Casualty 14-18 ~ The making of a generative artwork by Richard Bolam – Part 6 #bolamat50 #casualty1418 #WW1

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This iteration of the software adds a random number individually colourised figures to the images.

I put in code to duplicate the basic figure, colourise it and then use it to individually overprint and colourise the black figures. I have highlighted the new code in a different colour. It uses the “composite” command and a dissolve operation to change the colour of the figures.

Although this is linux Bash scripting, I am doing the development on Mac OS X and I ran into a problem trying to get the loop working. On OS X there is no implementation of the “seq” command, which I believe is very widely used in Bash, but after a bit of googling, I found an workalike implementation as “gseq”, and this needs to be installed via coreutils in the usual way:

$ sudo port install coreutils

#casualty make script v9
mkdir ‘Casualty1418-‘$(date +”%y_%m_%d”)
PATHNAME=’Casualty1418-‘$(date +”%y_%m_%d/”)

for i in {1..30}

#pad figure
convert casualty.png -gravity center -extent 20×38 casualtypad.png
convert casualtypad.png -transparent white casualtypad.png
convert casualtypad.png -fill “rgba($[RANDOM % 255],$[RANDOM % 255],$[RANDOM % 255])” -colorize 100% casualtycolour.png
convert casualtycolour.png -transparent white casualtycolour.png

#create tiled image of figures & make background transparent
convert -size 400×646 xc:white -composite tile:casualtypad.png casualtytiled.png
convert casualtytiled.png -transparent white casualtytiled.png

#colourise regions
REPEATS=$[1 + RANDOM % 20]

for r in {1..3}

LEFT=$[$[RANDOM % 20]]
TOP=$[$[RANDOM % 17]]
RIGHT=$[$[RANDOM % (20 – $LEFT)]]
BOTTOM=$[$[RANDOM % (17 – $TOP)]]

convert casualtytiled.png -region $[$LEFT * 20]x$[$TOP * 38]+$[$RIGHT * 20]+$[$BOTTOM * 38] -fill “rgba(255,255,255)” -colorize 20% casualtytiled.png

#add some individual figures
for e in $( gseq $MAXCOUNT )
echo $e”/”$MAXCOUNT
composite -dissolve “$[RANDOM % 100],100” -geometry +$[($[RANDOM % 20]) * 20]+$[($[RANDOM % 17]) * 38] casualtycolour.png casualtytiled.png casualtytiled.png

#create page dimensions
convert casualtytiled.png -bordercolor white -border 99×90 casualtypage.png
convert casualtypage.png -gravity north -extent 598×850 casualtypage.png

#create label
convert -background white -font Gill-Sans -pointsize 10 -size 598×20 -gravity center label:’Casualty 14-18 ~ ‘$(date +”%d/%m/%y”)’ – ‘$(printf %02d $i) Casualtylabel.png

#composite page & label
FILENAME=’Casualty1418-‘$(date +”%y_%m_%d-“)$(printf %02d $i)’.png’

convert casualtypage.png -page +0+760 casualtylabel.png -layers flatten $PATHNAME$FILENAME




Casualty 14-18 ~ The making of a generative artwork by Richard Bolam – Part 1 #bolamat50 #WW1 #casualty1418

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Back in 2001, I had the idea for “Casualty” as a non-specific commemoration of casualties in conflict or other tragic loss of life. I have always been fascinated by infographics, especially pictographs, and I can remember seeing representations of war casualties in books when I was young. I was intrigued by the scale that these often cartoon-like figures attempt to represent, but simultaneously fail to communicate, of the real horror of acts of industrialised murder.

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My first sketches show how I originally intended to use a variety of symbols to represent men, women and children but, after some experimentation, I decided to settle on a single humanoid figure in order to imply the notion of human equality, despite it being a recognisably adult male figure.

I also experiment with symbolic representations of race/religion/creed by adding a motif to the figure’s chest. The obvious allusion is to the Christian crucifix, which I altered slightly by making it more of a Maltese Cross. I am still not sure if the symbols will make it into the final work, but I have fours years and three months to think about it.

I designed the shape of the figure based upon commonly-used stick-men and as a bitmap, but for a long time I intended to create a vector version that could be scaled and manipulated more subtly. After many years of looking at this work on and off, I have finally settled on using the original bitmap figure which measures only 17 by 35 pixels.

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The technical brief is to compile and represent a figure for each of the estimated number of casualties and publish them online every day, from 28th July 2014 until the 11th November 2018.

