Oxford and Nottingham

Category: drawing

Lost Nottingham – Lost PhD

The painter Cyrill Mann painting the Trent and the 
now demolished Nottingham City Power Station c. 1939


Even the best laid plans can have a fatal flaw.

After a hard year applying I am no nearer a funded or even self-funded PhD with the Thames based ideas.

Apart from the advice that very few PhD funding candidates over 50 now receive funding and if applying try having a sex-change I also came up against another fundamental problem.

I well aware of the pitfalls and problems of so-called ‘practice-led’ Phd study. In fact I wrote a paper on it available


I also illustrated the great and the good’ take on ‘Artists with Phds’ edited by James Elkins for which I had to read every chapter.


So I more than familiar with the argument that a practice-led fine art Phd is essentially impossible and I would 90% agree.

Most of the submitted fine art practice-led Phds thus far completed have been textual commentary on practice and nowhere do I see art objects which in themselves contain new knowledge as defined by the academy.

It is a fascinating philosophical problem but there it is and it doesnt help gain funding.

Does an art object of itself…a painting..a sculpture or a conceptual installation contain new knowledge which ‘transferrable’ NO..not unless it contains text…which funnily enough graphic novels and comix do….

This brings me neatly to my problem with PhDs. I have spent a fruitless year banging my head against the walls of funded academia. As well as the age and gender problems which make it virtually impossible for a man of my age to succeed in the AHRC rat race for pennies I was pitching what essentially a ‘practice-led’ project at solid academic text-only departments.

This reached its apotheosis in two recent meetings at Nottingham University. One in Geography the other in the English Department. In both cases senior academics were very supportive of all I trying to do and if I wished to self-fund (no longer an option as they say life got in the way) then I could do a historical Cultural Geography Phd no problem.

What I could not get support for and this also happened at Lincoln too ( trad Art History only which ironic in an institution hell bent on destroying trad arts for money making ‘performance’ ends) is get support for a practice-led (poetry/drawing/graphic-novel) whatever the practice it that element that caused a shaky heady…. Traditional academia….i.e. the academy wants a rigorous 80000 words or it a no no.

So new year back to square one. the only way I can see a practice-led PhD with the above caveats succeeding is by part of the PhD being comic/graphic novel and therefore containing the transferrable knowledge. I played with this in a ‘Visual Paper’ (NO TEXT) I delivered at a drawing conference in New York again to a few shaky heads and non-publication in proceedings because ‘no text’ 🙂
That paper available HERE:
along with animated short.

At this point James Elkins kindly stated that he thought that I had done a PhD level of work in my M.A. for approaching the topic in the way I had but that ain’t the same as a real PhD. So I have got nowhere……

Meanwhile I developing this ‘Backwaters’ research into a smaller non-PhD project or at least placing on the back-burner until things look more hopeful.

Further details of Graphic Art and Comics Research on : https://shaunbelcher.com/comicart



Back to the futurism

In 2009 in support of my initial M.A. proposal I wrote this statement….

Nothing much changed..:-)


Shaun Belcher November 2009


I am a somewhat unusual case to be writing about my fine art practice.

I began life post-Hornsey College of Art in 1981 having successfully gained a place on the Royal College M.A. in Painting but sadly was not so successful in terms of funding. I continued as a painter and printmaker until a move to Edinburgh in 1993. There I became a published poet. A return to Oxford in 1996 then saw a period of fine art mixed with song-writing.

In conventional terms this kind of genre-hopping is frowned upon as not being quite serious enough. Thankfully I have enough USA based models to not worry too much about that e.g. Musician and Architect and Fine Artist Terry Allen to name but one influence. However whatever my ‘practice’ entailed throughout this period one thing remained constant. My commitment and seriousness about what I was depicting in whatever medium.

Throughout my  art-working life some things have remained stubbornly, one might even say obsessively constant. Be it in digital images as recently or in drawing or poetry and song I have remained constant in delineating a clearly ‘map-able’ terrain. This terrain extends about 5 to 20 miles in radius of my hometown of Didcot in Oxfordshire, England. Always the poor relation of the illustrious centre of learning that resides but a stones throw away.

There runs a hard core of intention throughout which draws on politics, ecological thinking and that obsessive returning to notions of ‘place’ and ‘landscape’. I regard my work as being a mapping of constant themes which recur sometimes years later. The River Thames is one theme the Berkshire Downs another. Local folk tales and oral literature mined from local libraries another. A recent song ‘Hanging Puppet’ drew on one such tale. In fact one could describe it as artistic Anglocana to differentiate it from Americana. I have written well over 2000 songs over the years..Mostly these are recorded in lo-fi versions and only really coming to life when in the hands of other more talented musicians (see the Moon Over the Downs CD 2003). Poetry has appeared in various magazines and in the Scottish anthology The Ice Horses (1996). I currently have at least 4 unpublished complete books of poetry on the shelf. One could describe my work as multi-disciplinary with a strong streak of green politics colouring the waters beneath.

I have drawn on some clear influences in writing and art. Seamus Heaney’s concept of a personal ‘Hedge School’ going back to John Clare is one thread. My forebear’s personal involvement in Agricultural Unions is another (see Skeleton at the Plough poems). I also am influenced by a ‘working class’ sense of writing picked up from Carver and Gallagher and other dirty realists. In song almost any Americana act would suffice. I am not American but I have strong American influences going back to Thoreau and Walden lake. To try and build an alternative ‘English’approach I have increasingly been drawn back to the English Civil War when the notions of science and arts were more fluid and interchangeable. I have recently purchased a reproduction of Robert Plot’s Oxford a marvellous Natural History of Oxfordshire from 1677. In it one finds specimens such as ‘Stones that look like Horses’ wonderful!

