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 bolamprospective.wordpress.com as a main site but richardbolamat50.wordpress.com will remain live and I might add more content if that is the appropriate place for it.

Stand by…