If at first you don’t succeed, extend the deadline. #bolamat50+1

Bolam101 graphics v1.026

I have very mixed feelings after the end of my 50th retrospective year. As I have already said, some aspects were highly successful and some were dismal failures, and I left a lot of things that I planned to do unfinished.

So, if you don’t achieve everything that you wanted to achieve in only one year, what do you do? Easy, take ten years and claim that’s what you intended to do all along.

With hindsight (and brutal honesty) I never really expected to achieve everything I wanted within the one year when I was 50 years old. Counter-intuitively, the anti-climax was not at the end, but at the beginning. Having already spent nearly two years preparing, I suffered an energy dip after the launch event and didn’t attack the project as I had intended during the year itself.

A few months after the end of the project, it seems obvious what to do next. Instead of finishing the project after the 50th year, I will just continue. After all, I am still “at 50”. Or more accurately, “at 50s”.

There has been so much spin off from the project I have decided to just continue the project until I am 60 (if I make it) as there is more than enough existing material and new stuff to fill the next nine-and-a-half years.

I knew I would not do everything I had planned but the only thing I consider to be a real failure is not making the 12 issues of “Catalogue,” which was the most important publication of the entire project. It’s too late for me to get that done on time so I am still going to publish the whole 12 issues (plus one) over the next year (or so).

Stand by, there is much more to come…

The future is going to be better than it used to be – Happy New Year

Screen shot 2012-12-31 at 13.37.52

After having done so much work on my retrospective already, I’m relieved the world didn’t end in 2012. Strictly speaking, there is no end to the project, no end to a life’s work other than death itself, but it is highly productive to set boundaries and deadlines.

In case you missed it, I am cataloguing my life’s work in art, and will be celebrating my entire fiftieth year, from 24th Apri 2014 to 23rd April 2015. This will not be the end of my work, of course, but it seems like a sensible milestone. Having talked to a number of people about this, some said they wanted to “steal” the idea for themselves. I  tell them it’s not my idea, I already stole it from someone else.

The artist’s major retrospective is nothing new, but the unique element of mine is me. No matter how conventional it might turn out to be, no-one else made what I made, regardless of how recognisable its influences, and this is already such an important realisation. No matter how easily identified are my influences, my work is still my own, so let’s not get hung up on the similarities in practice. There is no such thing as a blank slate. Above is an experiment from sometime in the late 70s using absorbant newsprint and the cores out of spent felt-tip pens. The spirit of DIY, using what I had.

I have been very productive for many years, but most of my work has never been seen. I got the idea for mounting my own retrospective in 2004 when I saw “Paolozzi at 80” at the Dene Gallery in Edinburgh. I remember the BBC doing a “David Bowie at 50” retrospective, and Tate Modern has just had a major retrospective of Damien Hirst’s work. However, Tate cheated. Hirst is a year younger than me, but they were obviously worried that my own 50th would overshadow his.

Screen shot 2012-12-31 at 13.59.04

I was very much influenced by the do-it-yourself culture of the punk era and see that as a fundamentally formative time, although I don’t miss the 70s and 80s. I hate nostalgia and do not bear the past into the present with any fondness, although I do value my experience. When I was young I wanted to live in “The Future” although I only knew this place as a vague and idealised utopia based on the science fiction I read as a teenager. Now I am living in the future, at least in terms of technology, and I much prefer it to the past, despite the dystopian backdrop of global warming, potential pandemic biological catastrophe, greed-motivated warfare and the continuing threat of nuclear disaster.

Actually, we had all those things back in the 70s and 80s, but we didn’t have two of my favourite technologies of the future; the World Wide Web and print-on-demand.

And this is where I get to the point. If I haven’t already achieved it by now, I really don’t have much prospect of suddenly becoming a celebrated international artist between now and April 2014, or having any high-profile gallery shows. But what I can do these days is publish anything on the internt, available to the whole (online) planet, and I can print what I like, within the limits of my available technology, and without anyone else’s approval.

And this is what I’m doing, little by little. Realistically, the retrospective will primarily be online and in print; media that I can control myself. I am publishing texts, poems and catalogue entries as-and-when on Issuu here.

Some or all of these will also be available as physical print at some point, and I will be adding to this library continually.

Also keep an eye on Black Daffodil Press, my fantasy publishing house. This blog-site is a resource for links and resources relating to self-publishing, print-on-demand and DIY printing.

See you in the future…

Minimalism, and lots of it.

Q. What is the sound of one artist banging his head against a brick wall?
A. Fish and chips.

I’ve made a lot of minimalist images in my time. Lots and lots and lots of them. The video below shows some of the prints, but there are a lot more on disk, never printed. A lot of this minimalism is what you might call “process art” where an artist develops a reliable technique and applies it over and over again with variations, and some artists use this sort of technique to knock out the same old shit forever and ever and ever.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against process art, but it can only take you so far. It took me many years to realise that, and now I see most of this work as merely texture that needs working into something else.

Anyway, I don’t think of myself as a one-trick pony. I’m a whole field of ponies, with a few juggling zebras and Zen manitees thrown in.

I spent many hours in the 1990s and early 2000s printing these images out, but for what? I guess I thought I might be able to sell them, but I never had the nerve to actually try. It’s interesting to be looking back at this work now and remember how confused I was about it.

