Jumpers for Goalposts: Three Years of Kicking it About

TT Journal, ISSUE 6, September 2023

By Phil Gomm

The idea for The Kick-About began as one of those lock-down wheezes, like kitchen discos and buying pizza ovens and the premise unoriginal: a blog-based creative challenge in which artists and makers of all stripes are invited to ‘make new work in a short time’ in response to a specific prompt.

For my part, I wanted a bit of structure, something to do and something to share – something that wasn’t another pub quiz on Zoom. I wanted something quick, a snack, a fix, a bit of a knee-trembler. Sure, that was some of it, but having taught in creative education for a long time, I’d become frustrated at ‘the postponement of doing’, students giving too much of their time and their identity as ‘creatives’ to preparing to think about making a start on beginning to form an approach to the early stages of the development of what might be some work… I’d grown equally suspicious of the seriousness of much of the tutoring, as the weight of precedent and art history and taste were enacted against ideas that appeared to come too quickly or too easily, as if lengthening the gap between ideation and production is always a precursor to greatness.

I called it The Kick-About because I wanted to signal that it wasn’t all that serious – which is not the same as suggesting it was foolish, trivial or somehow ill-conceived. It was a space for playing in, that’s all, and over the course of three years+, the participating artists have responded to all manner of prompts in all manner of ways.  You can enjoy the complete back catalogue here:

For this play-themed edition of Tangible Territory, I asked some of the regular Kick-Abouters to say a thing or two about importance of play and pick one example of their Kick-About submissions by way of an example.  Enjoy.

Graeme Daly: “Nowadays I would describe myself as a multidisciplinary artist, working across animation, illustration, photography and moving image.  Having a plethora of mediums to play and combine with can yield interesting results, a lot of which happens when I ‘Kick-About.’ My work for The Kick-About #48, in response to the work of textile artist Louise Baldwin, was one of those times when I went in blind, quickly combining household items into a concoction inside a jar, which I then lit with LED lights and photographed. This simple act of play produced miniature galaxies, and like many Kick-Abouts, left me experimenting long into the night and loving every second.”

Francesca Maxwell: “I have always been too serious in my art. Far too serious. I was artistically trained in the traditional Italian way: long hours of drawing, painting, sculpting, etching and studying Art History and Techniques under several masters and teachers, both dead and alive. How could I possibly play? Then I started to use my knowledge and skills for work, as a restorer, as a scenic painter, art director and designer in theatre and films.

Years later I realise how this seriousness was withholding my own creativity. It was a wall containing and restricting my art expression. So I began to play and, like Picasso, found the child in my creative endeavours, and with it the courage, the curiosity, the restlessness and the laughter in my art-work, or art-play.

The Kick-About came at just the right time of forced introspection and much needed playfulness; a wonderful space to explore, expand and dare to be mischievous. I have chosen my entry for the Kick About #9 “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” as my most playful artwork yet…”

Kerfe Roig: “My background is Fashion Design School, and then working as a textile/sweater designer in the NYC garment center for 40 years.  Now I’m retired and can make what I want. I think any kind of creation is play.  I never map out what I’m going to do: even when I was working as a designer I always spent a lot of time just trying out different ideas.  There’s never just one solution to any design problem.  So in that respect, any time I’m creating I’m fooling around.  What results is always a surprise.  That’s the way I like it. The Kick-About #54 ‘Whirligig’ was a challenge for me in that it called for a three-dimensional response.  I had the idea right away to do something with birds. I can’t tell you the steps I took to get there. I just keep going until I get something that works.”

James Randall: “Play is having time to wander physically/mentally and to respond to random internal impulses. A primal zone where ideas emerge seemingly from nowhere and combine in endless ways. It is quixotic. It is important as it can be the impetus to questioning the world around us and the ways we interact personally and societally.  My Kick-About choice is the work I made for The Kick-About #71 ‘Christo & Jeanne-Claude’

Gary Thorne: “I’m choosing The Kick-About #43: The Night before Christmas. With no clear intention, I picked up my favourite Pelican fountain pen and began the repetitive process of printing out the poem, on to lightweight A4 card. Upon completion, and wishing to counter the banality, I rewrote the poem in a loose graffiti style, which proved less mind-numbing.  Still clueless of the intention, and days later in woodland, I happened upon a perfectly formed towering evergreen, which triggered making a sculptural form. I foraged local willow, the right material yet it threw up the lovely challenge of a delicate balancing-act. This kit is annually unpacked, artfully re-balanced, switched-on, and joyously features across the twelve days of Christmas.”

