Everything needs to change...

…and it has to start today

Greta Thunberg

Reading List:
Exploring Topics Raised in
As Coastline is to Ocean


Some 600 miles south of Ullapool [where our exhibition has just closed] the idea for this post came after visiting Olafur Eliasson’s Tate Modern exhibition In Real Life.

London – where I live currently – is a city at risk in this time of climate crisis: facing flooding, water shortages and major subsidence. By 2050, summer temperatures will be on average 5.9 degrees hotter than they are today, pushing the recent – and irresponsibly media-celebrated – “record” temperatures well into the 40s.

The city’s art and culture therefore – its public events – now carry a heavier responsibility. Though this is by no means true of London alone; locations around the world will be – or are already being – affected by climate change.

Perhaps most scrutiny is applied to those already flying a green flag, such as Eliasson, now considered a beacon of the environmental art-form.

Eliasson’s In Real Life is a dynamic (if not quite immersive) journey through earth, ice and fire, but I regret leaving the exhibition without sensing a call to arms, despite visiting thrice. There was no urgent plea communicated, not to us nor our policy makers, and I was put off by the frantic scramble to capture its energetic curation by way of selfie and Instagram-story. Nevertheless, a bit of extra research – mostly provided by Eliasson himself via his Studio Alphabet – confirms the artist as an environmental advocate of the highest order. It might just be that the key works on show failed to move me personally.

The peripheral components of In Real Life piqued my curiosity more than the touted blue-chip artworks. These include the idea to ethically transform the menu of Tate’s restaurant; his Little Sun project; and (though this hasn’t been stated as a deciding factor) the artist’s influence in Tate’s declaration of gallery-wide climate emergency.

The most impressive of these extras comes in the form of a research wall. Here, the artist presents his alphabet, sharing with us important articles, books, artworks and projects linked to our changing Earth; many with transformative powers. This research wall has inspired the following reading list. It’s significantly smaller than Eliasson’s, but, contains a considered selection of books which have been important to me in recent months, and during the creation of As Coastline is to Ocean.

Contributions and recommendations also come from my fellow exhibitor Joseph Calleja; from the gallery team; and from marine scientist Ailsa McLellan who works to raise awareness of issues facing Scotland's coastline (Ailsa gave a talk during As Coastline is to Ocean on the importance of our “underwater forests”).

An Talla Solais has a history of environmentally attentive exhibitions, and the Ullapool community is particularly attuned to the to-and-fro between land and sea. In our short time there, we’ve heard not only of Ailsa’s talk, but of beach cleans, litter-cube building sessions, conservation workshops, a marine festival, a Photofest on the topic of Borders, an ecology focussed writing course and a workshop to create climate strike banners (for the International Climate Strike on 20th September). Ullapool is a forward-looking community, defining environmental restraint and respect.


I have found that any perceived changes in my life have occurred because of my curiosity…

Robert Callender


The following reading list mentions seventeen titles, united in their (wide ranging) exploration of environmental themes: from scientific commentary on the climate crisis, to poetic exploration of our coastlines. While not all of the artworks on show in As Coastline is to Ocean aim to reference environmental change directly, my own studio work in recent months has evolved into subtle campaign around the climate crisis. My hope is that I can bring my audience along with me as I learn more on the issues facing our Earth: the following list is one effort to achieve this. In following the science behind climage change, we better understand how we have reached this point, and what must be done to harness our rising global average temperature.


No One is Too Small to Make a Difference
Greta Thunberg

Robert Macfarlane

The Uninhabitable Earth
David Wallace

The Water will Come
Jeff Goodell

Brave New Arctic
Mark C. Serreze

Out of Ice
Elizabeth Ogilvie + Warrilow, Patrizio, Heron, Ingold, Arends, A.Ogilvie, Decker, Macfarlane

This is not a Drill
Extinction Rebellion

The Human Planet
Mark Maslin + Simon Lewis

Edward Burtynsky

A2B: An Artist’s Journey
Robert Callender + Ogilvie, Patrizio, Dunn, Warrilow, Johnston

Arctic Dreams + Horizon
Barry Lopez

The Unnatural History of the Sea
Callum Roberts

The Essential Guide to Rockpooling
Julie Hatcher + Steve Trewhella

Rock Pool: Extraordinary Encounters Between the Tides
Heather Buttivant

Katie Paterson

Hotel Absence
Fiete Stolte

Our future depends upon it

The first recommendation is the shortest, but packs the biggest punch. No One is Too Small to Make a Difference gathers the history-making speeches of young activist Greta Thunberg. In 2018, fifteen-year-old Thunberg decided not to go to school one day. Her actions ended up sparking a global movement for action on the climate crisis, inspiring millions to go on strike, forcing governments to listen, and earning her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. The book is a rally-cry for why we must all wake up and fight to protect the planet, no matter who we are or how powerless we may feel. Thunberg is also quoted in the title of this blog entry; we must all be curious in order to influence change.

“If our house was falling apart, you wouldn’t hold three emergency Brexit summits, and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and ecosystems.”


The next book offered as compliment to As Coastline is to Ocean is Underland by Robert Macfarlane. The book is both panorama, and intense study. Despite the fact that Macfarlane has focused his gaze on what lies beneath, the book soars. The locations Macfarlane traverses range from a dark-matter research station in a salt mine beneath the Yorkshire coast, to Paris’ subterranean labyrinths. From caves in the Mendips; to Olkiluoto Island on the Bothnian sea, where nuclear waste will see out its half-lives; and from the from the rivers that twist beneath the Carso plateau, to the fjords and glaciers of the Arctic, where once buried secrets are now exposed as ice departs.

These extraordinary tunnellings are merely springboards (peripheral vantage points) for discussions of a deeper and more emotional nature: the relationship between us and the Earth; and our place in what he describes as “deep time”. The author’s observations on land, coast and sea are far-reaching, with an inquisitive gaze similar to that of Eliasson’s. Macfarline makes clear that we have passed a turning point, that the climatic consequences of our rapid abuse of the Earth are now upon us.

