We love Cass Art. They're the leading independent retailer of art materials for creative people. And they're on a mission to fill every town with artists, something we couldn't be more on board with. We caught up with founder Mark Cass about what inspired him to set up an art materials business.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was first introduced to art materials when I was just 12 years old, and first visited the Reeves paint factory in Enfield and from then on, it seems pigment was in my blood. I got a taste for art retail in the early 80’s, when I was the Managing Director of the largest Graphics & Craft retailer in the UK, Craftsmith.
Then in 1984 I was lucky enough to take over the lease of 13 Charing Cross Road. Situated next to The National Gallery, it has been an art store for over 100 years, first opening its doors to artists in 1898. Many famous artists have visited over the years, including Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill and Claude Monet.
In 2001 I returned to London from New York, where I was working at Getty Images as Global Brand Manager for the two main rights protected brands, Stone and Image Bank. I visited hundreds of art stores around the world, and saw an opportunity to revolutionise the art supply business and make it accessible for all.
Working with renowned brand designers Pentagram, we came up with a new concept for a creative lifestyle business. Stores were transformed into light and airy spaces, making browsing a relaxed and comfortable experience, with spaces dedicated to supporting artists within the local community. I wanted Cass Art to be more than just an art materials supplier. I began reaching out to emerging artists, photographers and suppliers to develop their creativity and exposure. I sought to build a positive relationship with world best suppliers, to bring the highest quality materials to Cass Art, but also offer the opportunity to support and develop their brand.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Cass Art as a brand?
Cass Art is on a mission. A mission to fill every town with artists and we are committed to encouraging everyone to realise their creative talents by providing the world’s top quality materials at the guaranteed best prices. There are currently 13 Cass Art stores across the country, from the first store at 13 Charing Cross Road in London, to the latest Cass Art Campus store at Winchester School of Art. This mission is underpinned by our long standing manifesto. We believe in putting the best quality materials into the hands of everybody, whether you are 3 or 103, a professional, student or hobbyist. Fundamental to this is giving artists access to the best materials from the worlds top suppliers at the most affordable prices; the Cass Art Collection is a direct manifestation of this ethos. Launched in 2013 in collaboration with award-winning designer Angus Hyland, a Partner at Pentagram We have recently expanded the Collection for professionals with our Artists’ Oil Colour, Artists’ Watercolour, Exhibition Grade canvas and Cass Art Acrylic
In what ways does Cass Art support the artist community in the UK?
The Cass family have supported artists for over a century, in 1905 my great uncle Paul Cassirer hosted the first show of Vincent Van Gogh’s work, at that time there was little interest in the artist. Supporting artists at the start of their career is an essential part of what we do. You can read all about the Cass family history on the Cass Art blog here.
Being an artist isn’t always easy! They need support, encouragement and of course materials to develop their practice, it’s important for organisations like ourselves to help them to do it. The prizes and awards we provide can make a real difference to someone’s career and can be the kick-start they need to succeed.
We provide several degree show prizes for university students, such as Central Saint Martins, Slade School of Fine Art and Birmingham School of Art. We also support several key arts organisations, from the Mayor of London’s Forth Plinth Schools Award and the National Saturday Club (5% of all our sales from our Artist Educator Viridian Cards goes to the club. The Viridian Card enables Artist Educators to receive a 10% discount for life! We also work with supporting Sky Arts Portrait & Landscape Artist of the Year series and the Artist & Illustrator’s Artist of the Year award.
Another key structure of supporting creativity is our free to use Art Spaces, open to all, to use for exhibitions and events across the UK. These aim to support the endeavour of local artists and offer regular exhibitions, workshops, events and artists meet ups. Artists can apply to use these spaces completely free of charge.
And how about those practices of early career artists and art students in particular?
Students are the lifeblood of Cass Art. Art students need to have the best materials to allow them to experiment. It’s a time for them to explore the kind of work they want to make and the kind of artist they want to become, so we want to help students to do that. Then of course when they graduate, it can be difficult for some artists to continue their practice, so we want to help ensure they have the support they need to realise their ambition.