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.

Project Complete: Perimetri Perduti

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

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

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

Book Launch in The Fruitmarket Gallery

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

 
 

Patricia Emison: Pelàda Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition News

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giles Waterfield

I heard the upsetting news of the death of author, gallerist and historian Giles Waterfiled this morning. I am here in Florence, launching the book [Perimetri Perduti] that he contributed to – not only through his kind support of the project and encouragement – but also in the form of a perfectly succinct and concise text that speaks of undocumented evidence and traces. Giles refers to the sad lack of proof left throughout Florence (traces of a nature less formal than plaques or reportage) of the city’s flood of fifty years ago. One that threatened to repeat over this dark weekend as the Arno raged and the city grew feverish.

The same cannot be said of the marks (in this case impact of great cultural significance) that Giles etched onto our earth. No zealous citizen (as he puts it in the below text) can erase his words. A truly inspiring person who touched many, many lives and who I wish I’d known better, and who will live on in many forms of inspiration through his life’s work. I know that the British Institute of Florence (and particularly its director Julia Race) will be thinking of him, it’s thanks to the Institute that we met and his voice was added to Perimetri Perduti. I know also that his dear friend Candia (McWilliam) will be, whose words are now bound with his for good.

A friend sent this article, for your further reading. I've released on this blog below, his text from the book, A Vestige. Read in full screen by clicking the spreads below.

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

Florence Flood Aftermath

Inch by inch, the filthy floodwaters lowered, as daylight gradually left Florence on 4th November 1966. Oily black perimeter lines marked the water’s journey down façades: from a height of four adults in Santa Croce, each stage of this slow recession was charted in level horizontal lines of varying thicknesses. This process was repeated, unbelievably, over hundreds of acres. Clocks throughout the city sat stationary, reading 7:26 AM, when power in the city had been lost as the force of the inundation took hold that morning.

As toxic muddy diesel and oil-infused sludge settled on pavements and roads of deep clay as daylight broke the following morning, Florentines searched for lost family, friends, neighbours and pets, as upturned cars bleated from short-circuited horns. “Steel blinds were twisted like paper”, records artist James Hogg. Antique furniture lay strewn across streets. The Ponte Vecchio was in danger of collapsing, having been stripped to a near skeleton, like the carcass of a whale stretched out between two banks. 

The force of the inundation had been relentless as it pounded streets, ripping apart ground floors and basements, shopfronts, signs, generators, garages, cars. It tore the city apart from the ground up over the course of an entire day. The devastating and deadly force of black water. Had it not been Armed Forces Day on the 4th (a national holiday), the streets would surely have been busier as the tides entered the ancient city early in the morning. 

I've dedicated the last couple of years to researching and responding to this catastrophic historical event (drawing parallels with 'extremes' of today). Through this research I've come across all sorts of ephemera (newspaper articles and clippings, magazine features and appeals for help, short-run flood related publications...) but by far the best is these photographs. I purchased this set of prints on eBay.it last year, from a vendor who did not know the history or provenance of their lot. I've asked around and searched extensively for evidence of these images (by an unknown photographer) in other archives, with no results. If you know anything about these images please do get in touch. I'll be featuring a selection of these scanned prints in my book 'Perimetri Perduti' set for launch on November 4th this year: the 50th anniversary of the flood.

Be a part of my new book!

Press Release:

Artist David Cass has been asked to produce an exhibition and book to mark the 50th year since Florence's Great Flood of 1966. Set to launch in the British Institute of Florence, within the Lanfredini Palace, this not-for-profit exhibition and book will act as important tools in describing the history of this catastrophic inundation.

Cass is seeking text submissions from writers and artists alike - not to mention any enthusiastic person with a connection to, or passion for, Florence.

Though this opportunity is unpaid, you will have the opportunity to have your text published in a professionally designed and printed book, and dispersed to a wide audience both in Scotland and Italy (thanks to Edinburgh's historical ties with Florence). You will also be described as a contributor to the exhibition that accompanies the publication.

Please get in touch through the contact page of this website, and read a bit more in the post directly below.

The working title for the book is currently Perimetri Perduti or Perimeters Lost and suggests the upheaval and devastation the flood caused, bringing Florence - an arts mecca - to its knees. The legacy of the flood lives on today, and draws parallels with more recent extremes in weather.

Send submissions to: info@davidcass.co.uk by the end of July 2016 for initial consideration. Please do not exceed 1500 words, unless discussed beforehand via email.

Permetri Perduti: Book Project Update

I am seeking text submissions from individuals to contribute to a book which aims to raise awareness; to describe the events of early November 1966; and to draw upon the past and present significance of the ‘Great Flood’.

Maybe you lived through the inundation or know someone who did. Maybe you travelled to Florence to help in the rescue effort. Maybe you have a relationship with Florence and wish to describe how the history of this catastrophic event shapes (shaped) your vision of the city. I would like to hear from you, whether you are a writer or not! All writing styles will be considered for inclusion: from descriptive texts to poetry.

Set to launch on the 50th anniversary of the flood (to the day), this is a book about a city transformed: boundaries and city-limits lost; the familiar rendered unfamiliar. Overspilled perimeters: the Valdarno dams burst and the Arno overflowed, the homes and lives of Florentines ferociously attacked. The flood irreversibly changed Florence, bringing the city - a mecca of the art world - to its knees. Read within the above document a blow-by-blow description by renowned author David Hewson, who kindly donated his time to this project.

Normal submissions are now closed. Thanks to the many artists and authors who sent texts! The project is ongoing, and if you have an experience you'd like to share, please email info@davidcass.co.uk.

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.

Spring 2016

These coming weeks are shaping up to be the busiest I've yet experienced since becoming self employed in 2010. I'm working on exhibitions that are several months in the future, whilst also distributing as yet unseen 2015 artworks into venues now.

My key focus at the moment is working to secure funding for a solo exhibition in Florence this coming November. If you follow me on social media I'm sure you'll have viewed my recent Florence in Flood sketches. I'm delighted at the level of public engagement this project has so far enjoyed, and am excited to work with the British Institute Florence to build this informative exhibition within the walls of Palazzo Lanfredini.

Back to the present and my next solo exhibition will be in new organisation Gayfield Creative, based in Gayfield Square, Edinburgh. The exhibition will feature found-object based water paintings exclusively. Water has become the main focus of my practice: from straight depictions of sea, pools, reservoirs; to studies that explore flood-zones. The exhibition 'Surface' will exhibit more of an informal nature than my usual displays, featuring experimental works as well as works in new media.

Other current and upcoming dates include Rome Media Art Festival in Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo - MAXXI, Rome; Till It's Gone in MoMA Istanbul; The Royal Watercolour Society's Contemporary Competition in London, and a mixed group exhibition in Crinan Fine Art, Argyll.

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...

FlashFlood

 

Basilica of San Frediano

Exaggerated Inundation in Lucca • Based on imagery of Lucca's 1996 flood • 9 x 14cm • Available for purchase

 

19th June 1996: Flash-flood in Lucca, Tuscany

I spend one day a week researching as part of my Florence in flood project - there's always new facts to discover (and new ephemera to source and purchase) relating to the November 1966 flood that's occupied my practice for the last couple of years. This research informs and supports my painted artworks. During this week's reading I came across news articles describing inundations in the province of Lucca in 1996 - somewhere I've visited regularly over the last few years. Caught completely off guard, the region endured severe flooding: one of the strongest flash-floods in history (in the Apuan Alps) according to EU MetStat. Several small villages in the foothills of the Appenines were literally ripped apart by the fierce floodwaters.

View archival news footage here

Read more here