Asides from sharing many of the environmental observations made in As Coastline is to Ocean, Macfarline also puts into words something Joseph and I discuss often: “trace fossils”. As artists working with found objects, we embrace what a collector might term “loveable scars.” In our exhibition booklet, Joseph writes of the workbench he inherited from his grandfather, etched with the work-scores, gouges and marks of three generations of Calleja. Macfarlane describes these as “the marks that the dead and the missed leave behind. Handwriting on an envelope; the wear on a wooden step left by footfall; the memory of a familiar gesture by someone gone, repeated so often it has worn its own groove in both air and mind: these are trace fossils.”

“Sometimes, in fact, all that is left behind by loss is trace – and sometimes empty volume can be easier to hold in the heart than presence itself.”

Macfarline labels us as custodians of an “empire of things … with its own unruly afterlife.” Just one such example is the finding of “plastiglomerates” – a new form of Anthropocene stone. These could be seen as the evolution of Robert Callender’s depictions of plastic beach-waste, formed of sun-melted plastic, landscape debris and organic matter. I wonder if Callender might have sculpted plastiglomerates as the next step on from Coastal Collection and Plastic Beach.

Bleaker in its outlook is The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace. Shifting between the darkly humorous – “eating organic is nice; but if your goal is to save the climate, your vote is much more important” – to despair over the United Nation’s prediction that we are on track for 4.5 degrees of warming by 2100 (following the path we are on today). Wallace serves us with point after point on where we’re headed. From the insurmountable:

“…we do not yet know how much suffering global warming will inflict. But the scale of devastation could make that debt enormous, by any measure. Larger, conceivably, than any historical debt owed one country, or one people by another, almost none of which are ever properly re-payed…”

To the baffling:

“…air conditioners and fans already account for 10% of global electricity consumption. Demand is expected to triple or perhaps quadruple by 2050. According to one estimate, the world will be adding 700 million A.C. units by just 2030. Another study suggests that by 2050 there will be, around the world, more than 9 billion cooling appliances of various kinds…”

You’re reading this blog post online, maybe on a phone, and Wallace has depressing commentary there too: “…much of the infrastructure of the internet could be drowned by sea level rise in less than two decades; and most of the smartphones we use to navigate it are today manufactured in Shenzhen, which, sitting right in the Pearl Delta, is likely to be flooded soon as well...”

Referencing The Water will Come by Jeff Goodell, Wallace runs through just a few of the monuments – in some cases, whole cultures – that will be transformed into underwater relics this century.

“Any beach you’ve ever visited … Facebook’s HQ … the Kennedy Space Centre … the US’s largest naval base … the entire nations of the Maldives and Marshall Islands … most of Bangladesh … all of Miami beach, and much of the south Florida paradise … St Mark’s Basilica in Venice … Venice Beach in Santa Monica … the Pennsylvania White House and Winter White House…”

Wallace observes that we’ve spent the millennia since Plato enamoured with a single drowned culture: Atlantis. “If Atlantis ever existed, it was probably a small archipelago of Mediterranean islands with a population of a few thousand.” By 2100, if we do not halt emissions, as much as 5% of the world’s population will be flooded every single year.

The answers to the key questions of our era – how much hotter will it get? By how much will sea levels rise? – are entirely human, that is, entirely political. How do we respond to the threats we are facing? We must urge our governments to act.

In Brave New Arctic by Mark C. Serreze we shift the focus to our planet’s thermostat – ground zero of climate-change – the Arctic. While this book is of a more scientific nature, what Serreze writes on the future of the polar region is disconcerting. Serreze describes a region which is out of control. Ice is shrinking and thinning, and we are facing ice-free Arctic summers. By 2050 – safely assuming no drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the immediate future – the Arctic Ocean will likely have little or no sea-ice at summer’s end.

“It is a foregone conclusion, that, in future generations – whether on the ocean or on the land – the Arctic will have much less ice. Winter darkness will still bring low temperatures and with them snow and ice, but this winter cold will have significantly faded … the snow that falls and the ice that grows in winter, will not survive the stronger summer warmth. That the Arctic Ocean will become free of sea ice in late summer and early autumn is a given. The only question is how quickly it will happen. Which will depend on the relative rolls of a warming atmosphere and a warming ocean; the vagaries of natural climate variability and how quickly greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise.”

As someone who has spent his life reading Arctic data, even Serreze was taken aback when the region “reared up and roared.”

“Some of the greatest unknowns revolve around the impact of a transformed Arctic … will a warmer Arctic have significant impact on weather patterns on lower latitudes? Will this effect agricultural patterns? How quickly will sea level rise? Given prospects of increased shipping and extraction of resources, how much busier will the Arctic become? And, will this lead to conflicts? These are questions that should concern us all.”

Out of Ice

What binds those mentioned thus far is a desire to raise awareness, to challenge our thinking, to urge communal action on environmental change. Artist Elizabeth Ogilvie questions through powerful display, whilst still inviting us in personally. Like Serreze, Ogilvie looks north. Most recently, through her impressive project (and publication) Out of Ice. Ogilvie – wife to our fellow exhibitor, the late Robert Callender – has spent her working life exploring water (though perhaps it’s more fitting to say simply her life, for she’s had a preoccupation with water since childhood). In recent years, her focus has been on ice.

Andrew Patrizio says of Ogilvie that she encourages people to see, not just to look, “to pay attention in a mindful way with the possibility that they then might act.” And, in the same way Robert Macfarlane describes the work of author Barry Lopez as “begin[ing] in the aesthetic”, yet “tend[ing] to the ethical”, the same is true of Ogilvie, who engages deeply with the topic of climate crisis, working on wide ranging collaborations, creating stunning water and film installations. Her work is part documentary, part poetry. The book she has co-produced includes insight into Inuit life, on building an igdlo, on prepping a sled; relations between ice and soil in the Anthropocene (that soil is “sealed … beneath layers of concrete and asphalt … banished to subterranean realms”); and crescendos in a series of pages exploring her exhibition of the same name in Ambika P3 gallery.

As I myself have aimed to do in several of my As Coastline is to Ocean artworks, Ogilvie approaches ice loss from peripheral vantage points. Though, it would be too much of a generalisation to state that this is a key feature of her work. She is inclusive in her commentary, offering wide ranging perspectives, in order to give her audience a more immersive experience.

“As the world looks north for indicators of its future, art gives the landscape visual and exportable form, allowing it to serve as beacon, message and reflection” – says Julie Decker in her contribution to Out of Ice. On discussing Ogilvie’s installation at Ambika P3 gallery, in which “the ice melted faster than expected” due to the body heat of guests, gallery director Katharine Heron states “…unlike the melting of the great ice caps in the polar areas, which too continues so much faster than anticipated, these blocks could indeed be replaced.”