Why those dates? In Britain, the 5th of August is often cited as the beginning of WW1 but that is based upon the ultimatum that was given to Kaiser Wilhelm that ran out at midnight on August 4th, meaning that Britain was officially at war with Germany. However, the first shots were fired on the 28th of July 1914 although, arguably, the first shot was fired on 28 of June when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. Also, the war did not officially end on 11th November 1918.

However, it’s not a literal work, and not solely about the British, so I chose the period from the first day of fighting until Armistice Day. That’s 1,568 days, and if you take the estimate of 16,000,000 deaths and divide it by the number of days you get approximately 30 pages of 340 figures every single day for the entire four years and three months. That’s an approximate average of 10,200 deaths every day for the duration of the war.

Having decided on an infographic / office aesthetic for the work, I decided to create all the figures in an array of 20 by 17 on an A4 sheet. This is partly for aesthetic reasons and partly for practical reasons. Although it might be more individual to create a singular image for each of the lives lost, it’s not even remotely practical, and any smaller and they start to lose any meaning.

It’s all easily said, of course, but how do I create so many and publish them automatically without turning it into four years’ hard labour for myself? Having thought about it a lot, I have decided on a mixture of techniques that allow me to automate it, vary it and monitor the work as it progresses. It’s quite possible that I will adapt the workflow as it goes along.

Here’s the technical proposal with a week to go. I will be publishing the code and workflow in detail.

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Each of the A4 page-sized images are created with a Linux Bash script using ImageMagick to composite and individualise the pages and save them as PNG bitmaps.

A batch of 30 pages per day (10,200 figures) are automatically emailed to a WordPress blog and tagged to publish on consecutive days. WordPress is very sophisticated and supports emailed blog posts with embedded codes to publish at specific times and dates. The blog is already set-up to publish a link to each blog post on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ with appropriate titling, hash-tags and meta-tags.

The rest is history.

COMING SOON! Details of the next few events for #bolamat50

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Please come and see my Black Daffodil Press / High Street X stall at the Sheffield Anarchist Book Fair on 12th July at The Workstation, Sheffield S1 2BX. The fair is open to the public 10am – 6pm FREE ENTRY. As well as book stalls, there will be screenings and workshops. #sheffbookfair @sheffbookfair

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Access Space 24-hour Digithon 19/20 July at Access Space, Sheffield S1 4RG. This is a 24-hour fundraising event for Access Space, a free, open access media, arts and technology hackspace in Sheffield, UK. Access Space is a charity and is short of funds, so please  come along and bring some cash. #digithonsheffield

I will be presenting something about my forthcoming Casualty 14-18 commemoration of the 16 million people who were killed in the First World War.

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Casualty 14-18 is an online, generative artwork that will commemorate all of the 16 million people who were killed in the First World War. The projects starts on 28th July 2014 and will continue until 11th November 2018. There are also proposals for physical exhibitions of the work. Offers invited.

Casualty 14-18 – A commemoration of 16 million dead 

Screen shot 2014-06-28 at 17.23.51

I had the idea for this work in 2001, although it was not specifically about World War 1. However, as the 100th anniversary falls within my Retrospective year, it seems an ideal time to realise the work.

This is a generative work that creates pages of images of human figures with no indication of gender, age, nationality or religion. It creates one figure for each of the 16 million people who died in the First World War. Each page is composed of 340 figures and it will take over 47,000 A4 pages to record them all. I am currently writing software to generate the pages and the representations of the figures will vary. The software will publish an average of 30 pages per day for approximately four years and three months from the first shots being fired on the 28th of July 1914 to Armistice Day on 11th November 1918.


Today is the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the act that triggered events that led to the First World War and 16 million casualties. Unlike much of the mainstream coverage that remembers the royalty, generals and civil servants who failed to avert The Great War, my work remembers the dead.

“HyperScape X” and “Stained by Dead Inkjets” exhibitions end on 5th June 2014

The two shows will be coming to an end soon, so please get down to see the generative artwork “HyperScape X” at Access Space, Sheffield, UK.

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Also showing is an exhibition of new collages, called “Stained by Dead Inkjets” at The Rutland Arms, Sheffield, UK. The collages are for sale at £49.99 each.

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#bolamat50 Phew! I made it.


HyperScape I – single screen version (2003)

I have been saying “when I’m 50” for so long, it seemed like it was never going to happen. And then suddenly it’s been and gone.

I made it. #bolamis50

I have two shows running until 5th June 2014, “HyperScape X” at Access Space and “Stained by Dead Inkjets” at the Rutland Arms, conveniently located opposite each other on Brown Street, Sheffield, UK.

