Rising Horizon

Rising Horizon is now open in The Scottish Gallery (Edinburgh) until 23rd February.

The exhibition features over 150 oil paintings of sea – each with a horizon-line at a different level – as well as selected research pieces including the above (top right) Overpainting and Venice Lagoon Fragment. Each artwork has been created using recycled materials. Find out more by attending our In Conversation event on Saturday 9th February (the talk is free but ticketed).

Rising Horizon: Press & Publication

News Coverage

Rising Horizon featured in The Scotsman (above & opposite), The Herald and The Southern Reporter. Click here to read The Scotsman Magazine (Saturday 9th February 2019).

Water is central to David Cass’ art – it has been a focus ever since he left Edinburgh College of Art in 2010, as has his interest in painting on found objects. His most recent body of work, Rising Horizon, develops this productive vein in a continuing exploration of climate change – and the implication of all its devastating effects - as seen through rising sea levels. Here, on plastic food packaging, advertisement signs, pill tins, hook-on racing car numbers, old paint tins, he paints his seascapes, things of beauty in themselves, celebratory, but also more subtly exploring the terrifying fallout of the Anthropocene.

Cass has worked with themes of inundation and destruction for many years, creating paintings, sculptural pieces and overpaintings that imagine inundation on a vast scale, not least in his studies of Venice and Florence. There is something of the miniaturist in Cass’ work, a focusing in on the detail, no matter what the scale – and that scale ranges from the very small to the very large. He finds his objects at flea markets, salvage yards, antique fairs.

The reformed plastic and metal objects which he uses in this exhibition are a new departure for an artist who has made much of his previous work of, on and from found wood. Sometimes the recycling is not only in the use of the material as a surface upon which to paint, but a reuse of the object itself, as with his use of the oil paints in a 100 year old artist’s box, to paint on its deconstructed exterior. The links with his theme are telling.
— Critics Choice: The Herald, Saturday 2nd February 2019
Art North Website


Newly launched arts magazine Art North featured Rising Horizon on their blog in the run-up to the exhibition’s opening. Each post presents an artwork from the series – alongside texts addressing the concept behind the project – curated by the magazine’s editor Ian McKay. Follow posts on The Art North Blog.

…now, perhaps more than ever, we need artists such as Cass. Artists, that is, who can at once present us with moments of pleasure when looking upon their work, and yet at the same time offer us reference points for understanding the environmental catastrophe that our own actions represent for the very environment that supports and currently sustains us. That the two can co-exist at one and the same time in any single work (or the body of work as a whole), is commendable, I believe. Where once it was possible to ‘take in’ such art from a position of passivity or non-involvement with the wider backstory that often underpins the work, perhaps we should no longer see this as an option, nor a privilege that is wholly relevant for our times.
— Ian McKay: Editor, Art North


The Scottish Gallery has published both a physical and digital catalogue to accompany Rising Horizon, both of which feature on this website, and at scottish-gallery.co.uk/davidcass. The not-for-profit catalogue contains contributions from Professor David Reay of Edinburgh University’s School of GeoSciences, oceanographer and author John Englander and The Gallery’s own Guy Peploe. Purchase a copy in The Scottish Gallery, or by following the link opposite.

Please contact lisa@scottish-gallery.co.uk for further information or to order a signed edition.

Calleja, Callender, Cass

Beginnings of a Collaborative Project

Robert Callender,  Plastic Beach  (re-created items of beach waste: in paper, card and various other materials) 2003 – 2008 | Photo: Angus Bremner | Courtesy of the Estate of Robert Callender

Robert Callender, Plastic Beach (re-created items of beach waste: in paper, card and various other materials) 2003 – 2008 | Photo: Angus Bremner | Courtesy of the Estate of Robert Callender

Gozitan artist Joseph Calleja and I are bound by an enthusiasm for working with found (gathered, collected) materials. We are also each drawn to the image of water (sea) in our artworks. We’ve maintained a close creative dialogue over the past decade – since sharing studios whilst studying at Edinburgh College of Art – coming together now to respond to the installation work Plastic Beach by artist Robert Callender (1932—2011).