In a change of pace, we move now to This is not a Drill by Extinction Rebellion. While Ogilvie’s work is deeply considered, to the last detail, XR present themselves quite differently, yet no less endearingly. Ogilvie draws her audience in sensitively, while XR aims to do the exact opposite, though of course, they are not presenting themselves as artists. The message is the same, however. We must act.

This is not a Drill is a short must-read for anyone unsure of XR’s aims or approaches. The book is is sincere and passionate, whilst also being informative. These are ordinary citizens who truly care, presenting themselves in unvarnished fashion, embracing the imperfections that such mass protest involves.

As the jacket-sleeve says:

“Extinction Rebellion is a global activist movement of ordinary people, demanding action from Governments. This is a book of truth and action. It has facts to arm you, stories to empower you, pages to fill in and pages to rip out, alongside instructions on how to rebel - from organising a roadblock to facing arrest.”

The beginnings of the Anthropocene will feed into the future stories we tell about ourselves and of human development.

“Human impacts are at the level of dictating the future of the only place in the universe where life is known to exist. This is a historic declaration...”

The Human Planet by Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis helps us to define the Anthropocene, and how it came about. That we are responsible for the rapid decline in our planet’s health is in no doubt…

“If you compressed the whole of Earth’s unimaginably long history into a single day, the first humans that looked like us would appear at less than four seconds to midnight. From our origins in Africa, we spread and settled on all the continents except Antarctica. Earth now supports 7.5 billion people, living on average longer and physically healthier lives than at any time in our history. In this brief time, we have created a globally integrated network of cultures of immense power. On this journey, we have also exterminated wildlife, cleared forests, planted crops, domesticated animals, released pollution, created new species and even delayed the next ice-age. Although geologically recent, our presence has had a profound impact on our home planet. We humans are not just influencing the present, for the first time in Earth’s 4.5 billion year history, a single species is increasingly dictating its future. In the past, meteorites, super volcanoes, and the slow tectonic movements of the continents radically altered the climate of Earth, and the life-forms that populated it. Now, there is a new force of nature changing earth – homo sapiens – the so called wise people”.

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, we have released 2.2 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – increasing levels by 44%. This is acidifying the world’s oceans and raising Earth’s temperature. Human actions are altering the global carbon cycle at a faster rate than when Earth transitioned from glacial, to inter-glacial conditions.

What we are doing to the Earth is unusual in the context of all of Earth’s history. As an example, “we humans have altered the global nitrogen cycles so fundamentally that the nearest realistic geological comparison is an event almost 2.5 billion years ago.”

We have known since the 1800s that our actions have clear and damaging environmental impacts, but corporations have continued to snub warning signs.

The chapter Fossil Fuels: the Second Energy Revolution is perhaps the book’s most important, succinctly summarising how we humans have ended up where we are today.

Edward Burtynsky’s Anthropocence is an ideal illustrative companion to The Human Planet.

Anthropocene by Burtynsky
Robert Callender A2B An Artist's Journey Pages

Our fellow exhibitor, Robert Callender, is quoted as having said of his installation Plastic Beach – in the publication A2B: An Artist’s Journey – that it’s “for our children’s children’s children.” That it was designed “to draw attention in a graphic way to the grave state of our coastline. The horrific assortment of plastic is quite alarming. Debris is both commercial and domestic but primarily commercial, reflecting the nature of our society.”

Based on all that I’ve learned about Robert, I don’t think he would have appreciated me summing his work up in a blog post, so I won’t attempt to. Though it’s precisely because of reading A2B that I’ve been able to generate an impression of a man I haven’t met, yet whose work I have held foremost in mind for many months whilst working on As Coastline is to Ocean. The clarity and honesty that characterise his works, processes and indeed his life are potent in A2B.

Callender expressed the desire to produce this edition during the short illness leading to his death in 2011. The edition documents his key works, projects, research and studio. Encased within a beautifully designed folio, A2B includes a series of bound volumes, prints and a DVD, telling of his compelling vision. Callender’s work is highly attuned, matched in quality and depth by that of Elizabeth Ogilvie. Ogilvie – who oversaw production of the edition – has shown consideration at the highest level, balancing sophisticated layout in accordance with the never-over-indulgent work of her late husband.

Robert Callender A2B An Artist's Journey

Associate Director of An Talla Solais, Joanna Wright, adds Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams to the list. Joanna states that “Lopez’s long experience of the north brought a shift of perspective to how my western mind thinks about the natural world. I loved its insistence on noticing detail, and honesty about the contradictions we are tangled in and need to see a way through.” I would also add that Lopez’s latest auto-biographical work – Horizon – as an ideal follow up to Arctic Dreams, in which a life’s travels are re-visited and his Arctic commentary re-worked to match current day data.

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez
Horizon, Barry Lopez

Marine scientist Ailsa McLellan recommends two books: first, Callum Roberts’ The Unnatural History of the Sea, “providing a readable account of the horrible mismanagement of the sea and its resources – if only we could learn lessons from it.” And on a more light-hearted note, The Essential Guide to Rockpooling by Julie Hatcher and Steve Trewhella, which she describes as “just magic”, and “opening the door to exploring that most exciting bit where the sea meets the land.”

In the same spirit, An Talla Solais’ Geraldine Murray adds Rock Pool: Extraordinary Encounters Between the Tides by Heather Buttivant.

Joseph Calleja suggests artist Katie Paterson’s recently published Monograph: an elegantly composed volume grouping each of Paterson’s key projects to date. This body of works firmly places the artist at the forefront of art today. Paterson is wide ranging in her outlook, but her works can clearly be bound by a care for the Earth, and our place in it. Like Macfarlane, Paterson too looks to deep-time.

And to end on the theme of time, Fiete Stolte’s Hotel Absence is a revelation: in particular, descriptions of his eight day week project, in which the artist’s daily routine for almost three years ceased to obey the established rhythm of the 24-hour day, structured by the rising and setting of the sun. His days each lasted 21 hours; his week eight days…

If only we had this much extra time at our disposal to grab hold of our changing Earth.

