Richard Taylor talks to an ex systems engineer during his final year of Fine Art Drawing at Swindon College School of Art.
Creative cryptology and the story of a microprocessor
An art process is something of an engineered course of action, fused by language inputted to something made, through carefully balanced models of communication. David Riley, the artist, arises from over thirty years of specialist experience and self-taught knowledge, the veracity of which invents an embedded and systematic creative practice.
So what happens after the duration of Riley’s BA expires: does the ‘system engineer’ evolve to an artist having been taught ‘how’ for four years, or did he simply already know?
Codes of enquiry: Riley interprets his pre-functionary past
“I am fifty five. From age seventeen to fifty I worked in the telecommunications industry, where I actively participated in the microprocessor revolution. When I started in the 1970s, teleprinters were the data communication devices of choice, telephone exchanges were invariably mechanical and computers where very expensive, room-filling, specialist devices. In the late 1970s and 1980s I was a member of a small team responsible for introducing microprocessor training at my company training school. Indeed, the first microprocessor in the school was my own. The foundations for the course came out of my experience with that machine. I taught telecommunications related computing for fifteen years. In those days computer construction and programming was an art – a very creative process.
Now that creativity has been subverted by highly organised engineering processes. So, given the opportunity, I retired early to spend time exploring my creativity in a more direct way, at art school. Via a foundation course, I am now in my third year of a BA (Hons) Drawing for Fine Art Practice at Swindon College School of Art (validated by [University of Bath]), where I often find myself exploring the visual attributes of the theory and technology from my career as a systems engineer.”
Deciphering the decipherer
Richard Taylor: It seems that you already have a well-developed mode of language to make use of in your work. How important is the language as it translates to a visual aesthetic? Is the process of image making, symbols and code etc, something that overrides the result or do you enjoy how visual and ‘stand-alone’ the final affect is?
David Riley: The process leads and the aesthetic follows. The process (sometimes using code and symbols, exploring my life experience, and recording what I find) is the reason I do what I do. In a sense the outcomes are found. I do not set out with a result in mind. However, when I find something that has a pleasing aesthetic, I search for more.
RT: Is the methodology behind the process something that you keep as a ‘trade secret’, or do you seek ways to reveal it in a conceptual form, through language, as an accompaniment to visual results – which when alone appear predominantly abstract?
DR: As you can see from my blogging I am nearly always keen to share what is going on in my practice. I guess this has a lot to do with being a student and having to share openly with my tutors on a daily basis. What will happen once the course is done, and I am a lone artist, I don’t know.
I will probably miss the day to day sharing of ideas, so I suspect the urge to share online will be even greater. I certainly don’t keep any ‘trade secrets’, at least not as a matter of policy. However, neither do I regularly include any written accompaniment to my visual works. My preference is to leave the understanding up to the audience. My hope is that the work can be read on many levels from a stand-alone (often) abstract work to being just a small component of an ongoing line of enquiry; something that can be appreciated on its own or researched further if that is the wish.
RT: There is an element of propagation with your ideas and the visual enquiries that you emulsify: a certain ‘language-machine’, generating pop up models of its workings. Have you considered how different materials and dimensions can be utilised in approaching perspectives of the linguistic model? For instance, how about visual-sound pieces, or projection of image on to everyday objects – a sort of cross communication of understanding?
DR: I like your opening sentence in this question. It is a very good description of what happens during an enquiry. I am happy you see my outcomes as ‘pop up models’. They never give the whole story, but they do give another clue to the inner workings – dare I say ‘my’ inner workings! When I view them I learn a little more about myself.
I have made one sound piece, but not related to my current enquiries: working with the vowels from Shakespeare’s sonnets I made a book of all the extracted vowels and chanted the vowels from sonnet #1. ‘Chanted’ is a loose description; I said the vowels rhythmically and then played around in a sound studio programme, tweaking parameters until I liked what I heard. I have since journeyed off down another path and haven’t revisited sound as a medium. However, there is unfinished business – the sonnets are an interesting source of data. I will return there post BA.
I have made data driven projections. An example is ’88 Weeks Near 300 Places’, which combined a largish drawing with a projected animation of a Google Analytics map. Animation may play a part in my degree show, it could be screen or projection based, we will see what the enquiry and installation space demand. Projection onto objects may even have a role, now that you have planted the seed!
Scale and materials are important points of exploration. Facilities for working various materials are often difficult to find. There can be a frustration when the logistics get in the way of an idea. This is, and probably always will be, a difficult area. Managing the risk and reward equation will be important, although not being able to do something can be a good motivator to try something different. I always try to find a way forward.
RT: So by learning a little more about yourself, through medium and also through facilities available (or faculties even?), where does the process fit in with the end result, your degree show? Or do you see this final destination as an ‘unreal’ finality, how much longevity will the process of image making in this way have past graduating – what restrictions will take you in different directions?
DR: This past couple of weeks I have become caught by the realisation that four years of dedicated work (foundation and degree) must reach a peak in June. A few nerves have crept in to add noise to my thinking.
When thinking clearly, I realise the degree show is not an end but just another punctuation point along the way. I need to deliver something that will satisfy the assessment criteria, but beyond that I must continue to make what interests me. As for ‘the process’ it will last until it (or I) becomes exhausted. Finance and opportunity will be the main restrictions, I’ll have to work to finance continued exploration and working can limit availability and opportunity. I don’t want to look too far ahead, so we will have to wait and see where the journey takes me post graduation.
RT: I have come across similar qualms myself. Upon leaving university two and a half years ago my creativity took a backseat in order to gain a little financial stability. I now stand at less of a financial gain through what I am doing, but this is out of choice.
Do you consider choice or necessity to be the deciding factor in your work when you graduate? Do you think your working pattern will develop regardless of its state – will your art work be more of a ‘back seat driver’ or something that just sits quietly until arriving at a cross road or change in opportune direction?
DR: Choice is more important than necessity. I choose to let the journey be self-driven. Having taken the first step I usually discover something that encourages the next, and so on. There will be times when the steps come easily and other times when I am sure to stumble and stagger. Usually the stumbles and staggers are more interesting, it’s in these difficult moments that the most important discoveries are made.
I mean important for ‘me’, even if they’re insignificant to everyone else. And, as I said before, ‘I don’t want to look too far ahead’. The only necessity is to find enough of a budget. Finance is about living and about making work, it is not about making money from the work.
RT: Your motivation is definitely in the right place. But do you allow for choice as there is such a solid foundation within process of your art making? Your work is so embedded within a knowledge base – your life experience as you say – that much of what many students still need to learn, you already have under your belt… would you agree?
Is this why being discursive as well as succinct comes easy to you? The blog being a natural extension and visual outlet…
DR: Letting things happen naturally is a choice and when this is no longer the right choice (for me) I will make a different one. When it comes to the organisational and writing components of a fine art degree, my time in industry has been invaluable. We used a Wiki type system to synchronise people working across diverse geographical locations (you could think of this as a multi-user blog). I was a home-based worker for the last five years of my time in industry and used technology to keep in touch. So yes I would agree, I already have much of it under my belt. Having said that, being ‘discursive and succinct’ is not as easy as it might look, I still have to work at it, but I don’t mind at all if you think it looks easy from your perspective! Public blogging is relatively new though and I am still trying to work out how best to use it.
I do like to share what I find and what I make – blogging seems to be one good way to do that.