It’s complicated (part 3) – crossing thresholds and the scrapheap challenge – #BolamAt60 #BolamProspective

On the scapheap.

Here’s the game plan. This might sound coherently planned but that is not the way I work at all. I use the full-body immersion technique; I throw myself into whatever it is I think that I’m doing at the time and then thrash about in the murk for however long it takes me to work out what I am doing, allow myself to float up to the surface and skim off whatever scum has accumulated on the surface.

Sounds random but it works for me. Kinda.

I was talking to a friend / fellow artist recently and she described how she makes a plan of how she is going to edit a video. I have never done that, not once, I throw everything on the timeline and watch it (usually whilst listening to random music) until something happens. I’ve never been short of ideas but it never starts with much of a plan.

This is something I won’t miss. The only bit I’m tempted to keep is the foam spacer.

Anyway, after a rather extended period of utter confusion, I have decided what I am going to do next. I’m going to take Bolam TV to the next level.

I have always been a hoarder although I try to fight it, but a few things have happened recently that have pushed me over more than one threshold. On my 50th birthday, I started getting targeted advertising via Facebook for funeral services. No really, that very day. Once I passed the 55 year threshold I received, with no prior warning, an NHS appointment to have an anal endoscopy as part of their routine bowel cancer screening programme. Less than a week ago, when I was picking up my car from the repair garage, I had one of my first experiences of a smiley young woman talking to me as if I was some sort of imbecile, simply because my beard is grey (the text does not convey the pity in her voice):
“It’s in bay 3, on the left. Do you want me to walk you out there?”
“No, thank you.”

How quaint!

I’m not sure what is coming next but an impending major threshold will be when I’m 60 and I have no doubt it will be accompanied by a new raft of reminders of my diminishing responsibility, accelerating mortality and sutability for nothing more than the scrapheap. It’s a sobering experience to know that some people now view you as unnecessary simply due to your age. I am sure I have done it too, but smehow I never thought it would happen to me.

The only appropriate response is to say fuck that.

Despite my own grumpiness about the progressive failure embodied by the human condition, I have decided to board the party boat, celebrate and vapourise, and this is when I get back to the point.

Despite being a lifelong hoarder, the shared approaching mortality of the vintage Macs that I have been saving for years has precipitated a decision to get rid of them, and having crossed that bridge it seems I have opened a floodgate whilst simultaneously mixing metaphors. Lots more stuff is being dumped. When I say dumped, I mean donated to good causes or else responsibly recycled.

90 reams of A4 paper donated to a primary school.

A great pile of stuff. the biggest clearout I’ve had in years.

I have decided to partially clear my studio in order to make into a more functional television studio / impromptu discoteque. The Bolam TV broadcasts I made during Open Up Sheffield 2019 were a major success (as an experiment) despite being very clunky. I’m okay with the clunkiness and I like the reveal of being able to see exactly how everything is done, but at the same time I want to execute it as well as I can within the limits of my budget and ability.

Day two is in two parts because the laptop crapped out on me.

Day three is still not available because it was blocked due to a copyright violation. I played a couple of Madonna videos but they were the ones published by the record company so I effectively ripped them off when the broadcast was finished and published as an archive. I been trying to trim the offending material out and re-publish it but keep coming across a strange error that I have been unable to solve. There’s some good stuff on day three so stand by.

I will also be resurrecting a long-stalled project by the name of Flying Monkey TV which has changed shape a number of times but will resurface as a much more automated timelapse capture system in the studio.

After a rather long gestation, I am under way towards a regular Bolam TV broadcast – don’t expect anything immdiately but imagine a surreal version of Blue Peter for adults with elements of The Muppets Show, Max Headroom, Top of the Pops, After Dark and early Eurotrash, and sometimes not safe for work.

You will be witnesses.

It’s complicated (part 2) – everything must go #BolamAt60 #BolamProspective

Doorstop, anyone?

Not everything. Not nearly everything, actually, but I am having a major clear out.

After many years of largely fruitless hoarding, I have decided to get rid of some things and abandon some projects. Life is short and every day it gets a little shorter and I have to be realistic about what I can achieve with whatever life the good Lord has left for me.