Hotel Absence Fiete Stolte
Katie Paterson Monograph


As Coastline is to Ocean

Joseph Calleja
Robert Callender
David Cass

20th July – 8th September
An Talla Solais

I’m thrilled to be a part of As Coastline is to Ocean [which opened on July 20th] in An Talla Solais Ullapool. The idea for the exhibition emerged as a result of ongoing dialogue between Joseph Calleja and myself, bolstered by the enthusiasm of the gallery team. Joseph shares my passion for working with found materials, and so the exhibition is a panoply of reconfigured, repurposed, recycled artworks.

Much of our output has been created in response to the work of artist Robert Callender (1932—2011) with a range of key Callender pieces included in the exhibition. Through his highly acclaimed sculpted shoreline artefacts, my own found-object based Arrangements series and Calleja’s reassembled frames, the exhibition offers artistic portrayals of both physical and metaphorical coastlines.

Calleja invites us to tunnel through the Earth to reach the gallery’s exact opposite geo-location (incidentally, it’s equidistant between New Zealand and Antarctica). Callender’s perfectly crafted sculptures imitate plastic waste, demanding closer inspection. And running in parallel with As Coastline is to Ocean is the micro-exhibition we co-curated with the gallery: Coast.

I’m presenting a series of stripped back artworks, minimal in their construction, directly referencing coastal change. Find out more on the exhibition webpage. The exhibition is supported by Creative Scotland and the Hope Scott Trust. An excerpt of the exhibition book can be viewed below, with hardcopies available in the gallery and online.


Opening Words
by Elizabeth Ogilvie

Ullapool | 19.7.19

“The land retains an identity of it's own, still deeper and more subtle than we can know. Our obligation toward it then becomes simple: to approach with an uncalculating mind, with an attitude of regard. To try to sense the range and variety of its expression – its weather and colours and animals. To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, not questioned. And to be alert for its openings, for that moment when something sacred reveals itself within the mundane, and you know the land knows you are there.”

Here, in this remarkable location, we can clearly understand what one of my cherished authors – Barry Lopez – was referring to in this beautiful passage in his award-winning book Arctic Dreams. And likewise, through their intimacy of seeing, Robert Callender, David Cass and Joseph Calleja – three exceptional voices – have been influenced by both their internal and outer landscape, to produce work which is deeply thoughtful and reflective and speaks of the now.

In the now, however, we sit at a spot between a progressive landscape of deep history and the creation of an uncertain future, within the context of climate change. Post-post-modern existence is an age that is beset with issues concerning the limits of human understanding and we require solutions to the great global crises: be they ecological, social, political or economic. In other words, we face the problem of an inability to deal with the extent of challenges now threatening us.

Still, we remain positive – seeking to do our utmost in the face of adversity – as is human nature. We as individuals do take personal responsibility for our own impacts on the environment. Most harm to the natural world, though, is caused by corporations: states, business leaders, policies. They continue to repudiate any form of politically inconvenient science while we live with the urgency, alarm and unease about the ongoing impact of climate change, now releasing the unknowable forces of nature on mankind.

Consequently, we artists are answering collective cultural needs and seeking to point – but obliquely – to issues right at the top of the global agenda and involving highlighting the world’s most challenging problems and developing practical roles in environmental and social matters. 

Scotland itself – a northern nation – offers so much to us artists. The legacy of great intellectuals such as scientist Patrick Geddes, geologist James Hutton (founder of modern geology) and environmental philosopher John Muir. Forerunners of modern Green politics have all acted as a catalyst for our thinking and philosophy and without a doubt this landscape in Scotland has compelled our imaginations and shaped our psyche.

A century after the Scottish Enlightenment, Patrick Geddes made clear the complex and inter-related relationships between humans and their environment. His thinking is particularly relevant today in discussion about sustainable societies. Geddes – a scientist, botanist and urban planner – understood even then that industrial development – if left unchecked – would damage the air, water and land upon which all life relies. In his words, ‘care of Mother Earth’ is the prime task of man. His abiding interest in eastern philosophy – which he believed more readily conceived of life as a whole – is very much in accord with my Inuit colleagues perceptions of the environment as a revered partner.

Geddes’ philosophy (dating back to the late 1800s) is also skillfully reflected – without moralising – in the works of Callender and Cass, while Calleja’s art is given form by his acute perception of both our inner and outer world.

Robert Callender raises reality to a higher level in his work Plastic Beach (half of which is on exhibit in As Coastline is to Ocean). His work on plastic waste dates from 2003–2008, making him a man very much ahead of his time. Environmental activism and science has only recently begun to realise the mass of this material within the world’s oceans.

Quoting an extract from Andrew Patrizio’s excellent text from A2B: An Artist’s Journey, ‘it is beguiling that Callender evokes this terrible ecological thought through paper-based materials that are as benign and vulnerable as plastic is dangerous and near-permanent.’

And in this wasteful world, it is a great achievement by these three artists, that they all use recycled materials to create their art. An art with special illuminating powers. I am full of admiration for what they have achieved and with such modest means.

So, public visiting this exhibition can really appreciate that art does not aspire to entertain. It aspires to converse. Their work truly reflects our times and poses important questions at the same time as offering so many possibilities and a positive outlook. Thanks go to the gallery, a key player in cultural life in the north of Scotland. The programme and public engagement here embodies a philosophy which we all endorse.

Quotes above from Barry Lopez and Andrew Patrizio.

Joseph & I wish to thank all at An Talla Solais (with special thanks to Joanna Wright, Victoria Caine & Geraldine Murray for their encouragement, enthusiasm & attention to detail throughout), artist Elizabeth Ogilvie (for her words above, her writing in the exhibition book & her support via Lateral Lab), artist Iain Patterson, Art North Magazine’s Ian McKay (for featuring the show) & to all artists associated with Coast (the open call accompanying the show). The exhibition is backed by both Creative Scotland & the Hope Scott Trust. An Talla Solais is also supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Where Once the Waters

A survey to collect sea level data,
specific to each of us

In an effort to bring home the topic of sea rise and offer relatable figures, I’ve started a project that seeks to discover how much the seas nearest our birthplaces have risen across our lifetimes. Average sea level readings are widely reported, but lost in average figures are the various local factors that make for wide ranging fluctuations in levels of rise around the world.

