These photographs were taken in the last moments of sunset on the Isle of Sheppey all the way back in the Summer of 2009. I remember clearly the very particular atmosphere of the place as we walked back to the car; bleak, forlorn, poetic and richly filmic.
Keen-eyed followers of these Friday call-back posts may have noticed the number of times ‘2015’ appears in relation to images featuring long-exposure photography. That’s because, in the Summer of that year, I set myself a ’10 Day Challenge’ – or rather a ’10 Night Challenge’, in which I sought to produce long-exposure ‘light drawings’ in as many different ways as possible.
One of those variations was thinking about how I might create animated sequences, by producing long exposure photographs as part of continuous sequences. Unsurprisingly, it was a time-intensive undertaking – and a very physical one, given the fact I was ‘puppeteering’ the lights myself, out-of-shot, via a system of black elastic threads. In truth, I didn’t get very far – or rather, I took what felt like a great many photographs, only to find I only had scant seconds of animation as a result. Nonetheless, there is real potential here – to draw with light within particular spaces and animate it too. One day, I’ll walk all the way into this idea and make something happen.
Until then, here are some experiments. I added a touch of music to the second video, and manipulated the animated loops a little more by repeating them. Even these small interventions prove there is much more to be explored here.
There are a number of things I miss about my previous role working in higher education – and many things I do not.
One of the things I miss most about those days was my day-to-day proximity to other creatives, to their respective projects, and to their conversations about them. An average day would see dozens of discussions about storytelling, art direction, materials, research, conceptualisation, producton design, visual representation and promotion. Manifesting ‘something from nothing’ was always the business of the day, as we all worked together to get an idea ‘from script to screen’ or from 2D into 3D, from a dream of a thing to the thing itself. I know now how luxurious my old job was. Actually, I knew it then and never once took it for granted. It was life-affirming to be in the company of people who could first see things in their mind, and then develop those images into concrete, substantive outcomes – an act of magic and an act of faith.
Hardly surprising then I might have wanted some of that back, to work again with a diverse community of artists, to give a fair whack of my time and energy to making a space in which more of those conversations could take place. So it was I had the idea for The Kick-About, a blog-based creative challenge, in which creatives of all kinds were given the chance to make some new work in response to a fortnightly prompt – myself included. One year later, and we’ve just published Edition 26 of The Kick-About, a gathering together of participants’ favourite submissions, and one thing is clear: there is power in community, not least because the expectation of an audience for new work is an effective means of seeing off procrastination and preciousness by encouraging decisiveness and utility. There is creative freedom too in ‘short sharp snaps’ of creative activity, that ability to start something up and then close it down in a succinct period of time.
Speaking personally, I’ve found The Kick-About to be a hugely satisfying experience, and after a decade-or-more of very happily giving my best ideas away to other people, it’s been reassuring and exciting to discover there are still more ideas where all those others came from. I’ve loved the problem-solving aspect of the fortnightly prompts – resolving cogent, authentic responses to the various prompts in lots of different ways. You might also call it ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ – and yes, it’s been fun.
Gathered here are all my Kick-About responses, digital artworks, sculptures, photographs, shorts films and short stories, and collaborations with other artists. Agreed, it makes for an eclectic ensemble, but I’m reminded – happily – of being nineteen years old and studying my Art Foundation course, which was all about trying and doing everything and not worrying about what it was all for, or what you were going to do with it, or what you were going to do next.
So yes, I do feel younger for running around with my fellow kick-abouters, and if not quite nineteen, then not far off. I just want to say a very real and heartfelt thank you to everyone in the Kick-About community, whether you’ve played once, or always. Your company and creativity is, and has been, restorative, and I’m very much looking forward to doing it all again with Kick-About No.27. Onwards!
Welcome to this first anniversary edition of The Kick-About, a fortnightly blog-based creative challenge in which artists of all stripes come together to present work in response to a given prompt. I asked contributors to choose a favourite work of their own from the previous twenty-five editions so I could celebrate them all together here.
I just want to say a personal note of thanks to everyone who takes part. Producing new ideas and new work in under a fortnight brings with it its own challenges, insecurities and pressures, but if you’re anything like me, you will have enjoyed the otherwise simple satisfaction of making work, getting it done, expressing your creativity, and sharing it with a supportive community. Some of you have thanked me for hosting the Kick-About, and some of you have even worried about the work and time I may be giving it; rest assured, this is the work I like to do and I’m very happy to do it.