After several years of soul-searching, I have decided to abandon the old Macintosh computers. I have written a bit more about this here.

Mac SE running System 6.0.8 – starts up in a few seconds.

512k of memory.


I can’t deny a certain degree of nostalgia (which I try to resist) for the old Macs, but they are starting to compare very badly with newer, faster and more energy efficient technologies. What’s more, they take up loads of room and a lot of them are starting to fail.

I will be keeping a few, more for reference than anything else, and I have had a few expressions of interest in using the enclosures for non-Mac projects but I will be moving them all on soon, either to other artists or other recycling destinations.

I also have 90+ reams of A4 paper from my Casualty 14-18 installation in 2014 and a load of school poster paint from Rick’s Fast Art Takeaway, which I am going to donate to a local school. Also, I have crates full of electronics components that I was planning to use for various things but these can be donated to an educational charity. Realistically, I don’t have enough years left on this planet to get everything done that I wanted and so I’m going to let some of it go and concentrate on a smaller number of skills and projects.

It’s complicated (part 1) – the end of start of the beginning of #BolamProspective #BolamAt60

There’s nothing like the impending end of the world to focus one’s attention.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything and I don’t really know where to start, so please bear with me. For complicated reasons, I decided to take a bit of time out after the hyperactive excess of Retrospective: Richard Bolam at 50 in 2014/15. I’m sure I’ve written some of this before but I can’t be bothered to read through my previous blog posts.

Don’t worry, I’ll be brief.

That’s just not true, this is going to take some time. I’ll come back to the reasons why I took a break from making art stuff later and in the meantime, I’ll try to summarise what’s coming up for my 60th year 24th April 2024 – 23rd April 2025.

After I climbed out of the crushing anti-climax at the end of #BolamAt50, I decided to do the whole thing again when I’m 60. After all, it was a total invention the first time around and there were many things that I would have like to have achieved more fully, so why not do the whole thing again at another artificial deadline?

The last three years have been a time when I have examined what it is that I am doing, who I am trying to reach and how I might achieve that. Several years ago, I had pretty much decided never again to apply for any official arts funding, but in 2017 a friend drew my attention to local funding for a residency in Orchard Square, a retail precinct in the centre of Sheffield. Having done a lot of work concerned with the aesthetics of retail, the psychology of branding and the ethics of commodification, I decided to apply.

I was one of four artists who were selected for the residency but my experience was much less than satisfactory. You can read about Rick’s Fast Art Takeaway here, and after that experience, I promised myself that I would really, really, never, ever, cross my heart and hope to die, apply for arts funding ever again.

So, where next, Columbus?

These days, most of my paid work is in corporate events as an audio-visual technician. If you don’t know what that means, I’m the guy in the branded shirt that puts up the projection screen and makes sure your PowerPoint appears on that screen and that your microphone comes on when you start talking. I’m quite good at this kind of work but I didn’t choose it, I drifted into it like all the other jobs I’ve drifted into. Earlier this year, after a couple of events this year that I really didn’t enjoy working on, I considered retiring from this kind of work. But again, for complicated reasons which I might go into later, I decided to turn this around and, instead of getting out of it, I decided to attack the cause of my own dissatisfaction by taking a more pro-active role in the production of these events.

As a result, I have started to accumulate my own back-up conference tech set-up, not to compete with my employers but to be able to fill some of the easily-identified gaps in the technical production of these events.

And this is where I get back to the point.

After some deliberation, and further to my decision to never again apply for any official arts funding (not that I’ve ever been particularly successful anyway), I decided that Richard Bolam at 60 will not involve any traditional, physical exhibitions but will be in the form of online and ephemeral media. That will include new paper publications, a string of Bolam TV programmes and a few live, one-day events during the year 2024/25, and the production aesthetic will be informed by web-based media, corporate conferencing events and digital signage. The equipment I will need will be bought out of the money I make as an AV technician over the intervening period, and this way I can get corporate businesses to fund my art, without having to ask anyone’s permission. Simples!