Jan Blake: “I initially trained as a Teacher of Painting and Printmaking, followed by a post grad at the Slade in Theatre Design. On moving to Bristol, I transferred my skills to accepting commissions to make aerial sculptures for public spaces and particularly health centres. Working in contemporary dance was my passion and I am inspired by movement, colour and sound, man-made or of the natural world. Latterly, encouraged by The Kick-About during COVID, and by my own unscripted enjoyment of ‘playing’ rather than the stress of working to dead-lines and clients’ whims, my personal work is evolving.  The Kick-About is a deadline, yes, yet the joy of seeing what other minds have created is an enormous bonus without the stress, just encouragement and joy – and my playful pick comes from The Kick-About #56 – For Drummers Only

Marion Raper: “After thinking about the role of play in creative activity, I decided upon The Kick-About #31 – Lotte Reiniger. I made and decorated a miniature theatre with little models of the owl and the pussycat, included on the stage. Perhaps it was inspired by the many childhood creations I used to make. I was always involved in some type of project: plaster of Paris models for bazaars, papier-mache masks for school plays, creating scrapbooks or drawing fashion cartoons all over my books. I really did have a great time!

Thinking about it I should have been encouraged to go to an Art College but instead (as it was still the swinging 60s) I headed for London to work in one of the large stores with a promise of a half day release to learn window display. However, £8 a week barely covered my train fare, so I didn’t last very long. It was not a complete disaster  though as I got a job in the City which turned out to be the most fun time of my life and after work I could now afford to indulge myself in lots of Evening Classes such as lace making, pottery, patchwork, quilting etc and later I did a 3 year part time City and Guilds course in embroidery. Fabulous!”

Vanessa Clegg: “As for my training and background, well… starting from fine art painting, then moving into the world of animation, followed by theatre and film… which makes The Kick-About the best possible vehicle for all these disciplines and enabled the opportunity to think laterally without being over tight or perfectionist about the result.  It is, after all, a chance to experiment without judgement. This is a refreshing extension of my creative practice which involves risk taking in the use of materials but not necessarily the lightness of subject. The two approaches, both of which involve play, meld to create the work I do, and my choice is from The Kick-About #17 ‘Andante quasi lento e contabile’ – a mini mystery with a touch of fairy tale.”

Phil Gomm: “The Kick-About is a lot like knocking on doors and seeing if your mates are coming out to play.  When I put a new prompt out into the ether, I never really know who is going to pick it up and run with it, or where it might lead them.  This is surely the fun of it.  I’m plumping for The Kick-About #73 ‘Cephalopod’, not least because it’s an example of how even a single word is enough to get us running around together.  By way of my response, I made a short film (I wasn’t expecting to), which began life as a few marker pen squiggles on a single bathroom tile. In another context, what came next would have been called research and development. In truth, I was mucking about…”

Click on the image to watch Somewhere An Octopus Is Dreaming (2023) by Phil Gomm

In conclusion:

Jumpers for goalposts originates from a common childhood scenario where children playing football would use their clothing as goalposts when official ones were not present.  More broadly, it means finding a creative solution or adapting to the circumstances at hand instead of waiting for perfect or ideal conditions. A kick-about typically refers to an informal, casual game of football wherein participants play for recreation, fun, and exercise.  The rules are flexible, allowing for a relaxed and inclusive playing experience, but perhaps my three years of ‘kicking it about’ can illuminate some guiding principles for catalysing creativity through play: or rather, this is what my playmates have taught me:

  • Embrace Playfulness: Allow yourself to let loose and play with your creative ideas.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things.
  • Embrace Spontaneity: Avoid overthinking and embrace spontaneous creativity. Let ideas emerge naturally and respond to random impulses.
  • Break Free from Seriousness: Don’t be too serious in your art. Playful creativity can unlock new levels of creativity and inspiration.
  • Don’t Delay Doing: Avoid postponing your creative endeavours. Jump into your projects and start creating.
  • Share Your Work: Don’t be shy to share your creations.
  • Stay Curious and Courageous: Cultivate curiosity in your art and stay open to exploring different mediums and techniques. Be courageous in your creative choices, and don’t be afraid to take risks.
  • Enjoy the Process: Enjoy the process of creating, experimenting, and discovering new possibilities.
  • Find the Balance: Strike a balance between structure and freedom in your creative process.
  • Follow Your Impulses: Trust your artistic instincts and follow your creative impulses. The unexpected can lead to delightful and inspiring results.

Phil Gomm is a UK-based artist, writer, filmmaker, creative consultant, educator and learning designer, who does a bunch of interesting stuff with lots of different people because a) it makes him happy and b) it keeps him on his toes. In the not-so dim and distant past, Phil was a course leader for undergraduate degree in film and animation and has since taught at the National Film & Television School, The Margate School, and is an adjunct Professor in Visual Storytelling and Photography at Woxsen University, Hyderabad. In other news, Phil is an award-winning writer, director and producer, with projects including producing two short animations for the BBC – Sleeper (2018), and When The Tides Went Down (2019) – and Red & The Kingdom Of Sound (2018), an animated adaptation of Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra (2018). Meanwhile, Phil is a practising artist (and hopes one day to be really, really good at it) and when he’s not kicking it about on his blog, he writes short fiction and essays on favourite things and unpleasant movies (which are sometimes the same thing). Phil’s day-job is creative learning design, which means he works with other people and their organisations to design, build and deliver engaging, immersive and rewarding learning experiences – instead of really boring ones.

More about Phil here:  https://philgomm.com https://ding.global https://reds-kingdom.blog