soothing effect on audiences.

In fact this works on everybody: If I go into Boswells department store alone, all the assistants put on blank expressions, step a little back, keeping a wary eye on my activities. When I go in with the kids, it's all smiles and "can I help you sir?". Sir? People never call me sir. Well, they do when they see I'm a Dad. One of the perks!

At 9.00 pm, off went my partner and kids with a friend: school on Monday, the kids must get to bed. If they're late to school we start getting formal letters from the head, and unwelcome interest from the educational social worker. We've learned from experience.

Ex-army Czech neighbour made up for Saturday by staying behind helping me load the van 'till 11. "Naaahees Vun" as he would say.

Got home at 1 am after stacking glasses, clearing bottles, paper plates, screwed up napkins, etc., wiping up spilled wine, scrubbing the cream cheese off the carpets and hoovering up crumbs. By the time I got round to eating (after performance) there was no food left, so at home made myself a cheese sarni and cracked open a left over bottle of wine.

Daughter woke up crying. "It hurts, it hurts" … "Where does it hurt my darling?" … "The exhibition hurts …"

Yes, it always does, however well the event goes.

No matter how much people enjoy themselves, and what lovely things they say about my paintings, the press, arts council reps, local council arts officers, local gallery managers, etc. are always conspicuous by their absence.

People come to Oxford for the tradition: for the Christchurch collection of medi-aeval art, the 12th Century wall paintings and Tudor royal portraits. People don't come here for the fringe contemporary art, so why clutter the pages of the local press with it?

There's the cost too. I try to justify it as publicity for my business (teaching and offering ritual and ceremony). That's the year's profits wiped out … it might convince the tax man, but ultimately I have to justify it from a deeper motive!

And finally, there's the post-exhibition depression. The rapid disappearance of large amounts of adrenalin from the system, it's a kind of drug withdrawal. Combined with the sudden onset of existential meaninglessness now there's only computer work to do, always unpleasant.

So, up late this morning (7.45 – the days of a quiet lie-in after a late night ended with the arrival of children!). Son rushes out, shoe laces trailing, and leaps on bike with piece of toast stuffed in mouth.

Daughter, miserable, trails to school, late, in the rain, with partner.

I take van to studio. Now, how am I going to get this equipment back up those stairs?


I've done rather a lot of reflecting in this blog, I'm going to try and do a straight diary entry!

Hanging the exhibition today, something I haven't done for 13 years. Forgotten how much hard slog it is.

First off, the muscle (my Czech ex-army neighbour) let me down – turned out he got pissed last night and crashed out on a friend's floor.

Now, I can only just carry the performance equipment on my own. The speaker and the electric piano are a hundredweight each. But with the advancing years, the consequences of carrying this stuff are severe: back-ache for a month, and acheing wrists that prevent piano playing for a similar period. Since I'm shifting it with the intention of performing tomorrow, I can't take the risk.

Eventually, me and my son slid the equipment down the stairs (narrowly averted squashing of son), sledged it across the garden (sorry lawn) on old blankets, and ramped it up into the back of the van on a step ladder. Once we were at Wolfson, all easy, helpful porters, trolleys, lifts, etc. discovered son suffers claustrophobia in the lift. Funny you can live with someone for 12 years and not know something like that.

Hanging was pretty much trouble free. Here's a tip which few seem to know about: "Leger Stops". If you're hanging stuff with nylon fishing twine, these things stick onto the line, but can be moved if you pull hard. Really easy to get pictures at exactly the right height without endless knot tying. Available from all decent angling shops, and on the internet.

Confronted with exhibition lighting tracks for the first time. The fittings made some horrible cracking and squealing noises when I moved them around, but I don't think anything snapped.

The folks at Wolfson are very kind and helpful. They plied my son with free coke (the fizzy stuff with caffeine in it) all day, at the end of which he was whizzing about between the 3 rooms like a rocket had been strapped to his backside.

He did a fine job all day with the nylon twine and leger stops, and did his job as documentor excellently. He deserves a treat some time. Don't we all?

Back home, panicking about the performance at the private view tomorrow. Been trying to remember the last time I played the piano in public. 1996 I think.

I've made a list of the things I need to pack in the van tomorrow. Forgot to launder my clothes … think I've still got a pair of clean jeans somewhere. Must have a bath, I stink this evening, family too polite (or too familiar with it) to complain.

So it's all over, really, bar the shouting!

And why did I do it all? Honest answer: To keep life interesting enough to bother trying to stay alive. Just now, it's really fun!

Thanks Megan (not real name) for permission to (mis-)use your story.

Thanks for the encouragement, Rob!


I've had some feedback from post #10, about railing against the conceptualists.

Far from it, I think the conceptual movement has been a vitalising and challenging force in the art world, and some of my favourite art is 'conceptual' in nature.

I just find it both upsetting and annoying: the way that artists demean their work by the things they write about it … and the fact that contemporary courses encourage this stuff.

Write about your process … write about your techniques … write about interesting things you found along the way … but please, do we have to write rubbish as well?