Thanks to everyone who has taken part this last year, and I’m very much hoping we can continue to combine our efforts as productively and imaginatively in the coming weeks. Now, just look at what you did…
“Thanks for the Kick-About. For some of us, making art is as natural as breathing, and sometimes almost as necessary to life. During a dark time in history, thanks for stimulating art prompts among creative friends, unfettered by constraints, rules or judgement. Freedom to make in any direction. It’s been a joy. And since you want one favourite, I’m selecting those Bird Ladies from Kick-About No.2. And I hope they sort themselves out soon and send that bureaucratic penguin back to Antarctica.”
“I’ve not been as involved as others in the bi-weekly Kick-About posts, but I’ve seriously enjoyed the challenge of completely unexpected briefs. I’ve chosen to include my piece ‘Orpheus’ this week. This one stood out to me for several reasons, partly because it allowed me to flex my digital painting muscles again, something I’d neglected for a while. Also it was a powerful story that instantly brought up images, compositions and drama. That narrative aspect is something I often neglect in my personal work. This was the challenge, like I had to capture the story, as if on the front cover of book. Our hero enters the underworld, ‘hell’ bent on saving his wife ‘Eurydice’ from the clutches of the dark forces below. Everything a digital painter wants in an image.”
“Selecting KA9 is easy, as it reminds me of how important instinct is within process, as well the time span of sitting across 4 hours 40 minutes to complete a process. I trusted my responses to the music, invited in chance, kept the demon of doubt outside the door, and I enjoyed colour as an adventure. KA9 felt like a pure creative experience and it beckons me on to do more. The community of KA has been totally enriching and so rewarding.”
“Kick-About No.1 was a cathartic experience as I’m often caught up on details and reasoning. And those hang-ups can sometimes paralyse my creativity. I realise now, sometimes it’s just a simple premise, and it’s dumb fun and exploration that’s needed. And I definitely found joy and a small sense of achievement in that process!”
“Weirdly enough I’ve chosen this..a tough call but although I loved putting together the installations I only record them as 6” X 4” photos, which are then put into a KA book as a record. However, I do have my drawings, so could take a better photo, as they’re bigger! I chose this as it WAS tedious in its repetitive way, but after a while it became a form of meditation, and I was happy with the outcome, which is rare. Actually I could have chosen any as far as enjoying the process goes, so onwards to the next…” Graphite on Fabriano.
“An epic and bi-sectioned electronic piece telling the story of the cicada life from a more dark point of view. Beware – the first four minutes are much quieter than the last two. Good speakers or headphones are recommended.”
TJ and Jo Norman
www.tjnartists.com / #tjnartists
“The Kick About has brought me to places I’ve never dreamed of going. I’ve dipped my toes into mediums, styles and parts of myself that have otherwise been sealed off. I have learned to find magic in the mundane, while learning a great deal about films, authors, and artists, from the many prompts we have created together. I always feel inspired to see what you all have created every fortnight, so for that I am thankful to all you fellow kick-abouters for your words and creations.
In saying that, it is difficult to choose a favourite, as they all have been a joy to see flourish. One Kick-About does come to mind and that is No. 22, which was the art, life and times of the Austrian painter, Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, and with it the Pools film. The reason why it is my favourite is because of the way it came to be and the journey it took to get it to that state. I wasn’t seeking this film out. I wasn’t trying to capture anything like it, I didn’t even know this place existed. I was merely bouncing around the innards of the forestry one bitter cold winter morning when a dumping of snow was beginning to melt, and where I set out to capture the extrusion of thick snow rimmed treetops. I found all that, but I also found this film – in a trench of shallow, glistening water.
Making Pools was a creative journey, and I’m thankful it happened in such an organic way: from finding the place and deciding to film it, to viewing the resulting footage as flawed, while still being preoccupied by it, to the Kick-About prompt providing the perfect opportunity to salvage the film into something I’m proud of.
It was a pure delve into the unknown to make something just for the sake of it, not knowing how the outcome would look but just enjoying the whole process of making this thing. I think, in its essence, that is what is so great about The Kick About and why I love being a part of it with you all.”
“At the time of the making of my Metropolis images for The Kick-About #2 I had been living in the same apartment for over three years, and for some reason had never really taken the time to explore the surrounding area with the eye of a photographer or an artist, mostly because it all just seemed very boxy and residential in a way that I have become totally accustomed to seeing every day.
However, with a lot of free time and a phone-camera in hand, I thought that surely the true mundaneness of a real metropolis could be made into something interesting somehow. After fiddling with some images, I ended up with some quite authentic looking silent film production set photos which of course really reminded me of that other Metropolis. I think they even capture the unusual atmosphere and uncertainty of the time they were created.”
“I choose this one because I managed to capture a very personal sense of nostalgia, which is something that I had been trying to crack for a while. Also, it was the first time I had been motivated to break out the paints for over a year, which is a long time, especially when I had been making work every day. It highlighted to me that I need to stronger with myself as a creative and have the fortitude to keep pushing through various blocks and it did herald a period of increased productivity. Also, it is one of the artier of my submissions…”
“The Kick-About #6 is still one of my favourite prompts, and one of the most meaningful series of paintings I have done in the last few years. It represents the beginning of a new creative journey for me, a new painting style, and, at the same time, it encompasses much of my life and experiences. For this “anniversary” I picked just one of the four, my favourite, and the first one I painted. It was originally inspired by a photograph of the Canadian winter landscape by Evelin Berg and, as I mentioned, were partly concept paintings for a short animation I haven’t finished yet. The journey, the film, the story….all still ongoing.” Ink on watercolour paper, 240x680cm.
Julien Van Wallendael
“I have learnt so much over the last year from participating in The Kick-About, and enjoyed so many different aspects, that I found it really difficult to pick a ‘favourite’. Some pieces have stretched me technically, some have taken me into totally unfamiliar territory, some have felt satisfactorily “complete”. But one submission made me smile when it first occurred to me, smile as I worked on it, and smile even now when I read it back. I can’t think of a better reason for re-visiting it, so my ‘Favourite Kick-About’ is Field Guide to Getting Lost and The Ballad of Ethel and Hilda’.
“It’s the Five Canons of Rhetoric! I’ve chosen this one as it made me really think about my work and its origins and process. It led to the story of this Sea Heart pod that continues to fascinate me along with all the other seed-pods in my life! The journey of this pod crept into the following Kick-About as well, maybe because I can’t travel at the moment and I long to be doing so. It always refreshes my mind and creativity… apart from missing my friends in distant lands.”
“The prompt was Cocteau’s Orpheus, because of the element of serendipity: on a Covid walk, I dragged home two entwined ivy trees, saw the prompt, (not sure which happened first) something clicked, and I set about exploring the potential…”
“The KA’s have been a great way to divert my attention and have provided reason for exploration of deep buried thoughts. Thank you’s to all of you who have donated jumping off points – sometimes they resonate so deafeningly – not always at the point of conceptualising – the museum KA didn’t kick-in for me until I started putting paint to paper but then it dragged up some of the creative juices that I thought had been long gone. So I guess that makes it my significant KA moment. I love the tantalising breadth of work created by all of you. KA reveal days are always so exciting. It amazes me how you seem to tumble out great pieces or concepts. Also amazing how open you have been with background stories to some of the works. Thanks again and I hope KA can continue long after lockdown.”
“In response to the “Kick-about anniversary” (and my very small contribution to it) I have chosen to revisit my take on the Eugen von Ransonnet Villez submarine paintings.
Marine paintings have become a large part of my creative output over the last decade. As a graphic designer just over ten years ago my health took something of a wobble and the medical advice was to change lifestyle. This evolved over a few years and resulted in less use of the mouse and tablet and more the old fashioned paintbrush. It became as much as anything else a journey of self discovery. Several visual themes emerged but the one most urgent in my need to explore was the sea. I soon found like minded painters at the National Maritime Museum Art Club where I became chairman. The club has had a couple of identity changes since then but still exists as the Thames Maritime Artists and I am still chairman.