Just to clarify: the current phase is Prospective: Richard Bolam until 60 and then on 24th April 2024 will begin Metaspective: Richard Bolam at 60 which will be a kind of repeat of Retrospective: Richard Bolam at 50 but an all-singing, all-dancing version of the same thing, but different. I hope that’s clear.

I feel like saying more, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.

Abstractagraph – a blast from the past and a peak into the future #BolamProspective #BolamAt60 #RichardBolam

Back in the 1980s, I had access to a ZX Spectrum home computer. It’s difficult to communicate the excitement we felt at the time, especially given the limited nature of home computer hardware back then, but the exhilaration of its potential was palpable.

I kind of discovered algorithmic / generative / computational art for myself because my main interest was in using computers for creating on-screen graphics, starting with the obvious string patterns, but moving on to other algorithmically created graphics. I still have that same ZX Spectrum but I haven’t tried to boot it up for years, never mind try to run the programs I wrote, loaded from (yes, really) cassette tapes.

There are many technologies that I will not miss and magnetic tape is one of them.

I had an idea to create a program that would create on-screen graphics using a number of algorithmic routines and would assemble and combine created images into new images, all of which would be informed by the rules of classical composition. Here is a program that was published in a magazine entitled “Your Spectrum” in 1985 that I actually typed in, line by line, and this is the kind of thing that I found interesting in those days. It was written by Colin Barnsley and called “The Squirler” and you can actually run this program under emulation here:

I came up with the name Abstractagraph, although these days I would have come up with something much cleverer. What’s more, it’s not really abstraction but whatever, for historical / conceptual reasons I am going to stick with that name. My intention for Abstractagraph is somewhat less formal than what The Squirler produced, although it might include some of this kind of geometry.

As I remember it, everything was a struggle, and that went on for me until the 1990s when I was writing commercial software for Macs and PCs and, after the crushing depression of my own software business failing in 1998, followed by a very brief stint in corporate IT, I was enormously relieved to get out of software development all together, at that time.
The rest of the story is very complicated and not particularly interesting but, suffice to say, the world of computing has completely transformed in the last 20 years. Throughout the 2000s, I accumulated various Macs as they started to become obsolete and businesses upgraded. I made some installation works and screen-based generative works using this obsolete-but-still-functioning technology, including HyperScape (2004).

The world turns and many years pass.

With hindsight, I think I wasted a lot of time thinking about which software tool to use to achieve this and other projects. However, I never lost interest in Abstractagraph and thought about how to achieve it many times. These days, SOHO computers are amazingly cheap and reliable and the choice of software (much of it free and open-source) is quite overwhelming. Back in the 80s, there were other languages that you could load and use, but mostly you were limited to whatever was built in to the computer you chose to use. In the 1990s and 2000s, I got really interesting in the very-high-level programming environments such as HyperCard and SuperCard, both on the Macintosh platform and it seemed to me for a long while that these highly-accessible, application development environments would solve all our software development problems. But they didn’t.

I also wasted a lot of time on AppleScript and Automator, both of which promised much but delivered pretty much fuck all. I loved HyperCard but Apple abandoned it decades ago. I loved SuperCard (HyperCard on steroids) but Adobe bought it and abandoned that too. SuperCard has been rescued, although I think it’s too late for me and to my thinking it is still not nearly complete and mature enough, and this is where I get to the point.

Despite being loyal to the MacOS platform for many years, because of the way the world has changed and not least the planned obsolescence of Apple Computer Inc, I have decided to move away from Mac and towards Linux. Although I still have many working Macs, and still use a great number of packages of favoured, platform-specific software, many of the older computers are starting to fail, and this left with a dilemma when I was testing them before Sheffield’s Open Up open studios event in May 2018. The video shows a close up of HyperScape 1 running on a rather battered SE/30.

I have shelves full of old Mac hardware, mostly obtained free, but a lot of it is starting to fail and I have the choice of spending a significant amount of time repairing and refurbishing these machines, or not.

