Too Much Rope – Holocaust Memorial Day 2013


Wedding rings removed from Holocaust victims. (

I can’t deny having mixed feelings about being part of Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). Not because I believe my opinion is neither valid nor sufficiently informed, but because, to my knowledge, I have no family of cultural connection to the Holocaust and that made me question my right to say anything at all about something I have no experience of. However, I am reminded of a line from a song called “Too Much Rope” by Roger Waters on his album “Amused To Death” (1992).

You don’t have to be a Jew to disapprove of murder.

The song is concludes quite coherently with the lines

Moslem or christian, mullah or pope,
Preacher or poet, who was it wrote,

Give any one species too much rope
And they’ll fuck it up

I was also reminded of what Adrian Mitchell said about his very famous poem “To Whom It May Concern” (often referred to as “Tell Me Lies”) that it was not about being in Vietnam but that it was about being in Britain during the war in Vietnam.

Waters is a heavyweight neurotic, and I don’t think of myself like that, or an activist, or a committed pacifist like Mitchell, but the horror, destruction and injustice of the world that I see, mostly at a distance, makes me very angry. But what can you do?

Well, you can do something, anything.


My single-page giveaway leaflet of “World X – A Speculative History”.

I will be reading an extract from my prose-poem “World X – A Speculative History” at a HDM-inspired event at The Riverside in Sheffield, UK, organised by artist Trevor Tomlin. I wrote the first version in 2008 and it references Waters’ album directly when it mentions vultures and magpies. The work is an allegory on the dangers of implementing technology without resort to morality or ethics.

Regular readers of this blog or Black Daffodil Press might know I am preparing a book of “World X”, but I have made a single-sheet giveaway of the entire text for the event. It’s free, so if you are in Sheffield come down to the excellent Riverside pub and have a drink and listen to a wide selection of poets and musicians. And remember, in the words of PIL from 1986:

Anger is an energy

Polishing Turds and Gilding Lillies – Artspeak

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I don’t do Artspeak.

The single most difficult task for any contemporary fine artist is writing an artist’s statement. By “artist’s statement” I do not mean a biography or an explanation of technique, but the kind of statement that explains how your work “negotiates an uneasy discourse between existing cultural tropes as they are mediated by a need to address the hegemony of an overarching post-modernist ambivalence towards the metaphysical archetypes of history.”

Not bad, eh?

I know what all those words mean but I don’t use them, at least not like that. I have two problems with this kind of writing, used by both artists and critics. One is my strong belief in plain English and the other is that my work comprises a number of strands that are not necessarily possible to cohere into a single statement. What’s more, this kind of artificially rationalised understanding denies something that is almost universal in artists’ motivation, and that is ambivalence.

I have worked in a wide variety of media and my work is sometimes purely aesthetic, sometimes symbolic, satirical or emotive. Sometimes I choose a medium to suit the subject, and sometimes make work that is a one-off project. As a result, it is very difficult to talk about myself as a “type” of artist, or a medium specialist such as a painter or a photographer.

But the real crux of the matter is that if your work doesn’t speak for itself, then how could any amount of explanation compensate for that? Additionally, why would you think that the sublime could be enhanced by mere chatter?

Anyway, if you would like to generate some Artspeak for yourself, without the pain of having to learn all the words, here are a few web-based tools to help you manufacture something.

This first one requires you to input a 5-digit number and below is my first attempt.
“Although I am not a painter, I think that the reductive quality of the spatial relationships contextualize a participation in the critical dialogue of the 90s.”

Uncannily accurate.

Here are a few more links:

Additional links added 5th February 2013


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God forbid I should miss out on any meme action. I guess I’m a bit late off the mark with this one, but being an internet-junkie I couldn’t resist.

I am sure most of you will have heard about the retired Spanish artist who took it into her own hands to restore the portrait of Our Lord Jesus Christ in her local church (above).

Here is my response:

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Stalky Ringbits (Spanish Restoration), 2012, restored digital image

The world is awash with beauty if you are prepared to look, and some of it does not need improving. The world is also overflowing with low-brow trashiness, grotesque stupidity and wanton destruction.

I guess you have to choose your moments.

