Cath Keay – 1000 Tides

Cath Keay’s doctoral project builds on her previous, long-running work on bees and wax sculpture to investigate ways in which art and the natural world can interact, exploring dynamic natural processes that can influence the final form of a sculpture.  Keay’s sculptural works provide a basis for animal colonisation in natural environments (a wax architectural sculpture in a beehive; terracotta text sculptures in the sea); over time it is possible to investigate the way in which these animal forms adapt to and alter the artworks, creating beauty in nature’s response to human intervention.  Her work highlights the role of nature as collaborator in the creation of the artistic product.
Her current work involves three large terracotta word sculptures that have been placed in the sea underneath the pier at Blyth, to be colonised by barnacles, mussels and sea squirts.  After this colonisation has taken place, and the original sculptures almost obliterated by sea life, they will be transferred, still living, to tanks for exhibition.
She is also working on a large terracotta rendition of a quote by Ruskin, which will be colonised by as beautiful a range of sea life as possible.

Research context and method

Keay’s original work on bees and wax sculptures, from which her present projects evolved, reflected on humans and bees as social creatures, within the context of 1930s utopian architecture.  By creating an art deco-style wax building and placing it in a hive as a starter structure for bees to use to build wax cells, it was possible to observe how human architecture and bee architecture could merge.
Her present work refers to the vast number of organisms living in the sea that we know nothing about, and the difficulty of preserving sea life for study.  The words that Keay chose to place in the sea are ‘fecundity’, ‘feracity’ and ‘uberty’, all variations on the theme of fruitfulness, and the flowing, italic form of the sculptures expresses this theme further.  Through this project an interest in Victorian understandings of art and science has also emerged: the use of Victorian tanks at the Newcastle University’s Dove marine laboratory has resulted in her focussing on Ruskin, particularly his crossover interest in art and science and his negative response to Darwinism.
Keay also hopes to develop her work in the future to grow crystals in forms of Utopian architecture.

Project Sponsors

Cath Keay holds a Norma Lipman Foundation Scholarship and is sponsored by the Catherine Cookson Foundation.


The Dove Marine Laboratory