We’re currently in the early stages of producing a set of artworks in response to Callender’s sculpted facsimiles: focussing, like the late artist, on the coastline and sea. Many of our works will present the coast as a casualty of environmental change. We’ve set ourselves the challenge of approaching the topic from unconventional angles – placing importance on the periphery – using the image of a changing land-sea divide as a symbol to present our study. Thus, we have positioned ourselves on a metaphorical coast, the ideal vantage point.


Exhibition information will be announced in early 2019.


The coastline is one of the first victims of rising sea. We might think of sea-rise as an issue lapping at the feet of others’ – a far off, foreign concern. But this phenomenon will soon become local to us all. Oceanographer John Englander states ‘while many may think of the Maldives or Miami in terms of vulnerability, flooding will also eat away at the coast of Scotland. The stunning reality of rising sea level is that all coastal communities will be affected, both large cities and rural areas...’

Robert Callender,  Coastal Collection  (re-created items: in paper, card and various other materials) 2003 – 2008 | Photo: Angus Bremner | Courtesy of the Estate of Robert Callender

Robert Callender, Coastal Collection (re-created items: in paper, card and various other materials) 2003 – 2008 | Photo: Angus Bremner | Courtesy of the Estate of Robert Callender

Callender’s subjects are pieces of driftwood and various fragments, which come away from wrecked boats, and other material found on the high tide line. At first sight his sculptures look like ‘found objects’, and might almost be interpreted as deriving from Marcel Duchamp’s provocative relocation of various functional artefacts into the world of art. In fact they are incredibly plausible-looking, three dimentional facsimiles made from paper pulp, cardboard, and paint, pigmented and given a texture using peat, saw-dust, and wood ash. Callender has developed craft skills to such a degree that he produces near perfect copies, indistinguishable in the outer structure and surface from the originals. Hyper-realistic fabrications of sea debris, such as Callender’s, have an engrossing power, but they avoid becoming mystically romantic, despite the subject, because of their obsessive resemblance to the originals.
— Text extract by Andrew Patrizio for the publication A2B

Banner image: detail from Joseph Calleja’s new series Imcaqlaq. With thanks to An Talla Solais and Lateral Lab: our collaborators.

Illustration For Mark Haddon's New Novel

First Look

In exciting news this week, Mark Haddon’s first novel in seven years was announced. The Porpoise is an “ambitious and dazzling” book based on the epic tale of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Over land, air and sea, richly described layers of time and place fold and then unfold as this utterly unique story weaves its way. Publishers Chatto & Windus (an imprint of Penguin) describe an “exhilarating adventure, an immersive story” transporting readers from the present day to ancient times and back again.

Mark states “after The Pier Falls was published, my agent commented that I write novels in which nothing happens and short stories in which everything happens. In The Porpoise I seem to have combined both models and written a novel in which everything happens.”

Top left: digital prototype of the front cover | Top right: full width of the artwork to be converted into jacket form | Below: detail from Folds (gouache on wood, 2016—2018)

As a fan of Mark’s since childhood, I was humbled to have been approached by Suzanne Dean – the extremely gifted Creative Director of the Penguin Random House Group – to work with her on the artwork for the book. We used Folds as our foundation: completely re-working it layer by layer, mirroring the structure of the book itself. Lettering was hand-stencilled and painted in gouache, as were the motifs and stylised porpoise shown here. See more in the printed book next May. It’s been a real pleasure to work on this project, and I urge you all to pre-order.

“A deeply affecting and beautifully-written tale about a family – a woman, a man and a child – apparently lost to one another, who must journey through an unstable world, to find a place they can call home.”


Mark is author of the 2003 award-winning novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, which was subsequently adapted in 2012 for the stage. His most recent novel The Red House was released in 2012 and his debut collection of short stories – The Peir Falls – followed in 2016. I am currently listening to the latter whilst painting, brilliantly narrated by Clare Corbett & Daniel Weyman. Incidentally, I most often listen to books whilst painting.


The Porpoise is slated for publication on 9th May 2019.


RSA Benno Schotz Prize

I'm delighted to have received this Royal Scottish Academy award thanks to these stacks. The prize is awarded to the work of the ‘most promising’ artist under 35 working & living in Scotland. Stacks (previously titled Porthole Projections) was on show in Edinburgh in the Royal Scottish Academy.