It is this kind of merging of scientific natural history and folk-lore terminology that I now most interested in. Both in poetry (see Downland Ballads) and artworks (see TRACK..2009)

So how does theory inform my practice? Well I see no distinction between the various arts. I am widely read in poetry and song and that informs my practice whatever I do. At times I have also used cartooning as an ‘art criticism’ vehicle as well as penning many art review pieces. I regard both theory and practice as being essential parts of art education and indeed my own life-long learning. One would not exist without the other.

One needs time to absorb and think not just create. I return again and again to my greatest teachers. People I did not know but who showed by example. Sorley Maclean and Norman McCaig both fine Scottish poets and the female war artist Ray Howard Jones whom I had pleasure of meeting friend of the artist David Jones. Wonderful inspirational people.

Leverhulme bid- Proposal

Here is the sadly failed application proposal but plenty of pointers to a future PhD proposal to work with…especially in regard to the mountain of Victorian art and railway literature in my studio….
[scribd id=249245353 key=key-emjYnJ5H6G6eFq1lsuLr mode=scroll]

Nature of Landscape

The Nature of Landscape – Visions & Distillations of Landscape & Place
David Ainley, Jeremy Leigh, Stephen Newton, Judith Tucker, Richard Kenton Webb & The Abbey Walk Gallery Artists Group

March 8th to March 19th 2011

This March Surface Gallery will play host to an exhibition that marks the culmination of an Arts Council funded project which includes the work of sixteen artists and a composer.

The Nature of Landscape project was conceived of back in 2008 by artist–curator Linda Ingham, on seeing the work of Wirksworth-based artist, David Ainley on show at De-Da in Derby. “I was looking for a project to provide for the N.E. Lincolnshire Arts Forum”, says Linda, from her studio at Abbey Walk Gallery in Grimsby. “ . . . and as soon as I saw David’s work, I realised how interesting it would be to create a project that challenges the idea of how we think about landscape.” Ainley, who has a solo show running until the end of March at the New Court Gallery in Repton, makes subtle paintings and drawings that challenge the representation of landscape as ‘scenery’ or ‘nature’ and are at odds with the interpretative excesses of the heritage industry.

The curatorial approach has been to draw together work based on landscape, which contrasts visually as well as in terms of concept. Richard Kenton Webb’s work focuses very much on elements extracted and abstracted from the Cotswolds countryside, through which he has embarked on a systematic approach to explore colour; the work on show at Surface Gallery will be from the Red series.

Judith Tucker’s work concentrates on the mnemonic content and visually atmospheric subject of war-time German resorts, juxtaposed with contemporary timelines and their relationships in terms of historic resonance.

Jeremy Leigh’s work reflects very much the artist’s abstracted feelings in relationship to Yorkshire and Scottish landscapes that speak to him in terms of the open road, and the road less travelled.

Joined in this show by professor Stephen Newton, who wrote the introduction to the full colour catalogue that accompanies the work, the exhibition also includes the work of The Abbey Walk Gallery Artists group, and a film by Annabel Mc Court with a soundtrack by composer David Power.

The Nature of Landscape as a project grew out of the initial exhibition in 2009 at Abbey Walk Gallery, and has since consisted of subsequent shows at the gallery and at East Coast School of Art & Design, as well as a seminar, a series of workshops, the printed publication, and finally the Nottingham show. “Both the Abbey Walk Gallery artists and the degree students from ECSAD have benefited from the opportunity to develop their work as part of the project. Working with Judith, David, Richard and Jerry has been a positive and inspiring experience for all of us, and we are looking forward to showing the results at Surface Gallery”, says proprietor, Gillian Gibbon, “We hope that the public response to the very individual results of our broadened horizons will be just as positive.”

New RPT Practice: Original Project Proposal (amended March 2011)

Having realised that original proposal had become over-complicated I have returned to original short proposal.

This then is a slightly amended version of that original idea. Basically I wish to revisit exact locations where I drew a series of landscapes around my Oxfordshire hometown in the early 1990’s.


Blewburton Hill Oxfordshire 1991

Using an as yet unpurchased Android slate.

I will draw on tablet from exact previous location and then merge either in adobe or through a purpose built android app. with original drawing and a photograph of the view. There is also the multimedia option of engaging with text and music too.

If this successful I will then take on to a more ‘public’ version of app. Posibly launched through an exhibition at local art centre. This however I will remove from the proposal timeline and place after the July 2012 M.A. deadline.


Here original proposal (amended March 2011)

M.A. RPT 2010-12

A project focusing on site specific experimental multidisciplinary artworks merging traditional notions of practice with digital media,computation, and internet resources”

Multimedia – incorporating fine art and literary practice

The project is centred on site specific locations – a local art centre, an abandoned railway track (now a public thoroughfare) and a large area of downland previously documented in the 1990’s. The project will involve drawing/painting on a handheld device and access to internet resources specifically GPS locative applications.

I aim to draw together my multidisciplinary activities in one specific outcome. This may be an exhibition tied in with locative media that may involve public engagement depending on timeframe.



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