COAST – sea, sky and boats


Selected by Surg Cdr Peter Small RNR MD FRCSEd

There was a time when we regarded landscape as scenery. Nowadays we know better. In particular we are aware that we are implicated, that our destinies are linked.  Another heedless move on our part and our collective status here could be abbreviated.  (Egalitarian Landcapes, Ian Jeffrey, 2000).

Peter Small, in his selection of paintings for the gallery, took a particular delight in works that show the coast under different atmospheric conditions; like the artist, he does not view the sea as a place solely devoted to leisure activities - but also sees it as a place of work.  The artist often uses the visual effects that particular seasonal weather conditions have on the coastline to suggest, in a contemporary subversion of the C17th Dutch landscape tradition, that there is a political aspect to his choice of subject matter.  The glorious desolation that is Fishing Boat, Seaham, is countered by the glowing dawn of a new age of marine heritage, when a C19th tea clipper is seen framed by the empty warehouses at Alba Wharf, Hartlepool.

Blast Beach was made when Robert was commissioned by Easington District Council to record the changes to the East Durham coastline between Seaham and Hartlepool as the Turning the Tide project regenerated the previously coal-spoiled beaches.  He said of this experience - The coastline between Seaham and Hartlepool would not have been beautiful or picturesque to an C18th watercolourist – but it had a terrible beauty, the beauty of violation and provided me with a fantastic spectacle to paint.  These paintings are documents that record the past and ever-changing present; they are also art – my response, in paint, to the spectacular sights before me. (Shafts of Light – Mining Art in the Great Northern Coalfield,  Robert McManners and Gillian Wales, 2002).

The artist's view of the coast encompasses the terrible beauty of environmental despoliation begun by the Londonderry Coal Company over a hundred years ago, the joy of watching small craft skimming across a smooth sea on a summer's day during Regatta Day, Lyme Regis and observing the skills and industry of the Boat Yard, Essex.   Robert Soden’s paintings are both political and personal - they are his poetic response to the politics of the time, to the spectacle of the obliteration of the past, to the economic exploitation of heritage and to the ongoing delight of living and working by the sea.

Virginia Bodman

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© the artist and the authors