HyperScape X is a three-screen generative work that imperceptibly changes from one state to another. The images are made of composites from images I hand-drew in the late 1990s using the Macintosh software Aldus SuperPaint 3.5.

You can see it running in the background in this timelapse video of the opening evening.

There is also a small museum exhibit in the foyer made up of earlier HyperScape works and other work and artefacts contemporary with it.


Artefacts from the 1990s.

“Stained by Dead Inkjets” is a series of 33 new paper collages made from old work and spoiled prints. Prints of some of the images used in HyperScape X also appear in these collages. 14 of them are on display at the Rutland Arms, and two of the collages are part of the “Process” show on at Cupola Contemporary Art in Hillsborough, Sheffield, UK until 24th May. All the collages are for sale at £49.99 each (including frame, carriage extra).

Stained- visualisations with prices.028

Stained by Dead Inkjets – collage #28 (title tbc)

Bolam Retrospective launch – 24th April 2014 #bolamat50

Bolam Retrospective promo graphics v1.002

24th April 2014 is my 50th birthday and marks the beginning of a year-long schedule of exhibitions and events to mark my first 40 years in the wilderness. Seeing as Tate Modern has failed to discover me, and the Turner Prize is only for artists under under the age of 50, I guess I’m going to have to just do it for myself.

The launch weekend starts on Thursday 24th April at Access Space, Sheffield, UK, 5-7pm and then onto the Rutland Arms (across the road) 7-11pm.

Access Space is a free, open-access media, arts and technology centre, and I will be showing a new screen-based generative artwork, displayed on three 40-inch screens. It’s called “HyperScape X” and will be accompanied by a small documentary exhibition about the previous four HyperScape works I made Between 2003 and 2006.

HyperScape X graphics 2.012

The launch is also a fundraiser for Access Space and The Rutland Arms & Blue Bee Brewery have kindly donated a firkin on Stalky Ringbits Pale Ale.

STalky Ringbits graphics.002

The Rutland Arms is an exceptional independent pub with its own micro-brewery. There will be a wall-based exhibition called “Stained by Dead Inkjets”, of new collages made from old work and spoiled prints. These works will be for sale and there will also be a competition to enter.

HyperScape X graphics .012

Both events are informal and free entry.Please come along at any time that evening.

On Friday 25th April I will be at Cupola Contemporary Art, Middlewood Road, Hillsborough, Sheffield S6 1TD. Part of the “Stained by Dead Inkjets” show will be included as part their “Process” show.

On Saturday 26th April I will be back at the Rutland Arms (upstairs) as Black Daffodil Press, selling my merch at a SPRING BOOK, CD AND DVD SALE, organised by Jude Calvert-Toulmin.

After that, if I survive, there will be much more. There is a regularly updated What’s On guide here.

HyperScape X – coming soon at Access Space #Sheffield 24 April – 5 June 2014

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I am primarily a visual artist and I made a lot of graphic imagery using various software and techniques. One of my all time favourite painting / drawing programs is the now defunkt SuperPaint by Silicon Beach. Adobe bought them up and killed off all their interesting software but I still have version 3.5 and several Macs old enough to run it.

Picture 2

Back in the late 90s, I made several long series of hand-drawn images based on a grid. I spent many hours printing minimalist images on an Apple StyleWriter 2500 inkjet printer. I ended up with hundreds of images but no idea how to get them shown. However, one day I managed to pluck up courage to meet the then curator of the Rotherham Arts Centre, David Gilbert. He gave me my first break and in 2000 I showed a selection of images from the series “Colony”, as well as a large composite-printed image entitled “Metro Propane West”. David has moved on to greater things and I really owe him a debt for having the confidence to show my work. I guess I knew I was onto something but really didn’t know what I was doing.

Nowadays I know exactly what I am doing. Not really, but maybe I will when I grow up.

Surprisingly, I don’t have any documentation of the show. It was in my pre-digital days. At least, my pre-digital photography, video and social media.

In 2000/2001 I was working for the Lovebytes digital arts festival, running their media lab. Before that I had been working in corporate IT and, although never a really hardcore programmer, had been programming computers from way back in the 1980s. It was pretty inevitable that I would get into generative / algorithmic art.

It seemed kind of obvious that I could make a generative work out of the still images. Anyone remember Adobe Director? In the days before Flash and later HTML5, Director was the only game in town when it came to multi-media software. I couldn’t afford a licence but Lovebytes had the software and in their media lab I made a “projector” standalone program that faded gradually from on image to another. It worked well and I might still be able to recover the program.