Based on local readings gathered by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, I know that the sea level near Edinburgh has risen by over 40mm since I was born there in 1988. Since my friend Gonzaga was born in Bilbao in 1985, sea level in the Bay of Biscay has risen by 75mm. Since my friend Joseph was born on the island of Gozo in 1981, the sea around his island has risen by almost 111mm. My aim is to present figures specific to each of us, personalising the topic.

By providing your name, birth year and place of birth, the level of sea rise nearest your birthplace will be calculated and added to a new artwork.


Map images ©2019 Digital Globe + Google Earth | Sea level calculations are achieved thanks to the NOAA, who were consulted throughout the project's early stages

London, The Porpoise & Work in Progress

May 2019

I don’t usually write a monthly summary, but, there’s a lot to share this month. I’ll start by announcing a move to London. I’ll be splitting my time between the city, and my studio in the Scottish Borders. Please do get in touch if you’d like to know more. I’ve not yet set up a full studio in London, but when I do I’m more than happy to accept visitors. Work continues for upcoming show As Coastline is to Ocean, despite the move.

May also marks the launch of Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise. Last year I was approached by Suzanne Dean (Penguin/Vintage) and asked to work with her on the design of the covers. I elaborate on the process in a previous blog post. The Porpoise is now available in hardback and digital formats, I’d highly recommend this powerful & utterly immersive novel. The audiobook is brilliantly narrated by Tim McInnerny.

From audiobooks to podcasts: earlier this month I was interviewed by Work in Progress podcast about art, life and environmental issues. I discussed Rising Horizon, As Coastline is to Ocean, working on The Porpoise and more. Hear the whole episode in the player below.

The Porpoise used my painting Folds as a foundation. The paintwork is in gouache (the lettering too) and the surface made from antique board, found at a Brussels flea market. The painting comes from my On Wood series: a body of work which resulted in exhibitions such as Unearthed, Years of Dust & Dry and Surface. The series recently evolved into my Rising Horizon project which can be explored on this page. This latest grouping of works sees a shift from (mostly) wooden surfaces to (mostly) metal ones; and from watercolour paints to oils. Several Rising Horizon works are now available.

My next exhibition is As Coastline is to Ocean: a project discussing the topic of the coast from a variety of perspectives; alongside artist Joseph Calleja and works by the late Robert Callender. A selection of my Rising Horizon works will be exhibited in this show, alongside a new series of Arrangements. By way of their materials, these Arrangements mix elements from my two largest bodies of work, but use no paint. Instead, found items are wrapped, cast, cropped and pasted to mimic sea surfaces and coastal shapes. The works follow the environmental thread that binds all my work, and focus on the topic of coastal change. Digitally manipulated found sea photographs and 8mm film projections feature, alongside collage works and gallery specific installations. We’re delighted to be exhibiting the project with An Talla Solais (Ullapool), with backing from Creative Scotland & Hope Scott Trust. We’re also running an Open Call [now closed] alongside our show, asking artists to respond to the topic of coastal change.

Arctic Day

Looking North

On March 25th in Inverness, the Scottish Government – in partnership with Highlands & Islands Enterprise – held Arctic Day.

Scotland is the first significant landfall within northern Europe when coming from the Arctic: Dunnet Head lies less than ~400 miles south of the Arctic Circle boundary. Scottish-Arctic neighbourship was celebrated during Arctic Day, through a variety of events, workshops and debates, mostly with a climate focus.

Climate change is already having serious consequences in the Arctic, endangering its pristine environment as well as its inhabitants’ lifestyles. Arctic sea ice is receding at speed. The region is ground zero of climate change: a temperature increase of 2% worldwide might as well mean an increase of 4–5 degrees within the Arctic Circle. On the day, Dr Laura Watts described the Arctic as becoming “a sea of collaborative coastlines”, an “archipelago of test sites” in tackling the issues it faces.

A key focus during the day was Scotland’s climate change initiatives. A leader in energy innovation and a renewable energy pioneer, the Scottish Government has pledged to decarbonise the country completely by 2050. Yet, despite its 2050 target, this action may still not be rapid enough. While the country recognises that it’s taking positive steps forward – not least in establishing the world’s first Climate Justice Fund, which now supports climate adaption projects in developing countries – First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has acknowledged that “we are still a long way behind countries such as Iceland and Norway. And so increasingly, we want to work with and learn from countries in the Arctic to help achieve our ambitions.” Solutions presented on the day stressed the importance of collaboration and re-localising communities.

We heard from the director of Transition Black Isle – one of many establishing transition locations – that even if the entire planet became carbon neutral tomorrow, we would still struggle to meet the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement. Transition believes that coming together as communities is key in harnessing our global average temperature. In the Black Isle peninsula and on Orkney, residents are working together to transform their approaches to achieve sustainable pathways: addressing the need for always local futures.

Dr Laura Watts introduced her project Energy at the End of the World, presenting Orkney as a prime example of northern sustainability: “Orkney has been making technology for six thousand years, from arrowheads and stone circles to wave and tide energy prototypes. The islanders turned to energy innovation when forced to contend with an energy infrastructure they had outgrown. Today, Orkney is home to the European Marine Energy Centre … the islands generate more renewable energy than they use, are growing hydrogen fuel and electric car networks, and have hundreds of locally owned micro wind turbines and a decade-old smart grid.”

The role of artists in exploring and presenting these issues is vital. I was on hand to discuss my own ongoing and upcoming artistic projects – including the environmentally focussed Rising Horizon series, as well as a summer program at An Talla Solais comprising an exhibition, open call and more – but was also there to learn more about Scotland’s climate initiatives and the impact of climate change in the north and Arctic region.

Northern Artists Raising Environmental Awareness

Art can bridge the gap between public awareness and science and a rich catalogue of northern artists are trailblazing this ground, presenting wide ranging environmental commentary.

Take Fife based artist Elizabeth Ogilvie, who has dedicated an entire career to the study of water: from an environmental standpoint, to poetic observation. Ogilvie’s recent project Out of Ice speaks of the threat to some of our most precious natural elements: the ice sheets.

Take Finnish duo Pekka Niittyvirta & Timo Aho’s intervention piece Lines 57° 59 ́N, 7° 16 ́W created for Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum in Lochmaddy on the island of North Uist. Their site-specific installation uses LED strip-lights to show where the water will flow during storm surges if the Earth’s temperature continues to rise.