In the meantime, LED TVs have got very big and very good, and single board computers like the Raspberry Pis have got very small and very fast, and they consume a fraction of the energy. Other factors include the maturing of open-source software and the establishment of new standards, and so I have decided to get rid of all the old Macs and standardise the development of the many conceived-but-unimplemented projects that I have in mind, with rock solid linux-based Raspberry Pis and big, beautiful, flat, lightweight non-CRT screens that are are sold on the high street and can be lifted with one hand.

The cathode ray tube is another technology that I will not miss.

So far, I have only dabbled to varying degrees, but I will be developing any technology-based projects using a mixture of Python, Bash, Processing, HTML, CSS & Javascript, none of which have that friendly Mac look-and-feel that I used to be so enamoured of, but which actually deliver the goods. I am not exactly sure how this is going to work out, but I think the Abstractagraph project will diverge into a number of smaller projects, each with a more refined and individual visual vocabulary. At least some of the iterations of Abstractagraph will be written in HTML, CSS & Javascript and delivered purely client-side, in a browser, but some might use image manipulation available in ImageMagick & Bash, server-side, and broadcast to web pages. “Scribble” (above) will be one of the first functions I want to implement.

HyperScape X at Access Space, Sheffield in 2014:

I have no timescale or deadline for this project, well, other than between 24th April 2024 and 23rd April 2025, the duration of my major retrospective Richard Bolam at 60, but seeing as I had the original idea in the 1980s, it’s already late, so whatever. Updates will be posted on its own blog site:

Sheffield Zine Fest 2019 Saturday 18th May at the Workstation @sheffzinefest #sheffzinefest

Please come and see me, along with many others, at Sheffield Zine Fest 2019. As well as past publications, I will be attempting to crowd-source material for an improvised metazine. I know that doesn’t real mean anything, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Life Kills – or – If at first you don’t succeed, post-rationalize #BolamABC

Bolam XXX graphics v1.091

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” – Pablo Picasso

I don’t know why it took Picasso so long, I was painting like a child by the age of five. Maybe, like me, he shouldn’t have bothered with the Raphael stage.

I’m having an existential moment. Having spent most of my life working with technology to make art and creative things, one of the most satisfying works I’ve made recently involved nothing more than cheap poster paint, scrap paper and skills I learned as a child. It’s not so much old-school as pre-school.

A few weeks ago I began an ill-fated new project.

I had a “brilliant” idea to make a satirical Halloween advent calendar. Each day would be a skulls head, stylistically referencing the Mexican Day of the Dead festival as a satire on the commercialization of cultural events. There’s more of an explanation here.

Halloween 2015 graphics v3.034

I often use Keynote to make graphics. I know it’s not really a graphics application but it is very fast to work with and acts as a digital sketchbook. Also, it is very useful for making multiples that share common elements. However, as a graphics editor it is lacking some things that I miss from other packages, and I wanted to create more complex graphics.

I am not an illustrator or designer, but I did use both Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw a lot in the past, and I went looking for something similar. I’ll not bore you with all the options but I found iDraw that works both on Mac OS X 10.6.8 and my iPad running iOS 8.x, and has all the missing features I was looking for; layer control, composite vectors, text on a path amongst others. I’m very impressed with it although it crashes now and again, but that might be related to other problems that I and others are having with what appears to be an unresolved memory management issue with 10.6.8.

On the whole, iDraw is very good, but where I made this project unwieldy is that, as an attempt to extend the social media reach of the project, I decided to screen-record myself creating the graphics in order to show both the conceptual thinking and how I was learning to use the software.

“Brilliant”, huh?

Not really. I didn’t realise at first, but simultaneously screen-recording with QuickTime Player 10.0 on my 1.83GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 2Gb Mac had a major performance hit and made the machine quite sluggish, which I initially blamed on iDraw. Anyway, the graphics took so long to make, that it was impacting on other projects and, after the first batch of four which I made beforehand, I was having to make each one on the day and couldn’t get ahead. I hate that tyranny of having to do something rather than as and when, which is how I usually work. What’s more, the amount of mouse wiggling was aggravating the dormant RSI injury in my right shoulder and neck.