Porthole Projection Progress

Made from stacked and screwed vintage cylindrical objects — from 8mm ciné canisters to shoe polish tins — the artworks are quite simply a series of imagined portholes, projected at varying heights. Built to be displayed on either wall or plinth, in each arrangement the cast shadow is key. The paintwork is in oil, as with every work in the Rising Horizon series. These works will be shown next in The Scottish Gallery as part of Rising Horizon.


Espejismos  | Resin  puddles  planted & excavated in the Almería arid-zone | 2014 – 2015

Espejismos | Resin puddles planted & excavated in the Almería arid-zone | 2014 – 2015

We've been gradually adding more behind-the-scenes content to www.davidcass.art since its re-design. You can now see pages of research, actions, experiments and drawings on this site, and my photography at www.davidcass.photos. My working process is often equally as important as the final outcome and so I've always tried to give a thorough overview of where it all comes from. From analogue images of my flea-market surface gathering, to documentation of a forest fire aftermath in the Almería arid-zone, it all filters through the final piece.

Rising Horizon  | Oil on tin seascapes in progress | 2018

Rising Horizon | Oil on tin seascapes in progress | 2018

Rain | A short film capturing the arrival of a water-tanker in an arid-zone | 2014 – 2015

El Bosque Encarnado | A collaboration with Gonzaga Gómez-Cortázar.

Courting The Muse: Tatha Gallery

I'm delighted to present a brand new collection of works for this Tatha Gallery exhibition. Courting the Muse is an exploration into each participating artist's relationship with their muse. I have assembled a set of ten new oil seascapes for the show as well as two 2017 watercolour pieces, in reference to the varied media I've used throughout my career to describe my muse – water.

Tatha Gallery, Newport-on-Tay, Fife.

March 31st – May 12th 2018

RWS Update

The following explains my decision to step down from the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS).

The RWS (London) is the oldest and most prominent watercolour society in the world. As that beacon, one would want for the society to embrace all the exciting possibilities the medium holds. We have an abundance of artists at all levels exploring the medium in the UK: producing a wealth of innovative work by painting in watercolour on a wide array of non-traditional surfaces, as I myself do. For its shows and competitions, the society will accept only watercolours painted on paper. Upon election as a RWS associate, one of my key aims was to advocate for a broadening of the acceptance criteria. My non-traditional approach and use of watercolour upon found-objects was, after all, one reason I was invited by the society for interview in the first instance.

Two proposals to the council over the last two years – that the RWS should consider expanding the range of accepted production materials – have been denied and finally rejected outright. Although I understand the desire to honour long-standing traditions within such an established society, I personally do not feel that this ethos is compatible with my own ever-evolving and experimental practice. I firmly believe that creativity and innovations should not be bound and restricted by tradition, but should be a founding basis for a sustainable and supportive culture and development of that same tradition. For this reason, and with regret, I have decided to leave.

Many positions come and go during an artist’s working life. Sometimes one must try something out in order to determine if there is space for it to sit in harmony with one’s methods of creation. As an artist and a collaborator I have always endeavoured to avoid situations where restriction exists. In my career thus far I have spent time exploring a variety of ventures in order to help extend my practice, find balance and learn new skills that feed into my principal output.

It is an honour to be recognised by such a prominent institution. Yet – as in many aspects of life – if a scenario is incompatible it shouldn’t be pursued against one’s principles simply because it is associated with a level of prestige. Leaving is a step forward.

Below image: paintings in (mostly) watercolour & gouache upon a variety of found surfaces: wood, antique canvas, stone, card & metal.

Online Store: Charity Water

David Cass + Charity Water

The majority of my artworks are either sold at exhibitions or by commission, though I do keep a stock of small-works & studies available for sale online. Generally, these are works that are not part of a current exhibition program and so there is no conflict with active projects.

Almost every artwork I've ever made has been concerned with water in some way...

...and through online sales I – we – can support a groundbreaking charity that has already secured safe water for 7,347,032 people in need. Each of the paintings available for sale here carries that gift of safe, clean water. Because nobody on earth should die from dirty water. Each sale made [via the above linked page] will provide at least one person safe water for life.

In collaboration with charity: water, each individual artwork description states exactly how many people your purchase will benefit through their incredible work.

If this concept has swayed your decision to make a purchase, then please make use of the following code at the checkout for free postage: WATERCOLOUR.


