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  • Writer's picturePhil Dobson

Words on Making Salt I and II: Intimations of Valency: A Day in the Studio

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

I am looking at Salt I and II, deciding whether to continue building up colour or start glazing with white (actually, mostly acrylic medium, in this case Boesner and a few drops of liquid Titanium). I move them to a lower position and look again, with the light raking the surface. Light - coincidentally, I’m listening to Light On Light Through, the sound made for my installation of that name in Bremen, the title coming from the theories of Marshall McLuhan; the sound slipping through the spaces between image and thought - the reason I listen to music while working. The running time of the sound is around the length of a feature film and I muse on the idea of making a feature length film composed entirely of abstract images.

Later, I am sanding the painting Matrix (and since someone asked, the term sanding is just as applicable to the use of wet and dry paper as other so-called sandpaper. Sand is no longer used in sandpaper, the most common chemicals being Aluminium Oxide, or Silicon Carbide in wet and dry). So again there are decisions to be made. First, the grade, and then when to glaze again with more deep blue. I’m also thinking about a diptych similar to Yellow Cosmology showing, on one side, the migration patterns of birds, and, on the other, the movement of a football player during a game (which could be linear, or in the manner of more up-to-date visualisations using so-called “heat maps”).

During the day, other ideas pass through my mind - such as a time-lapse video of the stages of n(n+1)/2, or scanning the small Gutenberg Galaxies.The former title implying an accumulation where each stage contained the previous stage (ultimately leading to the Oxford installation, What Is Done). The Gutenberg Galaxy matrix is another kind of accumulation.

Still later, working on Salt I, I find the glaze is not adhering, spreading to form an irregular fishnet pattern - is this an undesirable effect? In the light of this, I start to think about images from night cameras showing heat loss from buildings or bodies; a matrix as a network of nodes; flow patterns in atomic structures.

I need to track down some P80 wet and dry. It’s a pleasant interlude, an excuse to enter the Aladdin’s cave of hardware shops. But for some reason I’m listless, forlorn, distracted, beset by aches, hyper aware of shapes and surfaces in the serried ranks of tools and fixings, material and purposes. Divination by entrails, data visualisation, layer upon layer of meaning - the transcendence of human endeavour.

Back in the arch, the scrape of utensil on bucket; decant the dregs of my sandings; the sound of graft. Nothing can be easy. I look at my gloves, the Marigold glow; that’s what it says; Marigold, restored trade mark; Kitchen L/81/2 CE (showing they have been assessed to meet high safety, health, and environmental protection requirements) with a symbol that looks like an open book with a squiggly or italic lower-case i on the recto; Production 12.2020. Old stock, not yet perished. That was 13:33. At 13:53, I wondered what 0/1804 meant. Marigold transforms the dullest chore into one with a sense of purpose, pride and deep satisfaction.

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