Remember, the best art stands on its own, moves us at a deep level, and requires no explanation of what it represents, no details of references.

Sometimes when I exhibit, I write a little story or poem for each painting. But the stories that get read most avidly go with the paintings that people like most: the art must stand on its own, if it needs propping up with a heap of junk, then it is a heap of junk.


A comment on one of my posts, fantastic – thanks Laura! There is a world out there!

Isolation seems to be epidemic amongst artists. Although it’s a real peak experience when artists come together and join in a project, the very nature of creativity sends people spinning away again.

Artists find it impossible to plod along enjoying each others’ company for long, they soon get inspired and go off and do something whacky – often on their own.

Back in the early 90s I helped get a group of artists together – we all needed a break, and I’d found a community centre who wanted to help: free exhibition space and low cost room hire in return for publicity.

Our philosophy was to use the opportunity to help each other get where we wanted. We spent a lot of time talking about where we wanted to go. It was challenging, about raising expectations and not settling for second best. It started about us all wanting to get our work exhibited, then it got into gaining experience – teaching, administering, gathering practical skills. Then onto money, why we wanted it, and then how to raise money in ways other than selling paintings and running workshops.

Within a year, one was enrolled for a PGCE, another was running Yoga groups, another had decided that more than anything she wanted children, another joined an advertising agency, and I went off to start learning about ritual.

It was really fabulous … but doomed to disintegrate.

I’ve been in five such inspiring situations, and the years in between have been filled with the dark feeling of being surrounded by people, but still feeling lonely.

I was commissioned to write an article about it for the Artists Newsletter, which was really about heralding the innovation of the AXIS register (not online then), as a means of making contacts with artists. Ironically, 15 years on, searching the AXIS database, I don’t get a single hit on ritual – and the selection panel continue to reject my annual applications, so sadly never much use for me.

Having a family has been a great comfort. Children idolise their parents, and as much as being loved is good for children, it’s also good for grown-ups!

This morning I was consoling my daughter, who was in tears of frustration over drawing a glass. It was a genuine delight to sit down with her and a glass, and show that the glass is only visible by the way it distorts its background, and through its specularities.

Tonight, my son and I are sleeping in camp beds in my study/studio, ready for an early start hanging the Wolfson exhibition. He’s the official photographer for the private view, and will be videoing my performance … for the simple joy of being involved in something exciting.

When the kids leave home, I will miss them like my own limbs … back to the dark times of seeking out those chance encounters with others whose journeys briefly join the same track.

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“But Dad, what do you believe?”. I’ve been discussing spirituality with my son, and we’ve just been through some ‘modern traditions’: Theosophy (inspiration of Mondrian), Wicca, Asatru and Crowley.

“I try to stick to my own experience. All I can really say is this: there’s definitely something funny going on …”

Not a satisfactory answer. We need to believe something. We can’t make decisions otherwise. A defining boundary between childhood and adulthood is that children believe their parents (mostly), while adults believe something else that enables decision-making.

I spent a year of my doctorate exploring belief. I started by reading about predicate calculus (“Logic”). The gist is this: One might have a rule that goes “Whenever X is true and Y is true, one may say that X is true … or that Y is true”. Is this true? Intuitively, yes, but prove it! That’s what predicate calculus does, but only if we make assumptions, like something can’t be true and false at the same time, etc. Very detailed.

There’s this joke: “A Physicist, a mathematician and a logician are travelling to a conference from London to Edinburgh. The train crosses the Scottish border, and they see a black sheep. The physicist says: “Look, all sheep in Scotland are black”. The mathematician replies: “Fool, only some of the sheep in Scotland are black”. The logician retorts: “Idiots – all you can say is that at least one sheep in Scotland is black on at least one side”. As I said, Logicians are different.

But you can’t reason with logic until you make “real” assumptions. You can’t say “all birds can fly”, and “Tweety is a bird”, and deduce “Tweety can fly”, without assuming that there are birds, something called flight, and something called Tweety. And “all birds can fly” is another assumption.

Everything we ‘know’ is just assumptions … beliefs.

Also, our knowledge contains many contradictions. Frege proved that if your knowledge contains one contradiction, then you can prove anything.

I managed to prove that it’s so hard to resolve contradictions, it would take us many lifetimes to clean up our ‘knowledge’ to the point where we could reason with it. But we can still reason … how come?

I wrote a computer program that could be ‘fed’ contradictory knowledge, reason with it, provide apparently sound proofs of completely contradictory things, quite happily … like us.

This is why I am so sceptical of the ‘academic rigour’ that artists are expected to apply to their work. There are a million ways of justifying any piece of art, given a brief and context … and our contradictory knowledge. It’s just pissing with proof, logical masturbation.

I do it – nobody takes you seriously if you don’t … but come on, folks, inject some reality here, stop pretending that this cognitive charade has any creative, or academic, value whatsoever: let’s get on with making stuff, doing stuff, and making the world a better place … which is what I really believe we should be doing!