David Cass

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.

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.

David Cass on Instagram

@davidcass.art

Instagram is an effective platform for me to present to you my paintings, alongside research, works in progress, new-media works and studio images. It's not as easy to simultaneously present each facet of one's artwork within the structure of a website. It's also important for me that you see where everything comes from. 

This week, you can see the most recent developments in my Florence flood project, as I prepare to transport works from the series (and the book Perimetri Perduti) to Florence. This week I'm also managing the instagram account of arts organisation Creative People in Florence: @creativepeopleinflorence. On their account I'm posting my 1966 flood research, videos, documentation of ephemera and Florence studies. 

Perimetri Perduti: The Book

I'm delighted to present Perimetri Perduti. This has been a massive task, but absolutely worth it. The book will be launched in the British Institute of Florence during November 2016 (opening Nov 4th), and in The Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh soon after (January 20th). 

A massive thank you to all those who have contributed to the book, and supported it, you know who you are I hope.

A combination of records of and responses to the catastrophe of November 1966, Cass’s thoughtful and moving pieces are all the more powerful in that they are made by someone who was not yet born when the flood waters hit Florence.
— Julia Race: Director of the British Institute

Perimetri Perduti by David Cass

Perimetri Perduti by David Cass

Perimetri Perduti by David Cass

A Fragile Sense of Place

Two Thames Barrier studies (each approx 11 x 8 cm unframed: gouache on card)

If not for the Thames Barrier, during periods of extreme high tide and severe weather, London would look very different. The Royal Watercolour Society - for its Autumn exhibition 2016 - has briefed members to create artworks that explore the notion of a sense of place, specifically within the location of London. To me, a sense of place is something sensed and not usually identifiable, it's something intangible, a culmination of emotional and sensorial reactions to a physical environment to which I am connected. But taken literally, the event of physical inundation - a flood for example - can completely destroy one's sense of place within a location they [once] understood. 

When a river bursts its banks, its 'wetted perimeter' is no longer where it should be. As water travels upward and outward, the map of the city changes dramatically. A rise in water level even of only a few inches can mean the difference between ground level, and the invasion of someone's house. Worryingly, the Thames Barrier has been in 'record' use in recent years (from early December 2013 to the end of February 2015, its steel gates were closed "a record-shattering 50 times, preventing the river from running riot. Previously, the barrier had closed only 124 times since it began operating in 1982" - The Guardian).

As we are witnessing ever more frequently, in locations around the world, London is not alone in being vulnerable to flooding. A storm surge generated by low pressure in the Atlantic Ocean sometimes tracks eastwards past the north of Scotland and may then be driven into the shallow waters of the North Sea. The surge tide is funnelled down the North Sea which narrows towards the English Channel and the Thames Estuary. If the storm surge coincides with a spring tide, dangerously high water levels can occur in the Thames Estuary, and if not for the Thames Barrier system, London would face a frequent and dangerous set of issues.

The threat has increased over time due to continuous rise in high water levels over the centuries and the slow 'tilting' of Britain (up in the north and west, and down in the south and east) caused by post-glacial rebound. The barrier was originally designed to protect London against a very high flood level up to the year 2030, after which the protection would decrease, whilst remaining within acceptable limits. At the time of its construction, the barrier was expected to be used 2–3 times per year. It is now being used over 7 times per year.

In the 1928 Thames flood, 14 people died. After 300 people died in the UK in the North Sea flood of 1953, the issue gained new prominence. Early proposals for a flood control system were stymied by the need for a large opening in the barrier to allow for vessels from the London docks to pass through, the Thames Barrier was eventually completed in 1982.

Two of my Thames Barrier Studies will be exhibited as part of London: A Sense Of Place, in Bankside Gallery 7th October - 5th November.

1928 Thames Flood

Feature: Conservation & Contemporary Art, Reina Sofia Madrid

Conservación de Arte Contemporáneo 16ª Jornada

Spanish art conservationist Alicia García (working most recently with the Museo del Prado) presented a protocol that she has constructed to archive current artworks for the future in this important publication (and lecture series) commissioned and led by the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. In collaboration with the team of an artists' residency in rural southern Spain – Joya: arte + ecología – and artist Gonzaga Gómez-Cortázar who co-authored this book, Alicia set the location of this eco-residency as her testing ground, and I'm delighted to have been featured in the publication as a subject (p31). The totality of the artworks I created in this arid-zone in Almería were temporal - time based - and so documentation was vital. The success of these artworks will hang on the strength of their documentation. 

Authors: Carlota Santabárbara, Arianne Vanrell, Lydia Frasquet, Mª Teresa Pastor, Alicia García, Gonzaga Gómez-Cortázar, Elena García, Laura Limatola, Rosario Llamas, Camilla Vitti, Luiz Antonio Cruz, Magali Melleu, Katarzyna Zych, Ana Cudell, Heidi Belisario, José Frade, Paulo Magalhaes, Laura Castro, Carla Felizardo, Ana Calvo, Ana Martins, Pino Monkes, Fernando Marte, Mª Teresa Pastor, Camilla Vitti, Mario Anacleto de Sousa, Rosario Llamas, Sharon Avery-Fahlström, Juan Antonio Sáez, Christian Adrián, Humberto Durán, José Manuel Pereira, Almudena Rolle, María del Carmen Bellido, Maite Martínez, Isidre Sabater, Isabel álvarez, Rosalía Fernández, Enara Artetxe | Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Surface: Exhibition Photography

Gayfield Creative, Edinburgh. A set of paintings that explore the concept of the surface. Created using non-traditional methods and painted on unconventional surfaces, these repetitive, layered artworks are unified by their exclusive depiction of water. From heavily layered oil paintings created outdoors over several years, to miniature gouache artworks painted on matchboxes or coffee grinder drawers.

The exhibition (and ongoing series) features images of water surveyed whilst travelling: the Atlantic from Cádiz, the Adriatic from Dalmatia, the Mediterranean from Liguria. Many too, are abstracted visions of the English Channel ('Mor breizh') - the strip of water I must cross to reach France, Belgium, Spain and Italy - where I source the materials and supports upon which I works. From Paris’ plethora of antique shops to Brussels’ frequent flea-markets, I source and gather every-day items (wooden, metal, and paper planes) suitable to be brought back to the studio and transformed into the foundation of each artwork.

These are artworks made from ordinary objects that speak of function and familiarity: tabletops, drawer bases, trunk lids, roadsigns, books & papers. Aged items and objects that describe a lifetime of use in their worn grains – a kind of repetition that is mirrored in the marks of each piece, the obsessive documentation of a singular subject.

Awarded the Winsor & Newton First Prize at the RWS

I'm delighted to have received the Winsor & Newton First Prize at this year's Royal Watercolour Society 'Contemporary Competition'. The prize was awarded for one of my Florence in flood artworks. The exhibition runs until 16th March in Bankside Gallery, London, right next to Tate Modern.

Ocean Postcards

Wherever I travel, I make sure to spend as much time at the coast as possible. Here are a few seascape examples. Created in Croatia, France, Italy, Spain...