Take Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s Ice Watch installations: sets of ice boulders – harvested from a fjord outside Nuuk, Greenland – positioned in circular arrangements reminiscent of clock-faces… reminders that time is running out for meaningful action.

Horizon 42%

I’m a northern artist exploring this global theme. Horizon 42% was exhibited during Arctic Day.

Painted upon a vintage copper boiler, the height of this seascape’s horizon-line rests at 42%. I’m presenting this artwork for two reasons. The piece is an illustration of where we’re at – providing fact-based commentary on sea rise whilst also marking progress:

Firstly, 42% is the proportion that thermal expansion contributes to overall sea rise (apt given the painting’s past function: to warm water).

Secondly, 42% is a really important figure for Scotland: this was the goal set to cut carbon emissions by before 2020. That goal was achieved six years ahead of schedule. The same goal beating must be achieved in total decarbonisation.

Horizon 42% 2017–2019
Oil & varnishes on copper boiler · 79 x 70 x 30 cm

Rising Horizon Overview

Filmed live in The Scottish Gallery, the below offers an overview of my Rising Horizon series, by way of a conversation between Prof. Dave Reay (Chair in Carbon Management at Edinburgh University) and myself.

Also in attendance during Arctic Day was Art North magazine. Art North ran a series of features covering my Rising Horizon series earlier this year.

Artists & Climate Change

I was asked by Artists & Climate Change to write the following article: to reflect on Rising Horizon, my studio practice, and – more generally – the power of art in raising environmental awareness. Today, artistic work about climate change is popping up all over the world, in all kinds of venues. The goal of Artists & Climate Change is to track these works and gather them in one place. It is both a study of what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Founded by Chantal Bilodeau – artistic director of The Arctic Cycle – the organisation believes deeply that what artists have to say about climate change will shape our values and behaviour for years to come.

Reflecting on (the) Rising Horizon

David Cass | March 2019

Read Original

We have passed the turning point in terms of environmental change. To achieve the colossal aims of reducing our global average temperature, slowing sea level rise and decarbonising the planet, we must all do what we can: no matter how seemingly insignificant our actions may seem. For artists, this truly does come down to making conscious choices between using acrylic (plastic) paints or natural (handmade and completely lead free) oils; toxic resins or eco-resin alternatives; turpentine or zest-based cleaners; new papers or recycled stock… even one’s studio lighting should be considered. Every decision counts.

My most recent exhibition at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh – part of my ongoing series Rising Horizon – comprised over 150 paintings. The exhibition discussed sea rise and in the majority of the artworks, it did this not only visually but through material choices too.

Horizon 30% 2018–2019
Oil on repurposed metal sign · 60 x 30 cm

As an artist, I’ve received most coverage thus far for my repurposing of found objects – doors, table tops, drawers, street signs, matchboxes – into the foundations of paintings. These works have explored environmental themes both historic and contemporary. Every artwork I have created since leaving Edinburgh College of Art in 2010 has been made from recycled materials, and recently I’ve aimed to present commentary on sustainability and the need for a circular economy.

Rising Horizon was perhaps the most far-reaching (by this I mean non-site-specific) exhibition I’ve ever created. The series describes the coming global crisis that is sea level rise: not exclusive to any one coastline. True, we see certain locations already impacted but overall, the rise affects the World Ocean.

Rising Horizon followed another exhibition of mine which described Venice, Italy as an example of localised inundation: a result of environmental, anthropogenic change. The series examined the tide-marked brick and plaster façades of Venetian buildings as we see them today: still exquisite but eroding, stapled together, plastered with advertisements and often covered with graffitis admonishing cruise ships and tourists. Venetians are already feeling the impact of sea level rise: many have permanently evacuated their ground floors and basements. Others have had the foundations of their homes raised hydraulically. Underwater walls are treated with waterproof (ironically, plastic) resin.

This Venice series used the face as a vehicle to convey change, while Rising Horizon zooms out to illustrate, quite simply, a rising horizon line. The artworks in the show were hung so as to position the viewer within the exhibition: within the water. One simple goal behind the series overall, was to chart a gradually rising horizon-line, but we chose not to display the works along a linear path. In part, this was to mirror the non-linear way in which sea levels are rising. Ice melt, for example, is not a steady stream. Rather, run-offs happen in waves.

Horizon 20% 2018–2019
Oil on repurposed metal railway station sign · 31.5 x 79 cm

Scale and materials matter. Understated expression is important to me. Individually – no matter the scale, no matter how turbulent the sea surface – my paintings aim to be subtle. They do not shout. But when taken together, the obsession which lies underneath is evident. Surfaces are worked and re-worked, paint is applied and then removed and re-applied. This repetitive approach mirrors the functional past lives of the surfaces themselves: railway station signage (as above), motorway directional signs, tins and boxes, advertisement plaques… these items aren’t fragile, they were built to withstand time and the elements.

The paints are handmade (not by me, I should add) and the metal panels I painted upon for this show are recycled, reclaimed. I used these items to reference the impact of metal production on the environment: 6.5 percent of CO2 emissions derive from iron and steel production. Similarly, I painted upon panels made from re-formed plastic waste. One single square meter panel contains around 1,500 yogurt cups, for example. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2050, plastics will be responsible for nearly 15 percent of global carbon emissions. This predicted increase will lead to plastics overtaking the aviation sector, which is currently accountable for 12 percent of global carbon emissions.

Horizon 42% (detail) 2017–2019
Oil & varnishes on repurposed copper boiler · 79 x 70 x 30 cm

Certainly, the most discussed piece in the show was a painted copper boiler. Titled Horizon 42% (opposite) this piece directly references the warming of (sea)water. The percentage is the proportion which thermal expansion contributes to overall sea level rise. It’s also the target of Scotland, my home country, which aims for a 42% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (and an 80% reduction by 2050). An apt metaphor, as the boiler itself came from a Scottish home.

We dismantled the exhibition on February 25 and 26. Those were the warmest winter days on record in the UK. Radio stations were asking “how high will it get?” and the media used headlines like “UK basks in warmest February on record.” One newspaper dubbed the month “FABruary.” The media narrative was all wrong: this was not normal. At this exact time the previous year, we’d been suffering from extreme snow. The record-breaking temperatures should have been cause for alarm, not celebration.

Artists need to contribute to the global and growing bank of environmentally conscious artworks that carry a responsible narrative. The fact that art has the potential to convey messages makes it an essential tool for society. The Artists & Climate Change website is one perfect example of the power of art.

