Happy New 365 – beginnings, endings and the fear of failure (FOF!)


Lights, Bergen Kunsthall – ©2013 Bryan Ecclsehall

Back in January 2013 I reported on a number of 365 projects that I was aware of. These are those projects where someone does something every day for the whole year. A year later, I think it’s time to review them.

Last year’s post is here.

Andy Cropper’s painting-a-day was by far the most ambitious of them all, and the most insane, and I told him so. Andy is a painter and his work varies in style and content, from sublime traditional subjects to candid street captures that have an almost dystopian blandness to them. I talked to him at length about the project and his approach to his subjects, but some of what he finds fascinating completely escapes me.


‘Good to Go’ – ‘Painting-A-Day’ no.055 – 3rd March 2013 ©Andrew Cropper

That’s no criticism, but it does highlight the futility of trying to analyse his art or compartmentalize it, although there seem to be definite threads.

To my eye, the most successful are the the close-cropped  details, and his painting style produces that contradictory effect of the image seeming to be a photograph and a clearly a painting, simultaneously.


‘Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh Why on Earth Did I Paint This?’ – ‘Painting-A-Day’ no.020 – 25th January 2013 ©Andrew Cropper

I’ve known Andy for about 10 years (I think), and he’s painfully apologetic about his work. I always want to slap him. A little humility is a good thing but too much can be unhelpul. I wish I could paint like that.

Inevitably, he couldn’t keep it up and had to admit defeat. Some of the paintings took 14 hours to complete and all the work is evident on the canvas (MDF).

It can be disheartening to have to give up on a project, but sometimes it’s better to retreat rather than push on until you get stressed as that will only lead you to hate your own work, even if you are making work at such a high level.

I had to postpone one of my own projects, No Glove Lost, because I just couldn’t find enough hours in the day for it, particularly given all the things I need to achieve for Bolam Retrospective. Even though it was not a 365 project, or even a daily project, it stills feels like a failure.

Screen shot 2013-12-09 at 16.26.37


Anyway, to my mind, by far the most successful of the 365 projects is Bryan Eccleshall’s drawing-a-day. Not only is the quality of drawing excellent, but he managed the project very cannily by making the daily achievement not too great, and not requiring himself to do the drawing on the actual day. What’s more, he hasn’t shied away from challenging subjects and the drawing are not merely sketches, they are finished works.

This is one of my favourites:


Polythene on Floor, Museum Ludwig, Cologne – ©Bryan Eccleshall 2013

Also, the drawings are for sale and there is an exhibition at Bank Street Arts, Bank Street, Sheffield UK from 8th January until 8th February 2014. The drawings are very reasonably priced and I recommend you go to seem them in the flesh.

Cindy Cheung is a designer and this shows in her work. Cindy’s notes were not really works of art in themselves, more of an illuminated manuscript. The task for her was not particularly onerous and she seems to have used it as a bit of continuous promotion for the year.


I must admit to not actually following Norn Iron Girl’s Twitter feed for the year, but looking back at it now, it’s strangely compelling. I think it’s particularly because I was just a few years older in 1981 and remember many of the same things. The most fascinatingly obsessive behaviour of the then 13-year-old is the recording of the weekly listing of Top 20 singles. I remember all of these songs and, like many teenagers, had a similar obsession with pop music although I didn’t documented it as compulsively as she did.


I can’t deny it was tempting to start a new project on 1st January. However, with the launch of Bolam Retrospective looming, I really need to concentrate on that, and particularly the core document of the project, which is the Catalogue publication. I have only finished one issue so far but am planning a series of 12 that will provide a representative reference to my life’s work (so far).

Although it didn’t start that way, this document has become central to the project. Issue two is underway, but I have a lot of research and writing to do before the series is complete. I am planning to publish the remaining issues one per month during the Retrospective year.

Also, I still have Bolam 365 coming up, running from 24th April 2014 to 23rd April 2015, and it will be managed more like Bryan’s project than Andy’s,  although I will not be committing myself to make a piece of work each day. There will be a scheduled blog post every day for that year, including examples of past work as well as other bits and pieces as the retrospective continues. Subscribe here:


(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Love, Hate and Ambivalence? – Technophilia vs Nostalgia

Screen shot 2013-02-12 at 07.05.02

It’s fair to say I have a love/hate relationship with technology. Although I am fascinated by technology, science and the wunders of the universe, I see unchecked technological progress as the single biggest threat to health, wealth and the environment. I consider myself to be a traditionalist, although my chosen media are usually modern and digital.

Given the best part of a generation since I made these images, it’s interesting to think that, at the time, I wanted to work at a higher resolution. But looking at them now, they would not embody the same satisfying contradiction if they did not have the gloopy metallic sheen against the hard, pixellated edge. I like them a lot more now than I did then.

They were made using a graphics tablet and Silicon Beach SuperPaint 3.5 at 72 dots-per-inch, which was a standard screen pixel density at that time. SuperPaint is one of my all-time favourite software painting programs. I don’t know why. There is just something uniquely appealing about its strange selection of tools aimed at expressive creativity, rather than the monolithic blandness of Adobe Photoshop. The two programs are not interchangeable in practical terms, but I hate Photoshop, and have never loved it in the heady, irrational way that I laid my soul down before SuperPaint.

There were a number of other inspiring applications from those days, that were bought out and killed off by software giants, including Aldus IntelliDraw and Silicon Beach SuperCard. But that’s another story.

Technophilia graphics v1.006

A3 composite Retrospective poster of details from all 180 images.

I made 180 of these. I don’t know why.

They are all based upon a grid of 9 x 7. I don’t know why.

I hand-drew them. I don’t know why.

I called the series “Technophilia”. I don’t know why.

Actually, I do know, but I can’t give you any reason other than it felt like the right thing to do at the time.

Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 11.57.40

One of the Technophilia images at actual pixel size on the 1920×1080 Full HD monitor that I use these days.

So, am I just flogging a dead horse? I think not.

In the period since I made them, we have crossed several interesting technological boundaries. One of them is the ability to shoot and edit Full HD video at home. I was a child in the 1970s and had no access to cameras at that time, and no prospect of it. And then, almost without noticing, I have an HD camcorder and can shoot higher-than-HD time-lapse video using cheap stills cameras.

However, any Digital Cinema technician will tell you that simply throwing more pixels at the screen does not necessarily improve the experience for the audience. Contrast ratios and the relative perception of black are fundamentally important. Also, those edges of perception are significant too, in this case the ability to see the square pixels. This work could not have been achieved at a higher resolution, and it’s unlikely that I would have made them if I was working on current desktop computers. And here is the ambivalence. I love the technology I have now and would never go back to the 1990s, even though it was a highly productive time and I am grateful for it.

So, despite always wanting to hurl myself into the future, there were moments when the technology was just right for the purpose. I still have the software and contemporary hardware and will be revisiting these techniques at some point, but not out of nostalgia, and one day those machines will fail for the last time…

There is now a Retrospective flyer featuring this collection of images. Each leaflet is printed with one of the 180 images, and a composite, fold-out poster of all 180. Collect the set!

(If you live long enough.)

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.