At some time in the 1990s I made a very conscious decision not to make “precious” objects, but if you want to sell your work, how do you give it some value? Also, it’s all very well printing these things, but if no-one ever sees it, how are you going to sell it?

Well, here are about 800 of  those images. Please get in touch if you wat to buy one.

Otherwise, stand by for some new generative works and collages using these images as source material.

Richard Bolam: Renaissance Pleb

Sketchbook pages, 2005

Although I don’t consider myself to be a figurative or representational artist, I do consider drawing to be a fundamentally important skill. Not necessarily the technical draughtsmanship of it, but the executed discipline of observation. Arguably, artists are trained observers, and if you don’t draw (not can’t draw) then you are not an artist (discuss). In my opinion, all artists should keep a notebook / sketchbook. However, technical mastery of the medium is not the same as the engagement with the practice of observation.

In 1980 I went on a family holiday to Norway, and I was introduced to one of their national treasures, Gustav Vigeland (1869 – 1943). I have never heard him mentioned by anyone since, but in Norway his work is everywhere, including the amazing and monumental Frogner Park in Oslo.

Below is a scan of a couple of pages from a book I bought in Norway, and some background detail of Vigeland’s creative process, specifically related to his statue of the Norwegian poet, Henrik Vergeland.

Spread from “Gustav Vigeland – The Sculptor And His Works”, 1965 Ragna Stang

Although I haven’t done it strictly, I copied Vigeland’s practice of dating all his drawings, and I have found it particularly helpful in retrospect. Even though I never wanted to emulate his medium or style, I found him and his work inspiring. He often depicted his subjects accompanied by “genii”, the spirits of ideas or inspiration.

I discovered art randomly, bit by bit, and have had a very patchy art education. However, I have lived through radically changing times, and various revolutions, such as cheap travel, remainder bookshops and, of course, the internet, have allowed me to be socially and artistically  mobile in a way not experienced by previous generations. Also, the very recent affordability of technology has allowed me to achieve things that were either not possible, or at least not financially feasible, only a few years previously.

When I was a child, I had no access to cameras and no prospect of being able to make movies, now I have several computers and more cameras than I can use. I have the resources to make a digital film in Full HD every day if I wanted to, but the ideas cannot be ordered so easily on Amazon.

My own genii are popular culture, classical art and chaos. I actually work quite randomly, despite the fact that my work often appears to be very ordered. That order is merely an editing of “happy accidents” and is heavily influenced by existing traditions in art.

Below is a video I shot and edited in one day, although it took four attempts over two weeks. It was made possible by cheap technology, dogged observation, sheer will and blind luck.

Portrait of the Artist as a Failed Painter (2012) – 20×20 at Access Space, Sheffield, UK

It’s a long time since I painted. Probably 30 years. I did quite a lot in my youth, using oils, acrylics and also oil pastels. In fact, I’ve worked in most media, including video, audio, performance, sculpture, print, drawing and works on paper. Oh yes, and a whole bunch of digital stuff. My entry for the 2009 Access Space 20×20 exhibition was created on computer, printed on paper, stitched together and glued onto the 20 inch square board. It was a photomontage so couldn’t really be produced any other way. The effect was great but the object itself was unsatisfyingly bland. This time, I wanted to make something a bit more “real”. The design was again created on computer, but I decided to paint it onto the board to give it some texture and to add a bit more humour.

Easily said.

I had a brilliant idea (I like to think) of actually painting the monochrome design onto a glow-in-the-dark background. However, the spray paint I ordered just did not go on like I hoped (and yes I did follow the instructions), and was far too expensive for another coat. So, I abandoned the glow-paint, but on my second attempt the black acrylic paint I bought peeled off once I started taping over it, and the masking tape did not give a perfect enough edge either.

I should have known better, of course. If you want a high-quality finish there is no substitute for high-quality materials and a lot of experience of exactly how each medium behaves. All I had was a “brilliant” idea, a wing and a prayer. I’m not really a painter, and now I have the photographic evidence to prove it.

Portrait of the Artist as a Failed Painter (2012)

So, I decided to abandon paint for a more recycled approach, but I still wanted to avoid the print-and-stick approach. Stay tuned for details of the finished work, but in the meantime you can see it for real, along with a great many more 20x20s, at Access Space, Sheffield, UK. The exhibition is free and runs from 15 September – 17 November, with an opening preview event on Friday 14th September.

Access Space is a free, open-access digital media and arts lab in Sheffield, UK, and I am both a regular participant and official “Contributor” to their activities. You can also sign up to their Friends scheme here, to donate a small amount regularly.

I am an artist and I can prove it.

“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” – Gore Vidal (1925 – 2012).

I’ve been a closet artist for most of my life and suffered from what I recognise in many others: status anxiety.

This week, an artist friend of mine described the art world as being one of the most hostile environments she has ever experienced.

She’s right. Art is one thing, but the “world” of art is quite another, characterised by wilfull treachery, paranoid insecurity, competitive jealousy and schadenfreude.

I know artists who are undermined to the point of paralysis by the imagined terror that their work will not be received well, and that this might reduce their standing amongst their peers. They worry they have not read the right books, not referenced the coolest people, are not working in the most current medium or are not being seen in the right places.

Fuck that. To my mind there is only one solution to this impasse: publish, be damned, and take your chances in the shuttle.