Throughout the exhibition, I witnessed public appetite for bitesize environmental facts. My work will continue to explore themes of change; indeed, my next project is a collaboration with fine artist Joseph Calleja, in partnership with the estate of artist Robert Callender. We are exhibiting a series of works in An Talla Solais gallery in Ullapool, Scotland, and we’ve just launched an Open Call, seeking works from artists in response to environmental change. Consider applying (there’s no fee).

I have also just launched a petition. Given my location, it is UK-based but my hope is that it will gauge public interest in having a regular Environment News broadcast on radio. Here in the UK, we really are not hearing enough about climate change in mainstream news.

Horizon 40% 2017–2018
Oil on repurposed metal engine-oil sign · 80 x 120 cm (framed)

Breif bio by Chantal Bilodeau | Cass’ graduation exhibition at Edinburgh College of Art (2010) was created using exclusively recycled materials. As a result of that show, he received a Royal Scottish Academy scholarship to Florence, where he combined this process of re-purposing with topics relating to environmental extremes. He spent four years exploring the history and legacy of Florence’s 1966 Great Flood, which led him to Venice and a study of its rising lagoon. Soon after, working in the Almería arid-zone, he added the topic of drought to the exchange. His recent projects (such as Rising Horizon) are more universal in their environmental outlook. They take the form of paintings, drawings, collages and sculptures – never using new materials.

Coast: Open Call

This summer, artist Joseph Calleja and I will produce an exhibition in An Talla Solais (Ullapool) in response to a series of coastal themed artworks created by the late Robert Callender. A set of Callender’s works will be on display alongside our own.

In collaboration with An Talla Solais, we’re also running an Open Call – inviting artists to exhibit in an adjoining gallery space at the same time as our event. Our aim is to promote discussion on the subject of coastal change and present artworks which delve deeply into this important and globally significant environmental topic. What better way to do this than an Open Call.

Artists around the world are turning to the environment: creating timely, thought provoking pieces in response to climate change and adding to a growing bank of awareness raising artworks. Art has the power to offer direct entry points quite unlike any other medium.

We are looking for artworks from a range of practitioners. Selected entrants will be exhibited in a dedicated room within An Talla Solais, at the same time as our summer exhibition As Coastline is to Ocean.

Applying artists must reference at least one feature of coastal change in their submission. All aspects will be considered – whether your focus is coastal construction, erosion, beach waste, sea rise, flooding, or the acidification of sea-water – we’d like you to offer the audience an entry point to the topic.

A reference to Robert Callender’s work is welcomed, though not essential. Applicants may submit a maximum of two works each, via email (below). Our preference is for painting, drawing, print, photography, collage, assemblage – but three-dimensional works will be considered so long as they have safe wall fixings. Works must not exceed 80 x 80cm each. Full details are on the An Talla Solais website.

Submissions now closed

1 x A4 document containing up to 250 words on how your submission ties to the brief (what aspect of coastal change you are addressing) and up to 150 words about yourself.  

Max 2 x good quality JPG files – either two artworks, or two details of one artwork. We would prefer an approximate width of 2000px & 300dpi.

Links to websites / social media pages / contact information.

Successful applicants will be notified on the weekend of June 1st & 2nd 2019.

Artworks must be delivered to the gallery between Tues 16th & Thurs 18th July 2019.

Petition: ‘Environment News’ Slot

Rising Horizon is now closed in The Scottish Gallery. Thanks to everyone who made it to the show, and to those who’ve been in touch from further afield. Photos of the exhibition can be seen in my previous post, and you can also watch a video of our ‘in conversation’ event on the exhibition webpage.

The exhibition has highlighted to me that there’s appetite for such environmentally focussed projects. My studio work within this theme will continue. During the exhibition, whilst the artworks were out of the studio, I spent some time putting together the following petition, which I’ve just launched on Change.Org.

The petition calls for a more regular Environment News slot to be heard on radio: offering daily, bitesize chunks of information on what we can all do, and what’s being done by others, both at home and further afield… the bad, the good & the inspirational. I spend most of my working day listening to radio and have become increasingly dismayed by the scarcity of environmental coverage in the daily news.

Adobe Stock Photograph

One of the most pressing issues facing our planet today is climate change. This petition outlines one basic suggestion that a more regular Environment News feature could be heard on key British (notably BBC) radio stations, spreading vital information and insight, elevating the topic within our everyday lives.

An idea which requires minimal intervention

This idea is a starting point – an example of the format this feature could take.

Throughout the day, we are kept abreast of Sporting News updates. At a time when our environment needs as much media coverage as possible, the same style of feature-slot could be employed for an Environment News broadcast. As just one solution, why not alternate the Sport and Environment broadcast each hour?

At this stage, I'm presenting this basic proposal and looking for numbers to take to the BBC / OFCOM, to show that there is public appetite for such a slot: that we want to be kept updated, more frequently, of climate change related news and of innovations in the everyday roles we ourselves can play. From global updates, to everyday lifestyle, dietary, recycling and campaign information. 

Why is this important?

This idea is merely a starting point: an idea that simply alters an existing structural feature of news broadcasts. Whether it takes a bi-hourly form or not is beside the point: the intention is to integrate environmental news into our daily lives, generating demand for more frequent updates from our policy makers. Every step counts.

In UK news the topic of Brexit has dominated headlines for many months. This has distracted from the fact that a turning point has been passed, that we must all now come together to act, to save our Earth for future generations. The window for action is quickly closing: we must grab hold of our rising global average temperature. We must know what decisions are being taken and how on-target we are for achieving the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement.

This would be a simple step in raising awareness: Environment News (like Sporting News currently) heard throughout the day will dramatically increase public engagement and elevate the topic within daily lives. Currently, one has to actively research independently to grasp the range of issues facing our planet as a result of climate change: this should not be the case.


Rising Horizon

Now closed, the exhibition featured over 150 oil paintings of sea: each with a horizon-line at a different level. Every artwork in the series has been created using recycled materials and discusses sea rise in some way.

The exhibition has been the subject of a series of online reports from Art North Magazine, archived here. Highlights of a closing review style interview follow.