Picture 3

BUT, back in 2001 I really had no prospect of showing this work on anything more than a 15-inch CRT monitor. Never mind, I have only had to wait 13 years to show it on three 40-inch LED flat screens in 32 bit colour at Full HD resolution.

HyperScape X will be on show at Access Space, Sheffield UK from 24th April to 5th June 2014. Open 11am – 7pm Tuesdays to Saturdays, free entry.

Stand by for more technical info…

Stained by Dead Inkjets – the soundtrack of my life

Stained by Dead Inkjets - collage #3 (title tbc)

Stained by Dead Inkjets – collage #3 (title tbc)

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but the title of the collection of collages I am making for this show is a paraphrase of a track by Throbbing Gristle (TG) on their album “Funeral in Berlin” (1981, Zensor). The original track is called “Stained by Dead Horses” and it sticks in my mind as one of those incredibly emotive phrases that seems to have a life of its own, far beyond the music itself. Other titles that stick in my mind are “Mission of Dead Souls”, “Maggot Death” and “You Don’t No”.


“Funeral in Berlin” Throbbing Gristle (1981, Zensor)

Cover art by Val Denham, 1981.


Similarly, TG’s name, as well as band names such as New Order, Joy Division and Theatre of Hate were extremely evocative, because they embodied such enigma.

My retrospective has already been fantastically productive, but one of the things I realised only very recently is that music has played a influential part in my creative development that I was only unconsciously aware of before. Although I do make music, I do not consider myself to be a musician. I use machines to do all the hard work. I just don’t have that particular talent.

What I do have though, is synesthesia. I wrote about this recently and, although I think I only have it mildly. By way of disambiguation, synesthesia is not a mystical state, it is a subtle neurological connection between the senses, and for me music and sound are strongly associated with visual image or impressions.

Strangely perfect. “Rebel Without a Brain” Theatre of Hate (1981, Burning Rome Records)

What I have come to realise is that, despite being only a mediocre sound artist, music and “organised sound” has been a fundamental influence on my work, even when it does not express itself audibly.

I’m not a fan of the minimalist “Untitled #1”, “Untitled #2”, “Untitled #3” titling strategy, and this is an opportunity to acknowledge my influences, even though the work is visual art rather than music.

As a result, I have decided to title all the “Stained by Dead Inkjets” collages after track names from albums or artists that have been influential to me. It’s a risky strategy. On one of the very few occasions when I have sold work, I lost a sale once I revealed the title because the buyer didn’t like it.

Stay tuned…

The tyranny of the blank page (with timelapse camera)


My timelapse set-up for capturing the making of “Stained by Dead inkjets”

It’s a scary prospect to embark upon a project where you are committed to a deadline, but without knowing the outcome, and documenting it at the same time.

Any failures are immediately apparent to the rest of the world. But also the successes. I’ve done this kind of thing before and know that something will happen in the process, but not sure exactly what.

I decided to make new, A3-sized paper collages from old test prints and spoiled prints, but a lot of that material is A4, which left me with a compositional challenge if the works were not going to look like something plonked in the middle of a larger sheet.


Work in progress

Also, a lot of the earlier work was very minimal and hard-edged digital graphics, but I wanted this work to be much more organic and dense. I always try to consider the audience and the venue, and these works are going to be shown in a traditionally decorated pub. Minimalism works well in a blank space, but on the busy walls of a public house, something more human and playful seems appropriate.


“Stained by Dead Inkjets” #1 (title tbc)

When I was younger, I suffered greatly from the tyranny of the blank page. You know that paralysis when you can’t start because you are terrified of imminent failure. It’s not originally my wisdom, but I employ the strategy of spoiling the work in the first place. Many painters will smear a blank canvas with a random wash of paint to solve the problem, and I have found that this technique works for me. In the videos, you can seem me playing around with various simple techniques to distress the original material in order to spoil the canvas and break to paralysis.

The other strategy I employ is just starting. It’s no true to say I don’t think about what I’m going to do, but I believe in just doing something and being open to the opportunities presented by happy accidents.

When I write, I don’t plan, I just start writing. I write in fragments, and eventually, one fragment seems to go with another and so on until a thread appears. Once a logical thread appears, some of the fragments don’t seem to belong and so they get thrown away and might end up in something else. It’s the same with this work, after the first three collages appear to be finished, I have a visual theme emerging. I want the show to be a coherent whole, and these first “finished” works seem to have set the tone. It might all change before we get to the 24th of April, but it’s a good start.

There is a Vimeo album of the making of videos here: