Understanding the Enigmatic Art of Nick Bolton

Several years ago, I discovered upon happenstance the YouTube channel belonging to one Nick Bolton, an apparently English bloke who had uploaded archives of artistic experimentation from the ’90s, with a couple others as recent as 2012. I had inadvertently stumbled into a world of wonder beyond my limited imagination. It was as if I had seen a tear in the fabric of the universe itself and pried it open with my bare hands to peer into the other side, discovering something greater than I could even comprehend.

My introduction to the magical Mr. Bolton was in a video called “Morphin’ 1995,” which opens with a solid pea-soup green wall, over which the title “Morphin'” slides and stretches out in orange-to-gold all-cap letters.

Morphin' title screen

The title then condenses (or “morphs”) and slides off the other side of the screen, likely illustrating the idea that nothing is permanent, and that everything is transformative in nature.

Quite the poignant opening, right? Just wait.

The title screen quickly gives way to a shot of a pillar landmark, the statue of a British military figure on top with his back to the blue sky.

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I know what you’re thinking. “Blue skies in England? How?” But that’s laughably trivial. The unthinkable happens, and the shot jump cuts to a hand holding a carrot perfectly aligned with the landmark.

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The hand then drops the carrot.

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The subtext was instantly riveting to me. A cascade of questions flooded my already overloaded brain: What exactly was the artiste suggesting with this video? Was he suggesting that natural and manmade designs will always parallel one another? Was he visualizing the idea that a monument to a fallen man is as important and symbolic as a mere carrot? Was he perhaps suggesting that we replace the monument with a vegetable, “morphing” it somehow to reflect a return to natural roots?

What was it all about?

Well, I only had more biting questions thrust into me like a phallic carrot as the rest of the video played. In the next shot, the same hand held a relatively flat onion up close over the backdrop of a metropolitan area.

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It seemed like a fairly mundane shot at first, but then the hand dropped out of view and behind the onion in the distance was a building similar in shape and color.

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Zooming in on this building, I was once again left magically perplexed, and that perplexity only increased once the hand held the onion back over the building, rotating it so you could see every hair and every crease, as though Nick Bolton was asking us, “What really is the difference between this vegetable and that building there?” My answer? “I don’t know! Jesus fuck!”

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The ultimate question that left me by the end of the shot was, “Is the onion the building or the building the onion?” But as soon as that question crept into my mental clockwork for me to barely process it, we were off to the next shot, which involved Nick’s manly hand gently holding a green apple up over two high-rise structures in the distance. The apple completely eclipsed them.

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Once again, I went practically catatonic attempting to crack this puzzle, in a fruitless (yes, pun) effort to comprehend the message.

Was the apple meant to symbolize a fruitful (yes, pun again) combination of the buildings into one organic whole, going from rectangular in shape to imperfectly spherical? Was Mr. Bolton trying to say that we should replace the buildings with something from the soil of the Earth, for lack of a better word “morphing” the landscape into something more grounded? The green field of grass at the bottom of the frame, synonymous with the green of the apple, certainly seemed to suggest the latter, but I can’t be too sure.

For another five minutes we see the same hand hold various other fruits and veggies over many landscapes and objects, and the title of the video becomes almost amorphous itself in its potential meanings. When the video ended, I was left in a mental puddle of overwhelming puzzlement.

Watch this incredible short for yourself here:

Needless to say, I needed more after this first taste.

Thus began my journey into the amazing universe of Nick Bolton, and I couldn’t turn back.

Let’s take a brief look at some of his other mind-blowing and -expanding experiments.

To start us off, there’s the very first video he made based on the date in the title, “Shake 1993.”

As the deceptively simple title would suggest, there is indeed shaking involved. As Bolton looks around at various seemingly meaningless objects through his camera, he begins to briefly shake the camera side to side before cutting to another shot of something else.

There are several stories that one could interpret from this video:

  • Premise Possibility #1 — Nick Bolton is showing us the POV of a man disillusioned with consumer culture, shaking his head “no” at flashy objects such as necklaces, suits, expensive dress shoes, Armani tote bags, and statues, free of the perception of gloss that normally enslaves others.
  • Premise Possibility #2 — We’re seeing life through the eyes of a man with later-stage Parkinson’s as he tragically and perpetually fails to keep the shakes away.
  • Premise Possibility #3 — We’re getting the POV of a man who’s completely broke and nightmarishly finds that everything around him is at least 100 pounds.
  • Premise Possibility #4 — An earthquake occurs in England every minute, which can be very annoying and distracting when shopping.

Whatever the true premise is, it’s a sign of the future greatness to come from Bolton.

Let’s examine a video a little farther down the line in his filmography, one entitled “Roundabouts 1994.”

Again, the apt title accurately explains the base subject matter: Roundabouts. Is it really about them, though?

Of course not. You’d have to be a fucking moron to think that.

As this short film shows us, roundabouts are everywhere in England. Literally every street corner has one. And while this may be normal for most Britons, they appear to have driven one man insane. He runs and runs through roundabout after roundabout, like he’s trying his best to get beyond them, to find some piece of land that isn’t a literal and figurative loop of madness.

Alas, he is unable to escape from this world, as the film ends with the man running through one final roundabout in a completely wasted effort to escape the never-ending cycle of traffic loops, trapped in an existential loop himself. I think this film speaks volumes about the perils one faces when trying to break through the mundanity of society, expanding on the concepts he more simply explored in “Shake.”

How about we take a look at another favorite of mine, “Chaise Longue 1997.”

Never mind Bolton’s silly British spelling of “lounge.” First, take note of the violet opening screen, and how it matches the chaise in the video. Could it mean neutrality?

That would certainly seem to be the case as we see Bolton lie underneath the chair, seeming to find this to be a comfortable neutral space as he looks around. He doesn’t display any discernible emotion, other than a vague curiosity regarding the nature of the chaise.

Throughout, he changes position, and at one point his chest is so close to the bottom of the chair that his breathing lifts and lowers it with every breath. It’s as though he becomes one with the lounge, this emotionless neutral object, melting into it in perhaps a sexual manner, filling it with life.

Of course, he revisits this setup in a recreation made in 2012, aptly called “Chaise Twice 2012.”

I believe the sequel completes the message he was going for: Man and chaise lounges are one and the same, acting as windows of time and space, and forever conjoined in a violet matrimony of neutrality. However, while the longue never shows its age superficially, man has and always will.

If you have another interpretation you’d like to dispute, please, please let me know.

Now for a penultimate look at another masterpiece from his repertoire, “Jumper 1997.”

Note that the title screen has a period at the end of “Jumper,” making it a statement. I think this means that Bolton is using it as a command, like someone telling someone, “Faster.” “Jumper” in this case means, “Jump higher. Reach farther.” “Jumper.”

The video goes on to show us a man, presumably Nick Bolton himself, jumping. He isn’t simply jumping, though. He’s jumping to reach things, specifically two white circles that stand out from the reddish filter over him. The man alternates back and forth between them (a reference to the motion in “Shake”?) and puts his head in each one.

Why the man is doing this is anyone’s guess, but you can’t help but root for him.

We get no background about this guy. For instance, why is he jumping? And even when he reaches both circles, it would seem that he can’t just stop. He’s being forced to do this. But again, why? Based on the objective nature of the character, I’m obliged to feel pity, watching him struggle as he attempts to reach each circle in an endless loop (reference to “Roundabouts”?). At the same time, maybe this is a depiction of a future wherein murderers and other serious convicts are required to do this as part of carrying out a prison sentence, which would remove some sympathy.

As it stands, this video feels like a vision of Hell, as this man is completely consumed with a meaningless goal.

It could also be exploring the indecisiveness one faces when forced to make certain decisions. This is a physical representation of someone performing the mental exercise, “Should I do this? Or do this?” Both sides of a decision could force someone to occupy two different head spaces.

Regardless of the interpretation, I find this video particularly disturbing to contemplate, so I’d like to move on to one last exhibition, “Planks 2000.”

Planks features, you guessed it, planks. Long ones, too.

Once again it looks like Nick Bolton is the star of his own film, carrying incredibly long planks one after the other across the bottom of the screen, over a pleasant suburban background. Eventually each plank ends, with an apparent clone of Nick carrying the other end of the plank. This is repeated with multiple planks until the end of the video.

Why are these twins/clones carrying this plank? To where are they taking them? Why are they dressed like hipsters instead of carpenters or construction workers? Maybe they’re stealing them from a construction site in broad daylight—dumb move.

Still, those are surface questions, which we know Mr. Bolton isn’t all about. So, let’s ask some deeper questions.

What do the planks represent? I think the answer to that is the burden of adulthood, of living in a suburban neighborhood as a homeowner, while finding yourself carrying both ends of your life. At the same time, just as you think some of the burden will be lifted, more comes along in our tangential struggles.

Who are the men carrying it? Every man.

As you can probably tell, these are only a few of Bolton’s many videos that ask many of these questions with increasing urgency. His world urges critical thinking about society, life, and our actions. I urge you to visit his profile for other classics such as “Use Blues 1998” and “Trolleys 1996.” You’ll discover beautiful and wondrous things that most could never even dream of conceiving.

In the end, I can only hope that he stops posting videos of his son’s band and makes a return as a misunderstood mastermind of abstract art.

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