The limpid, accurately observed and interpreted tones and colours used by Ransonnel Villez immediately struck a chord with my own struggle to capture how we see water and objects in water. Seascape and coastal painting is quite a niche area in painting, not fashionable, and hasn’t been since the Royal Navy stopped ruling the waves, but I have never been troubled by fashion. For me the test of how well I am performing is to be judged by peers and to that end over a number of years I have submitted paintings to the Royal Society of Marine Artists annual open exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. For four years I failed to get anything into the show, I was disappointed but not discouraged and eventually in 2019 I got a piece into the show. In 2020 in the middle of the pandemic I got two pieces in – and won the Classic Boat Prize. It certainly does not beat taking your life in your hands going under the sea in a primitive diving bell but sometimes dogged persistence does pay off. I have attached a couple of RSMA exhibition to add to the original set.”
“For the Kick-About I’d like to submit my Symbols piece (#5). Of all the digital work I’ve produced over the last year, it stands out to me as being truly different and emotionally driven. Something in Alice Neel’s original painting really clicked with me.”
“I would like to choose ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’ as my favourite piece. It was my very first appearance on the Kick-about and possibly one of my best works. It involved using the mixed media of silk material and painting, and I felt it was a good showcase for my manipulative skills with fabric. I definitely got a buzz from seeing my picture on the internet and I loved using the bright, cheerful colours. It made me feel excited, hopeful and creative even though it was the start of lockdown.”
“While I haven’t been able to contribute as often as I would like in recent months, The Kick-About is a welcome stretch away from my day-to-day. Working in design, I’ve felt it more and more challenging to work without a brief or steer, to make for the pleasure of making, without feeling the need to justify time spent playing as part of a longer project or showreel piece. The Kick-About has provided that stimulus, giving a direction but not a destination, and a space to remember that away from the rounds of amends, renders and timesheets, making is simply, fun. For this reason, making a witches bottle due to a misreading of a painting by Alice Neel was the most enjoyable project for me, reading and researching down whatever avenue seemed interesting, formulating an idea without thinking of demographics or target audience, and then making something however crudely with real physical materials, not worrying about brand guidelines or alignment or safe margins. Looking at the high quality of the other submissions makes it lucky I’m dressing up my motivation in the same outfit as naive or folk art. However, at a time which created a step back from our daily lives and the time to think about why we do the things we do, for me The Kick-About is the reminder I needed to not pack everything in and try to manage a hedge fund. Joy! It’s all about joy!“
“I’m choosing the Invisible Cities (Ersilla) prompt as my favorite. First, because it was something I wanted to do as soon as I read the book a few years ago, but had never gotten around to. And also because it expanded my work from my usual repertoire, which is basically 2-dimensional.
I would say that almost all the prompts have pushed me further than I would normally go outside my comfort zone which is a very good thing. And everyone else’s work is so inspiring, it keeps my mind full of different ideas and inspiration.”
“I’ve loved being part of the Kick-About over the last year. It’s got me doing things I’ve never done before, such as writing and recording my own voice, and it’s going me doing things that I’d never have done without it, so a big thank you, Phil, for putting this together every fortnight. It’s been a real pleasure seeing how people have responded to the prompts and I’m always in awe of the variety, the talent and the creativity that appears in each post.
I’ve got a few favourites from the past year, but i’m choosing this image, which I called ‘Forest Flare’ and made in response to the Orphée’prompt way back last June I think. I painted some 2D trees, an arch and a sky onto card, and then lit and photographed th em on my desk. The main reason I was pleased with how it turned out is that, in the photographic image, a small figure appeared, sitting on the floor, framed by the arch and looking like a faun that had wandered out of the paper forest. It wasn’t there when I looked at the table top set up, but some magic happened in the camera and the image turned out more interesting that I’d planned – quite spooky!”