One moment I didn’t miss was a short interval of amazing found-art in the form of a section of distressed wall on London Road, Sheffield, UK. I had been walking past this wall at least twice a day for several years, and was struck by the layer upon layer of peeling paint that had been built up over decades. Fortunately, I acted before it was restored.

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There is an online document about this work here, and a “Retrospective” flyer here. There will be a print version soon, each with one of the two poster designs, before and after.

Collect the set!

And if you’re not tired of this particular meme, here is a Pinterest board with about a million variatons.

Everything X – Visions, variations & versions

World X v04 - 2012.032

Several years ago I decided to treat every piece of art as an ongoing work and to publish or show them in versions, rather like software is published, and I found this approach extremely helpful in combatting that old tyranny of the “is it finished?” question.

I am not a painter or sculptor, nor any other sort of artist that makes discrete objects. I use a number of media that are reproducible, sometimes infinitely, and working with digital media allows any number of versions to be made of any work, and that’s the rub.

Q. In a world of infinite possibilities, and infinite versions, how do you finish anything?
A. You just stop working on it.

“World X – A Speculative History” is a prose-poem I wrote in 2008 for an event entitled “Life 2.0”, and is an allegory on the dangers of technological advance without recourse to morality or ethics.

The first time I read it at the event I had a slideshow of appropriate images, maintaining a circular motif throughout. Version 1.0.

A friend told me she didn’t really listen to the words because the visuals were so arresting, but also said it would be good as a book.

Seeing as the text was the important part, I expanded it slightly and the next time I read it was without the slideshow. Version 2.0.

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I expanded it further, and it’s only about 1,500 words, but I read it again at a performance event that I organised with artist James Price in 2009 (above). Version 2.1.

The last time I read it (with very slight alterations) was at one of the Northern Lights spoken-word nights at the Rutland Arms, Sheffield, UK, organised by Jude Calvert-Toulmin in 2012. Version 2.1.1.

Part of me still wants to write more in order to make it longer, so that it will stand on its own as a performance work, but that just hasn’t happened. Maybe it never will.

Also, having struggled on and off for a few years trying to lay it out as a book, suggested by my friend, I am currently laying the original monologue out, page by page. There is no print version yet, but an ongoing PDF can be viewed online here. I hope to finish draft version 1.0 of text version 2.1.1 by the end of this week.

I wrote a separate section about Adam and Eve that I tried to weave into the main narrative, but it just doesn’t work, and so that will be a separate chapter that happens in the same universe, but not necessarily in the same chronology.

Stay tuned for Version X.X.

(Your name here) 365


‘Gingham’ – Andy Cropper – ‘Painting-A-Day’ no.006 – 6th January 2013

The 365 project idea is nothing new, but the first one I ever paid much attention to is photographer Luke Avery’s Sheffield 365 project in 2011. He roamed around the city taking portraits of people he met. Here is a link to a self-portrait of the man himself, and browse through the blog to see the others.

I have produced many long series of images in the past, and I really like the idea of this kind of project, but I’ve never done anything that requires such a commitment to a timetable.

Tony Kemplen, artist and photographer, started an excellent project back in 2010 called “52 Cameras in 52 Weeks”, where he used a different camera each week and published the results. He is now up to week 157(!), which says something about the tireless motivation of one of the most reliably prolific artists I know.

Bryan Eccleshall is producing a drawing a day, based upon an existing photographic project of details in the periphery of various art galleries and spaces.

Graphic designer and foodie Cindy Cheung (aka missiecindz) is also adding a note a day. Either follow her on Twitter or search for #Cindy365Notes.

Something more easily managed is @NrnIrnGirl1981’s publishing of her 1981 diary entries via Twitter. I don’t know her but I’m guessing she is about the same age as me, and I am looking forward to see how the entries develop from the bland but strangely fascinating reports on her sleep quality and the ambient temperature. Here is the entry for 6th January:

“The Christmas tree was taken down tonight. Christmas really is over. I have all ready for school. E bought me a new ruler and protractor.”

I am hoping we will see this teenager really let herself go, rather like the progression of my own early Facebook status updates, (“Richard is hungry”, “Richard is tired” etc), to inadvisable confessions and unfettered expressions of hatred.