So, reluctantly, I decided to abandon the project on day 10. Sometimes you’ve just got to admit defeat. I could have forced it through but it’s only a minor project anyway and I might complete them in time for Halloween next year.

Bolam TV animated ident animation output v1.002

Here is one of the making-of videos for the first 9 (the graphic for the 10th was incomplete because I hit a snag which was the last straw.

Conceptually sound, but practically inept, and the results are nothing more than okay. I think it will work much better when there is a full set. We’ll see.

Anyway, I have always been a hoarder and I’ve always hated waste. And this is why I am still using a first generation MacBook and why I keep all my spoiled inkjet prints.

Although it took me nearly twenty years to get around to it, the “Stained by Dead Inkjets” series of collages used very old-school, pre-digital techniques, despite the source material being of digital origin.

Stained by Dead Inkjets - Collage #6 (title tbc)

Anyway, as one of my “brilliant” satires, I decided to make my own Day of the Dead decorations rather than buy any of the crap from the shops. I’m not keen on the horror theme of Halloween and I think the Day of the Dead celebration is much more positive. I experimented with a few ideas, and my favourite is these faces, made very simply by folding and cutting scrap paper. Then I painted a base colour, allowing the colours to cross-contaminate, Rorschach-blotted them and voila!


What’s more, the back of it is even better than the front.


I like them far more than the highly-conceptualized Halloween advent calendar that I had spent so much time on, and (not including drying time) these took a few minutes each. It’s only take all my life to learn that.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

Richard Bolam at 60: T-minus 3,179 #BolamProspective #bolamat60 #bolamat50+1

Launch event postcard v3 improved

Like much of my work, that title is half a joke and half deadly serious. I achieved much in the run-up to, and the year of Richard Bolam at 50, but there was so much more that I either failed to achieve, postponed, or simply did not complete. This is due to a number of life factors, not least more than a little mismanagement.

However, after much thought, I have decided to just continue the project and tag each subsequent year as #bolamat50+1, #bolamat50+2 etc, until I get to #bolamat60 (if I make it) and just see what happens on the way.

Partly inspired by Eduardo Paolozzi, Robert Rauschenberg & Jamie Reid (amongst many others), and referencing the Principia Discordia, Newton’s Principia Mathematica and the post-punk zine scene, I decided to assimilate some of the old material into a new publication (or publications) with a working title of “Principia Bolamatica”. This is a composite of leftover scraps from the “Stained by Dead Inkjets” sessions and scans from my notebooks and scrapbooks.

Principia mathematica page 2

Principia Bolamatica page x of x

I was introduced to the the Principia Discordia when I read Robert Anton Wilson’s book “Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati” when I was a teenager. Cosmic Trigger (volume 1 as it is now) is a load of new-age hokum and conspiracy theory bullshit, but is fascinating as a jumping off point for various weird shit that I have subsequently found interesting at times. The Principia Discordia is the gospel of a pseudo-religion called Discordianism. I am not a believer but I am drawn to the playfulness and non-literal interpretation of things like this, along with the cut-ups technique used by other artists I admire such as William Burroughs and David Bowie.

But that’s another story…

I have established an online backbone for this phase of the project as a group of WordPress blogs that will contain various media, but it is an ongoing project with no manifesto attached to it other than trying to finish the Richard Bolam at 50 project in a way that I am satisfied with it. As I have written before, the only element I consider a major failure is not getting the 12 issues of “Catalogue” finished within the Richard Bolam at 50 year but, although it’s too late to meet that deadline, I will be completing them over the next year or two. Issue two will be out soon.

The Principia Bolamatica will be hosted, one page at a time, on BolamABC and published bit by bit as one or more PDFs, but also look out for Bolam000, Bolam101, Bolam123, BolamA2Z, Bolam365, Bolam24/7, Bolam360, Bolam5x5, BolamXXX and BolamXYZ.

Screen shot 2015-08-10 at 11.40.59

Each of these blog sites will be used to host appropriate elements of various projects, some of which I have planned and some not. I will probably move over to as a main site but will remain live and I might add more content if that is the appropriate place for it.

Stand by…