663 million people on our planet drink dirty and dangerous water. Actually, they don’t just drink it, they work for it. They invest hours every day. And not only does it keep them out of school, or take up time that they could be using to earn money for their family, it also kills them. That’s not an exaggeration. Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. But access to clean water changes that. Clean water improves health, gives kids more time in school, empowers women, boosts economies, and gives hope for a brighter future. Clean water changes everything.


Every artwork on this website – no matter the size – can be framed. Maximise the space occupied by a small work (such as a matchbox or postcard painting), or protect paper & card pieces from sunlight or dust. Below is a selection of recent (2017—2018) frames. Each frame is made specifically for each artwork, often using UV (invisible) glass.

Fluid Technique: Aesthetica Interview

Without exception, each of David Cass’ artworks describe water in some way. From straight depiction of seas or pools to exploration of environmental extremes in drought and inundation. His most recent works present the issues of modern day Venice in the face of rising sea levels and mass tourism. He works almost exclusively with found materials: as a type of alternative canvas on which to paint.

A: Would you say your creative process begins when sourcing your found objects?
DC: My artwork is heavily process based: the act of gathering is equally as important as the action of painting or pulling research together. Travelling to gather antique items and objects is, yes, the starting point: days spent hunting down old wooden items, often from flea markets or antique fairs in France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy … sourcing not only surfaces (substrates) on which to paint; but also inspiration from each location. Many of my artworks are site-specific. Some of my recent paintings of water were created using wooden materials (or paper ephemera) found in derelict homes in an arid-zone– abandoned due to a lack of water – thus pointing towards a process that is already in motion.

A: Do you have a clear concept in mind before finding your materials? Or do you let the materials lead the direction of the piece?
DC: By painting water (an endless motion) almost exclusively, I reference the past-lives of the objects with which I create my artworks. I use table-tops, doors, shutters, coffee-grinders and matchboxes to paint on: items used day-in-day-out, as part of a routine. A domestic ebbing and flowing. The manner in which I paint further enforces this theme: I work in layers, using deliberately repetitive marks, and so there is a clear link between surface and subject.

A: What is it about the nature of water that inspires you?
DC: Water lies at the core of all life, but so does balance. Water in abundance brings danger, yet when it’s in scant supply the same is true. My artworks aim to describe a semi-imaginary world, yet one which draws upon fact. This world is one that pulls past events to the present day, and does not distinguish between locations. In this world, sea-rise exists alongside desertification. Flooding exists alongside drought. Environmental extreme events from the previous century occur simultaneously to modern day extremes. Extremes being the operative word: for these works do not set out to convey the transient happy-medium, even if many of their aesthetics describe stillness.

A: How did your scholarship to Florence influence your practice?
DC: Primarily, the Royal Scottish Academy scholarship opened my eyes to Europe. To living and working on the continent, and bringing ideas home. Thematically, the scholarship introduced me to the history of a past environmental-event: a flood which devastated Florence in 1966. Since embarking upon a project exploring this catastrophic inundation, I’ve never looked back.

A: Your recent works have been concerned with the rising sea levels of modern day Venice. How do you aim to communicate this deeper level of ethical consideration within your work?
DC: My Venice project is a direct step on from my Florence flood investigation. Venice is Europe’s first clear victim of sea-rise: the city is the first to be almost completely inundated. Residents describe Venice as “dying amongst the waves of the Adriatic.”

Conversely, the Spanish province of Almería is the first European location to witness desertification. We are witnessing clear and scientifically proven environmental change in these locations. I aim to use these two opposite environments as a springboard, and basis for my work; which encapsulates painting, film, photography, documentation (digitalising of ephemera which relates to these settings) and writing. The result is not only an exploration of “wet” and “dry”, but also a poetic investigation of issues which will soon expand from being of local concern, to being widespread. My works range from being studies of fields in which crops have failed in Almería (and interviews with affected locals); to being painted examinations of Venice’s rising waterline or polluted lagoon surface, and the impact the rise is having on homes (and inhabitants).

