COAST – sea, sky and boats


At Home selected by Bruce Haines, Curator and Writer

The first paintings by Robert Soden that I saw showed the frames of modern buildings under construction. Building site debris lay abandoned in the foreground of his large scale watercolours. Bricks, wooden cable reels and old railway sleepers, chunks of concrete and their curling wires create a new landscape remembering an industrial version now largely confined to heritage. Puddles of water reflect foreboding battle grey skies, lit dramatically in a way that exits only in the imagination unless you are lucky enough to be able to spend your days outdoors.  They immediately seem of another time, and call to mind the despairing, apocalyptic landscapes of Paul Nash who combined his wartime experiences with pastoral images of the countryside.

The economical forms and simple ordered surfaces of sixties tower blocks are rendered by Soden with a conviction and fluidity that comes from a confident hand re-investing the modernist utopian aspirations of their form with real affection.  It is not as if Soden is reminiscing though for times past, he has revisited these iconic structures that have, in a bid to drag them into the 21st century have been capped with the flowing wave-like forms adorning countless apartment complexes countrywide.

The methodology then, a rigorous and passionate observation is a backdrop to the remarkable sequence of watercolours, 42 Wiltshire Cottages. Returning year after year to a family village south of the M4 Soden systematically recorded all the thatched cottages in his trademark fluid watercolour. Despite modernity, as you would expect, each has a particular character that has stood the test of time, but which in all probability is now lacking from the village itself. Most are probably second homes, their once neighbourly relationship to each other negated by the fact that a truly local working population would now not be able to afford to live in them at all.

Taken from life, outdoors in all weathers, most often he paints in watercolour on his knees directly and assured; there is the precious quality of delight in the economy of means by which he takes on large scale buildings and expansive landscapes. Made almost daily, Soden’s paintings are a visual diary, touchstones to another time, or ciphers to one that we share and are given the opportunity to experience again through his enthusiastic and honest responses. But Soden’s landscapes are very much of the present and are part of everyone’s lives, whether based in the city or not they also have a wit about them at odds with their surface beauty. In returning to similar locations again and again, the landscape is traced physically prompting an emotional response in the viewer though identifying with the cultural and economic shifts that have occurred in just half a lifetime, the artist’s own.

Bruce Haines

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