IAN McKAY: As Rising Horizon comes to an end I wondered whether you are already beginning to take stock of the project, or whether it was possible to stand back from it yet…

DAVID CASS: To stand back and look over one’s own project is not an easy thing to do. I don’t see Rising Horizon as an end-point, but I can see it as a contained slice of the whole. For one, the show is contained through its materials. It’s a show created from mostly, though not limited to, metal found objects, a consideration which marks its individuality when set against a practice that might be characterised by the obsessive re-purposing of antique wooden substrates. Secondly, Rising Horizon is perhaps the most far-reaching (and by this I mean non-site-specific) exhibition that I’ve ever created. The topic of the series is sea rise, which is a global issue, not exclusive to any single coastline. True, we see certain locations already impacted by rising sea levels, but overall, the rise affects the World Ocean.

You’ve shown before at The Scottish Gallery, but Rising Horizon represents quite a different perspective to previous outings both at The Gallery and elsewhere, and, correct me if I’m wrong, there seems to be a clear narrative unfolding over time that merits some comment maybe, to place Rising Horizon in its wider context. There is a clear message that appears to underpin what you are showing, now, but do you see that as a development of past work or perhaps a continuation of prior interests?

Rising Horizon followed Pelàda, an exhibition that took Venice as an example of localised inundation as a result of environmental, anthropogenic change. The Venice series examined the façades of Venetian buildings as we see them today – tide-marked brick and plaster façades – still exquisite, but eroding, stapled together, plastered with advertisements, and often etched with scrawled admonishments of cruise ships and tourist numbers. The series used the face as a vehicle to convey change, while Rising Horizon zooms out to illustrate, quite simply, a rising horizon line.

The Scottish Gallery posted a time lapse of the hanging of the show online, and it all looked very controlled and very well thought out, but hanging the show must have been quite stressful. It is for most exhibitions, but the hang broke some common rules, didn’t it? There were clusters of work. Works hung at high level, many different ways of presenting what, overall was a coherent body of work. How did that go?

The curation of the show chose not to follow a linear path. Paintings such as ‘Horizon 10%’ did not precede ‘Horizon 20%’. ‘Horizon 44%’ did not sit next to ‘Horizon 45%’. This idea was explored but we quickly discounted it, not because sea rise trends themselves do not follow a linear path (ice melt is not a steady stream, run-off happens in waves, for example) but because Rising Horizon is a painting exhibition, too, and in my practice visual dynamics are key.

Rather than moving through the exhibition fluidly, the eye jumps from one horizon to the next: some positioned over head-height, some below. The curation of Rising Horizon positions the viewer within the exhibition: in the water.

A comment you made on the scale of the works in a previous blog post keeps coming back to me: what you wrote is true of most pieces. You referred to artists who “express environmentalist concerns and perhaps force their argument in bold gestures, while Rising Horizon offers us an antidote to that”. I think you were right in seeing that the work does ask its audience to come in close, quietly, personally. That’s an aspect that is definitely important to me… its intimacy… the attempt to reach each member of its audience as an individual.

You refer to surfaces, but for those unfamiliar with this body of work, or who might not be fully aware of the sheer range of supports that you have used in Rising Horizon, how would you sum those up?

Motorway signs, tins, advertisement plaques… items that aren’t fragile, built to stand up to time and the elements. Then there are the recycled plastic panels used in four seascapes, which are everyday items: yogurt pots, food packaging, etc., reformed into incredibly durable surfaces. The plastic panels can be treated as wood and sanded, drilled…

…and one in particular that attracted a lot of attention, although it would perhaps be wrong to extract it from the wider body of work as a whole, was a copper boiler on which you had painted… so the sculptural element, or perhaps the two-dimensional writ large on such an unlikely support made quite an impact. Is it possible, yet, for you to get a sense of what all these different dimensions became, as a singular presentation in the form of an exhibition?

It’s tricky for me to objectively analyse the outcome of the show. I can tell you that I am pleased, but I can’t elaborate much more than that. I’m not sure about that yet. Overall, I feel mostly confident in stating that the exhibition has achieved what it set out to. Public engagement has been high, and feedback from those who have visited is that, being in the gallery is an immersive experience, not only because of the sheer volume of paintings (there’s around one hundred and fifty in all) but because of the curation too, and the blue painted gallery wall at the back which seems to move with you as you span the gallery space.

I notice that the exhibition attracted quite a bit of press interest, and it was The Herald’s critics choice show. There was also some focus on the fact that you find objects in flea markets, salvage yards, antique fairs, and the show was also summed up as, “a new departure for an artist who has made much of his previous work of, on and from found wood.” Obviously recycling or repurposing is an aspect that is central to the exhibition, but there are so many dimensions to address, aren’t there? Not just about process, but theoretically, too. As one article notes, the exhibition is not just about the surface upon which you paint, but your reuse of the objects themselves. Do you get a sense that visitors to the show understood the sheer multiplicity of interests and dimensions that Rising Horizon encompasses?

On a personal level? It’s one thing to research the facts of sea-rise, and more broadly, environmental change, but it’s quite another to present that research to the public. Almost every gallery visitor I have spoken with has engaged with the topic. Understanding the facts behind something you care about is one thing but passing the message on in a coherent way is quite another.

The power that art has to convey such messages is surprising. Entry points have been key, and certainly the most discussed piece in the show has been the painted copper boiler that you mentioned, ‘Horizon 42%’. That piece directly references the warming of sea water. This same percentage is the proportion which thermal expansion contributes to overall sea rise… It was also Scotland’s target: a 42% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 – which was achieved six years ago – and a 100% reduction by 2050. Perhaps it is apt that the boiler itself came from a Scottish home… a tenement flat boiler from Edinburgh.

I’ve been asked several times now whether this exhibition makes me an environmental activist, a notion I hadn’t before considered. And my answer is no: I’m an environmentally aware artist, just as we all should be environmentally aware citizens, at whichever level is most achievable for us. Every step counts. In fact, I’ve just launched a petition, seeking signatures to assess interest as to whether there is public appetite for more regular Environment News updates.

Perhaps that’s a good point to end on, then. It’s certainly a stunning exhibition, beautifully and thoughtfully hung, but there is a further dimension here that is also apt in terms of public engagement.

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.

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

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...’

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.

RSA Benno Schotz Prize

Porthole Projection Progress

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.

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.


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

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.

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

RWS Update

The following explains my decision to step down from the Royal Watercolour Society

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.

Above 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.

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.

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