A: You had an exhibition at The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh, earlier this year – could you talk about the work displayed and how this show has helped to further your career?
DC: In January 2017 I had my fourth solo show with The Scottish Gallery. The gallery (in my hometown) took me on at my degree-show in 2010. Every artwork I’ve created since graduation aims to be connected through this illustration of water, either in its presence or its absence. As my practice has developed, simple depictions of ocean (transferred from hand to rejuvenated surfaces) have multiplied and increased in size, age and ambition. My painted bodies of water have filled and risen: thicker marks and more permanent paints have become flooding and over-spilling. From imagination in the case of my Overpaintings, through to historical fact in the case of my Florence, Venice and Paris flood works. I’ve exhibited key stages of the development process with The Scottish Gallery, and my next show with them will be in early 2019.

A: What projects are you working on currently?
DC: I’m currently spending time researching and sorting through unrealised project ideas. Most of this takes the form of film and photography (often my media of choice as a starting-point).

Scottish Gallery Publications

I'm delighted to be featured in these two new books published by The Scottish Gallery this month to mark their 175th anniversary. Purchase a copy through their website.

175 features a new oil painting 'Split'. This work illustrates a divided English Channel. I'll leave this with you to interpret.

Portrait of a Gallery features my Venice works. "These fragments of beauty are observations of the mundane, they paint a picture of time passing, and of the multi-layered past that is Venice’s history, the aesthetic quality of each painting, a subject worthy in itself." Tommy Zyw. These works reference the rich catalogue of Scottish artists who have made Venice their subject.

Connections: Tatha Gallery

David Cass's works exhibited alongside Jenny Pope's during Connections

David Cass's works exhibited alongside Jenny Pope's during Connections

From www.tathagallery.com | "As a celebration for our 3rd Anniversary we bring to you an engaging mix of established and emerging artists, showcasing the best in Painting and Sculpture. Introducing seven artists with work so diverse yet there is a weaving thread to entice and enlighten. They all, in their own way help us see and make a deeper connection with the world we live in, both internally and externally. As with the seasons this exciting spring show takes us on an evocative journey."

David Cass | Tatha Gallery

Winsor & Newton: Water Paper Paint

Earlier this month I gave a live painting demonstration for Winsor & Newton, during the exhibition Water Paper Paint. The show's been a great success so far and finishes this coming Saturday (22nd April).

Four of my Florence in Flood watercolours are on display, plus one gouache seascape. All works are framed.

Live-painitng was a new experience for me, Winsor & Newton will release footage of the event soon. Thanks to all those who came along!

David Cass Royal Watercolour Society
David Cass I
David Cass II

Joan Eardley: 'Foreign Familiar' Curated by David Cass

I'm thrilled to be able to include Joan Eardley's 1948 Florence watercolour in Foreign / Familiar.

The works that form this exhibition are observations of the foreign ‘everyday’ through often overlooked architecture and city elements, and indeed scenarios that might not spring immediately to mind upon consideration of these locations. This is taken to a further extent in Eardley’s ‘Building, Palazzo Type’, for it was not only in Glasgow that the artist sought out derelict or dilapidated built-environment subjects. In this watercolour the noble proportions of a Florentine riverbank palazzo stand — quite unfamiliarly to the ancient structure — on unstable foundations, at a precarious angle, the rubble of restoration work all around, and with another isolated (spared) building standing exposed behind.

Joan Eardley:  Building, Palazzo Type  (1948) Gouache 49 x 42 cm

Joan Eardley: Building, Palazzo Type (1948) Gouache 49 x 42 cm

Eardley here is documenting the extreme restoration works necessitated by the devastation Florence endured at the end of the Second World War. The Germans had blown-up buildings along the river and each of the bridges that crossed it, except for Ponte Vecchio, which Officer Gerhard Wolf had ordered to be spared for personal reasons. Eardley’s watercolour depicts Piazza di Santa Maria Sopearno — along Lungarno Torrigiani and just behind Ponte Vecchio — and focusses on the still-standing Palazzo Tempi. This work therefore celebrates this steadfast ochre palazzo, one of many that line the riverbank, built some-time in the early fifteenth century and then restored three hundred years later to take the form that Eardley describes. Perhaps spared because of its close proximity to Ponte Vecchio, this beaming structure — owned by successive Florentine noble-families — has stood resolute throughout a turbulent history of siege, political struggle, war and repeated flooding*. Eardley’s painting presents this bastion as etched into that same history and memory, as familiar to the city’s inhabitants today as it would have been four hundred years ago.

*During the lifetime of Palazzo Tempi, Florence has endured seventeen small floods, sixteen large floods, and seven exceptional ones: most recently that of 1966, as seen in [Cass’s] Florence in flood project.

