How art is aiding the fight against plastic pollution on the Yorkshire coast

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 October 2018

Artist Janet White finds plastic on the Scarborough beach for the ScarboroArt exhibition

Artist Janet White finds plastic on the Scarborough beach for the ScarboroArt exhibition


How to artfully tackle coastal pollution

Justin Lawson is one of the four artists taking part in ScarboroArtJustin Lawson is one of the four artists taking part in ScarboroArt

Artist Janet White first saw John Atkinson Grimshaw’s painting Burning Off when she moved to Scarborough in 1986. It shows a flare guiding a boat in peril in South Bay, helping the crew as they navigate a stormy sea to reach safe harbour.

Her new installation, Awash, echoes Grimshaw’s artwork but, this time, instead of sending up a guidance flare, she’s answering a distress flare; a warning that our seas and marine life are in danger from discarded plastic waste.

Janet, and three other local artists, were challenged by Scarborough Museums Trust to create art from materials gathered along the resort’s shoreline, highlighting the destructive power of pollution and the coast’s particular vulnerability to plastic. The fascinating results are now on display in ScarboroArt, at Scarborough Art Gallery (until January 6th).

‘As a society, we’re becoming increasingly aware of the damage plastics cause to the environment,’ said venues and volunteer manager Julie Baxter. ‘Taking a stroll along Scarborough’s coastline confirms the impact it is having on our surroundings – you just have to look at the number of plastic objects you find washed-up or strewn on our shores.

Kane Cunningham takes a break from his ScarboroArt projectKane Cunningham takes a break from his ScarboroArt project

‘With this exhibition, we’ve had an opportunity to do something creative and practical to address this problem; firstly, with a beach clean and, secondly, putting discarded plastic objects to use in the creation of striking and original art.

‘Responding to seascapes in Scarborough Art Gallery’s permanent collection, the four artists we commissioned have also each been inspired by their own concerns about the impact of plastics on our coastal environments. Through the resulting diverse artworks, we hope to challenge visitors to think about their own use and, in highlighting the problem, ensure the future care of our beautiful Scarborough coastline.’

The four Scarborough-based artists tasked with coming up with creative responses to the pollution issue are Kane Cunningham, Rachel Messenger, Justin DL and Janet White.

Rachel Messenger was inspired by Scarborough Lighthouse at Night with Full Moon by Walter Linsley Meegan and Scarborough, Castle Hill and Harbour by Moonlight by Henri Philippe Neumans, which depict the shore at different stages of the evening. Her piece, Disused, considers the debate about the overuse of plastic bags and non-biodegradable objects left or washed up on our beaches.

Rachel Messenger works on her plastic projectRachel Messenger works on her plastic project

Justin DL’s Moon – Coast – Flotsam/Jetsam (2018) [Series of 6] replaces the image of the sun in Scarborough Castle by A Matchment with the moon. In the 350 years since the scene was painted, pollution and global warming have significantly affected the coastline and seas, something Justin has hinted at, subtly but discernibly, in his work.

Kane Cunningham has created Rise and Fall of the Tide in response to Scarborough’s seascape collection with particular reference to the work of Henry Barlow Carter. He looks back, examining the collection and its impact on local people.

The ScarboroArt project was inspired by a £2,500 donation by Proudfoot, the local supermarket chain, which donated money raised from the sale of 5p carrier bags to the Trust to delve into plastic pollution.

Valerie Aston, director of the Proudfoot Group, said: ‘Despite seeing a huge decline in demand for single use carrier bags in our stores following the introduction of the 5p charge, we are delighted the funds raised from the carrier bags bought by our customers are able to support such a fantastic local cause.’

A beach clean along the Scarborough shoreline provides plastic for the anti pollution exhibitionA beach clean along the Scarborough shoreline provides plastic for the anti pollution exhibition

ScarboroArt runs until January 6th, 10am-5pm Tuesday-Sunday. Admission is just £3, which entitles the visitor to free entry for a year. For details, visit

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