“I’ve chosen ‘Baba’s Important Work’ because the resulting short story speaks to the power of a random prompt to produce something satisfying, unpredictable and inevitable-seeming. That a story set in a static caravan, in some dystopian society, should have issued from an old book on nautical knot-work, makes me feel excited about the creative process in all its strangeness. I find it reassuring too, a bit like going to Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, opening its doors, and finding, thank goodness, there are still ideas in there after all.“
“Albatross Box is the only sculpture I’ve done for the Kick Abouts – and it is the one that has proven the most constant source of inspiration since I made it. It is still hung up in my house, changing with the light and day and it is a source of endless fascination for my 3 year old. Once COVID restrictions ease a bit, I’d love to scout out some more bones and do a few more bone shadow boxes with poetry and make it a series (I confess to already rescuing another wooden box from the curb in anticipation!). “
“Picking a personal favourite is so tricky! My mind immediately jumps to the Alice Neel prompt from Kick-About #3. I really enjoyed the making of that piece in it’s simplicity and assemblage of iconography. I also enjoyed Kick-About #23 in which I could channel grief into some strange cardboard constructions. Both of those prompts were so calming and helpful to produce. But if I’m honest with myself, I think the very first Kick-About was my favourite subject, largely because the Max Ernst prompt is well suited to my comfort zone – bizarre landscapes and painting methods. What a boring choice I know, but I remember that painting evolving so clearly in my head, and it was a joy.”
And, oh look, we’re off again already – with a new painting-based prompt, Giorgio de Chirico’s The Song Of Love (1914)…
My recent trips to Fox’s Cross to photograph the splendour of the Blackthorn blossom have inspired a further entry into the Lost In Fields series of short, stills-based films. What a contrast with No.8, inspired as it was by desolate frozen wastes and luckless polar expeditions. Here, I was going for something as fleeting, delicate and ephemeral as the blossom itself, including too the songs of the robin and the skylark, both of which soundtracked our time in this, another of Kent’s ordinary/extraordinary fields.
A few unseen light-play photographs from the big stint of similar japes undertaken in the late summer of 2015. I was mucking about with simple sets and some additional lighting, and quite liked the swirly, ‘Starry Night’ vibe getting started. There was more to be done here, but I ran out of time – and of darkness.
A last hurrah of froth from Fox’s Cross.
A second trip to the big open field at Fox’s Cross, bordered on all sides by hedges of Blackthorn, their branches mustardy with lichen, and their blossom, just going over, capturing pinks, creams, beige and baby-blues in the dipping of the sunlight. As an accompaniment to the taking of these photographs, two skylarks hovered over the middle of the field, singing their respective hearts out.
Phil Cooper, Inside The Auxillary acrylics on paper, 40 x 40 cm
“After much squeezing through vents, climbing over pallets and navigating chambers filled with pulleys, chains and butchers’ hooks, they arrived in an emptier space dominated by a large u-shape of narrow railway track.“
“After Kyp manages to escape the full-on horror show of the Dismantlers, there’s a definite change of atmosphere as we emerge into Chapter 18; it’s more subdued, quieter, but still bristling with menace. I’ve tried to depict this sense of threat with an empty warehouse space, full of shadows and places for enemies to hide, adorned with chains and hooks, and with a labyrinth of interconnected passages to get lost in, or trapped. Aesthetically, the interior of the warehouse is pure 1920’s Fritz Lang, as the frenzied expressionism of those film sets perfectly conveys the brittle tension in this chapter. Against this backdrop, important conversations are had, before another horrible reveal in the final line of the chapter. Whatever’s coming in Chapter 19, I’m guessing it’s not good news!”
Phil Cooper, April 2021
Back in September 2019, I finally finished Patience Kite – a novel I’d been fiddling about with for ten years or more. Owing much to Under Milkwood, in terms of its big cast of characters, and with nods to The Wicker Man and other examples of literary ‘folk horror’, I was very happy to complete it. I’d lived with these characters for an extended time and worked hard – off-and-on – to make the reading experience work engagingly. Sometimes, on good days, I’m certain I achieved just that, more or less. Other times, I think there is probably a very good reason why, having sent Patience Kite out to a number of literary agents and publishers upon completion, I’ve heard precisely nothing at all! I have a goodly number of rejection slips etc in my collection from my other finished works of ‘undiscovered literary greatness’, so I am largely inured to the rasp of disappointment.
That said, I sometimes think about all these lives I brought into being, these loyal phantoms of mine, and I wonder if I have a responsibility to them to go on trying. Today, I’m sufficing instead with putting the shortest of excerpts out on here, as this Friday’s archival entry. The character of Annie Crowther looks after the model village in Pengarth, the fictional setting of Patience Kite, a pretty fishing village somewhere in the wilds of North Cornwall. This short section comes very early in the novel and uses the device of the model village, and Annie’s omnipresence, to introduce readers to a few more of the book’s characters – and of course, there’s a hint of foreboding too…