Book review: A2B by Robert Callender

Big Deck Small Hatch, 1985, at Sea Loft, Kinghorn. Photograph: Angus Bremner
Big Deck Small Hatch, 1985, at Sea Loft, Kinghorn. Photograph: Angus Bremner
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ROBERT (Bob) Callender who died two years ago was a truly remarkable artist.

A2B

Robert Callender

Lateral Lab, £220

Latterly he lived and worked in Fife, but he found much of his inspiration in Sutherland where, since the 1970s, he and his wife, the artist Liz Ogilvie, had kept a bothy on Stoer Point, one of the wildest and most exposed places anywhere.

He started by painting the rocky beach between the tides in big, near monochrome pictures, but it was also a place rich in flotsam and jetsam and this fascinated him. Moved by the tragic wreck of fishing boat on the rocky headland of Stoer Point, he began to make actual-size representations of wreckage on the beach. Working with paper, cardboard and paint, the latter often mixed with peat, wood ash or other unusual substances, he achieved extraordinary verisimilitude. He went on to make boats, timbers from piers, even a massive pair of lock gates. Their lightness confounds their apparent mass and everything down to the tiniest details of their sea-worn texture is so precisely observed, it is uncanny. His last major work, Plastic Beach, reproduces meticulously 500 pieces of a sea of plastic debris washed up on the shore. It is a quiet but powerful condemnation of our reckless pollution of the planet.

Now, in his memory, Ogilvie has created a kind of magic box called A2B (A to B, the trajectory of a life.) Published in an edition of 500, it contains a dozen items and constitutes an epitome of his career. All beautifully produced, these include a film in which he speaks and others testify to the value of his work. There is also an intaglio print and a folder of images divided between the landscape and bothy in Sutherland and work in the studio, both the one he and Ogilvie made in Edinburgh, and the Sealoft, a converted cinema by the sea in Kinghorn. There is an essay by Andrew Patrizio and a variety of archival images of Callender’s work. Finally, there is an account of the residency for young artists that Ogilvie set up in his name. Speaking in the film, several alumni, both from the West and from Japan, testify to the importance of the residency to them, not merely for the funding, but as an inspiration. A2B encapsulates a living legacy. n