Strade Allagate: Last Few Drawings Available

From March 24th I'll be exhibiting in WATER PAPER PAINT: a Royal Watercolour Society exhibition. I've framed four of my Florence in flood watercolours, and I'm also making studies from the series available for sale directly from me, unframed. You can purchase one of these (roughy A4 in size) watercolour studies for £PoA each, with free worldwide postage.

Request or reserve: info@davidcass.co.uk / 07714005084

Project Complete: Perimetri Perduti

A huge thank you to everyone who came along to The Fruitmarket Gallery last Friday evening (20th January). I'm incredibly appreciative. We heard an extremely well considered talk from Edinburgh's Lord Provost, who described the reasons behind presenting this Florence project in Edinburgh, and from George Donald RSA, a senior Academician at the Royal Scottish Academy.

Please feel free to contact me directly for further information on the project, via the contact page. The Fruitmarket Bookshop in Edinburgh stocks a small number of the books. Thank you Allison Everett for such fantastic organisation.

This event marked the completion of this four year project, though themes explored in this topic will remain present in my studio practice.

Book Launch in The Fruitmarket Gallery

On January 20th, I'll present Perimetri Perduti (first launched in Florence in November 2016) in The Fruitmarket Gallery's bookshop & café. Copies of the book will be available to browse and purchase. There will be guest speakers - including Edinburgh's Lord Provost, and the Italian Consul General for Scotland - as well as projected archival footage and a small set of framed studies from the book. And, free drinks.


Patricia Emison: Pelàda Review

Ex ungue leonem the proverb proclaims: from the claw [one comprehends] the [whole] beast. David Cass’s Venetian paintings operate with similar inductive power, providing us a set of visual microhistories of this redolent city.

On wooden panels lush with palpable paint—corals, grey-blues, and reddish browns that invoke the plastered facades and steely water—we encounter the quotidian surfaces of many-layered Venice, details of deliberate though understated design and, equally so, of the multifarious accidents inflicted on weathering plaster and stone. Doorbells and nizioleti (those white rectangles on which street names, or directions, are inscribed), iron reinforcing clamps in walls, the characteristically red house numbers, a cropped bit of window-sill or door frame—all these offer us relief from Ruskin’s daunting invocation of the Doge’s Palace as “the central building of the world” and of Venice as the crossroads of world cultures. We are allowed to reconstruct Venice from the traces of design so thoroughly imbued into surfaces that seemingly random fragments acquire status as compositions. The experience resembles that of wandering the city itself as disoriented (despite the frequent directional arrows on the walls) pedestrians, blinkered amidst tall alleyways fixating as we amble on the manifold messages left at eye-level. The ubiquity of water prevents it from orienting us; we meander, both foot and eye.

The forms and the letters jostle on their panels, re-enacting the Renaissance paragone, the comparison between the visual and the verbal. The painterliness of Cass’s surfaces mimics the textures of rough painted plaster or, alternatively, invokes the famed impasto of Titian and his fellow artists. At times the free working of the paint verges on the non-representational, at which point, ironically, the insistent line weeded out of the painter’s repertoire by Giorgione (following Leonardo), is reasserted by Cass, in his case the sharp horizontal that separates water from wall, liquid from solid, a line that threatens to dissolve more readily than it resolutely defines.

Venice is the antipode to modernism, a place of peeling surfaces and eroding thresholds, balanced precariously on those unseen and untrusted wooden piles, pounded into mud by the first settlers, refugees from the mainland. Now its inhabitants flee back to the mainland, while the Adriatic threatens to take back what it once had lent. Brigadoon-like, Venice has both travelled through the centuries as though preternaturally shielded from modernity, and has now reached a point of particular danger. Cass’s work heralds the deterioration and, in subtle ways, highlights the plight of the sparse natives, their names still affixed to many of the doorbells and their starkly simple protests against the cruise ships inscribed on the walls. His paintings both acknowledge Venice’s timelessness and accede to Venice’s status as highly endangered—though primarily they allow us to see the city, a city so freighted with the memories, as a place where art can still be made, on the basis of seeing rather than remembering, and moreover, where art can be made in a distinctly contemporary mode, finding abstract qualities in the empirical world and empirical qualities in abstraction.