Artist Andy Cropper (above) has initiated the most ambitious of the current 365 projects that I am aware of, and he is producing a 25x25cm painting each day for the year. His work is near photo-realistic and his subjects cover a very wide gamut from the mundane to the sublime, including contemporary and historical portraits.

So, you’re probably asking yourself why this is on my Richard Bolam at 50 blog, and how I am going to use the admirable creativity of these people to turn this post into a piece of grotesque self-promotion? Well, I have my own 365 project coming up for my retrospective year, 24th April 2014 – 23rd April 2015.

In the meantime I will be following and helping to promote other people’s insane 365 commitments. I predict hitting the wall after about eight weeks and then really getting into your stride just as it ends.

Just like the major retrospective, it’s not my idea, but what makes my 365 project unique is me.

Me, me, me.

I haven’t decided exactly what will be on it, but there will be a blog post every day for that year. If you would like to subscribe, please “like” my Bolam 365 blog here:
You will receive an email notification for each new entry, or just check back regularly.

In the meantime, please have a look and share these artists’ work.

Rule 1 – No rules.

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Rule 2 – See rule 1.

I don’t do manifestos. Much as I believe in limiting options in order to combat the tyranny of choice, I think that art led by manifesto is a self-defeating conceit. And no, I am not about to repeat the trite meme that “rules are meant to be broken”, what I say is similar but subtly different. I say that some rules exist for very good reasons, but if you are going to break them, do it for very good reasons.

I have seen a lot of posts on Facebook recently from about writers’ regimes and artists’ creativity, and I am becoming a real fan of their site. However, I don’t find the writers’ working regimes helpful at all, but that is based upon experience. I think you must find your own routine, and that only comes from thousands of hours of day-in-day-out, year-in-year-out dedication to your art and craft.

My own regime has been established, intuitively, over 40 years or more. After all that time I have come to know I have a cyclic creative output. I will be highly productive in one medium or subject for a period and then it stops. Sometimes I return to the same theme or activity years later, often with nothing having happened in between. Sometimes I can pick up where I left off and sometimes I can just rule a line under it and move on.

What works in my favour is that I’m now old enough to have had this happen enough times not to worry about it. This is one of the reasons I do not enforce a schedule on myself. It just doesn’t work for me, but it does work for some people.

However, I am a great believer in self-discipline, and the simple act of regular work is both stimulating and productive, even when not necessarily directly.

One traditional discipline I believe in very strongly is drawing. Regardless of whether you are a figurative artist or not, I think the act of observation and the physical action of recording something is extremely rewarding, and there is simply no substitute for putting the hours in.

I recently watched an interview with film music composer Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, 2000, and Hannibal, 2001 amongst many others) who said you need to put in “10,000 hours to get good at something”.
FYI 10,000 hours at eight hours a day for five days a week is about five years.

Sounds about right.

I can hardly compare myself with Zimmer but I remember observing about photography, after I bought my first digital SLR camera in 2007, that after two years and 40,000 shots I had only just began to learn how to use the camera. Another three years on, I think I am starting to know what I am doing, but still only in a small number of subjects and techniques.

Another convenient soundbite I picked up is Chuck Close’s observation. “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

He also talks about some artists’ fetishisation of creating the ideal working conditions, and using this as an excuse for not getting things done. This is another reason why I like drawing so much. You only need a pencil and a piece of paper, and you can do it anywhere, although moving vehicles make it difficult.

It’s almost impossible to avoid talk of new starts and resolutions at new year, and I made a resolution many years ago not to make new year’s resolutions. However, having been in a bit of a creative doldrums for a few years, but newly motivated with the prospect of my retrospective, I am rekindling old habits and getting old skool (again).

I am confident I clocked up my 10,000 hours drawing several times over way back in the 80s and 90s, and I think my drawing is ok but I’ll never be Dürer, or Doré, or Moebius, or any of the other masters that I admire.

However, I still love drawing. So, just to contradict myself, here is my Bolamfesto.
Rule 1 – Draw every day
Rule 2 – See rule 1

Scan drawing