David Cass conjoins the randomness of the snapshot with the picturesque allure of paint and paper textures, the blankness of surface with the evocativeness of names and numbers, and the stillness of nature morte with the promise of a Venice that might again become vibrant.

Patricia Emison is the author of several books on the Italian Renaissance, most recently The Italian Renaissance and Cultural Memory (Cambridge University Press), and Leonardo (Phaidon Colour Library).

Exhibition News

The paintings that make this exhibition are windows through which an alternative look at Venice is offered. These exclusively front-facing works present an exaggerated two-dimensional aspect and feature no glimpse of sky, nor do they describe grand façades. Many are paintings upon paintings — their previous brushwork, marks and details evident under the surface — echoing the actual textures of the city’s layered hide. The majority of the pieces aim to reflect what is most fittingly labelled ‘everyday’ Venice.

Historian Fernand Braudel describes a city’s history as ‘often present in a detail’. These oil paintings (many of which are painted upon aged papers, pasted onto board) examine a complex city through a lens that focusses on the smallest elements and components. For it is by way of the minutiae — the fragments of Venice’s skin — that the city’s story might be told and the layers of life revealed (as illustrations of doorplates, shop-signs, and buzzers demonstrate). Bricked-up doors, signs upon signs, nameplates over nameplates, an erosion spreading from the water up, and salt-assaulted bricks: “Venetian houses as we see them today are the product of countless transformations, reflecting the cultural, social and historical mutations of The Serenissima” [Giulia Foscari: Elements of Venice]. What period in the history of Venice are we witnessing now, as Venetians rapidly leave their home city?

Many of these works look down, becoming isolated examinations of the zone in which canal meets building (home). Venice is a reptile struggling to shed: while its upper skin has no chance of renewal, thanks to increasingly inelegant pastings designed principally to direct tourists, its lower parts rely on restless rising water to help loosen an uncomfortable outer crust.

Venice has been (and is being) ill-treated on all fronts. Italy (and Venice, specifically) is regarded the world over as a place of tremendous cultural importance. We have witnessed just how quickly and catastrophically Italian towns — and the myriad architectural pearls they are made of — can ‘disappear’, as in the case of the 2016 earthquake destruction in the centre of the country. Venice is today being destroyed not only by its age and the weight of all it has lived through, upon its plunged wooden-pile foundations, but also by the inundation of visitors, water taxis and giant cruise liners that visit each and every day. On top of that, Venice is also a direct and vulnerable victim of rising sea levels: it is fact that global sea rise is impacting the Adriatic. In February 2017 (mere days after the completion of this exhibition) UNESCO will decide whether or not to place Venice on its list of endangered heritage sites. Then, there’s no turning back.

I am aware that as a visitor, I have little right to comment or speak on behalf of the city’s inhabitants. But as an environmentally conscious artist, I consider it my responsibility to mention the various stages of research that go into each body of work. In a recent Pulitzer Centre podcast, many Venetians who remain claim to feel that their city no longer belongs to them. One describes Venice as a “dying city amongst the waves of the Adriatic”. Venetians are concerned that they will soon end up being seen as an embarrassment in the eyes of the world, if government does not right its wrongs and atone for ignoring (often in the most despicable of ways) these issues, if residents do not stop leaving their homes, if the city succumbs absolutely to its celebrity status.

Street names and directional signs (often vandalised so as to mislead tourists) are sprayed gracelessly to buildings in oversized stencilled font; harsh stabilising chemicals are injected into mortar; anchors are stapled through stone to grab hold of subsiding walls; agitated water eats away at the city’s ground floors. Venice’s skin therefore — the surface that we see — is in a constant state of transformation, and almost all of today’s modifications are negative and irreversible. Contemporary artists can either ignore the reality of the Venice of today and nostalgically recreate a past that no longer exists, or meet it. And though the paintings assembled here inadvertently celebrate a certain brand of crumbling aesthetic charm (the style to which I am most drawn), at their core lies a more serious message. The paintings that form ‘Pełàda’ are observations: they celebrate the joy of the everyday through the most mundane of functional and often overlooked elements.  At the same time, many of the pieces — in particular, those that illustrate the waterline — aim to establish themselves within the consciousness of the viewer, jolting the brain and asking for reconsideration as something more than a decorative outer coat of pastel-shaded skin.