In All Lights: Paintings by Robert Soden 1982-2012


In our house, two big Robert Soden watercolours hang on either side of a room. On one wall is the Vale of Pewsey, its folding fields of yellow and green skimmed by rosy, evening sunshine. On the other, workshops, gantries, conveyors, chimneys and pylons loom out of the sulphurous haze of east London’s Lea Valley, their blues, blacks, browns and ochres reflected in the still, melancholy waters of the canal. 

Seeing the paintings together in this way exposes the fact that the very different landscapes they describe have each been accorded exactly the same status. One is rural and arcadian and the other is urban and everyday, but both have been observed with the same meticulous attention and rendered with the same veracity.

This willingness, to treat everything equally, to see every aspect of the world that surrounds us whether old or new, appreciated or neglected, perfect or provisional, bright or dull, as being equally worthy of exploration, is one of the essential foundations of Robert Soden’s work. And it is because of this openness - this inclusiveness - that the documentary record his paintings provide is so significant. Now running, presumably, into hundreds, and touching on almost all areas of the country and on so many aspects of the life that exists within them, these paintings describe not the exceptional or the extreme but the ordinary condition of the late 20th and early 21st century, the beauty and the banality of the everyday world.

But Robert Soden’s paintings do so much more than merely record the physical characteristics of his subjects. They place them – trees, tower blocks, bridges and bunkers, flowers and flyovers – in a temporal context, observing them through the changing seasons, at different times of day, and most of all through the drama of the prevailing weather, the volume of the sky filled by clouds or suffused by the light of a hidden sun. Perhaps this sensitivity to the microclimate is hardly surprising in the work of an artist who paints almost always in situ, kneeling down in front of his drawing board.  In Robert’s paintings we feel what he feels:  the movement of the clouds, the unpredictability of the sun, and the excitement of darkness when electricity lights up our buildings and our streets.

This preoccupation with the effect of light, and of its movement across fields, facades, water and sky, is particularly evident in the paintings we have selected for this exhibition. Robert Soden’s paintings not only open up the diversity of the world we live in, but, because of his unexpected use of colour and the vigour of his brushstrokes, also allow us to see it with a new intensity. Everything in Robert’s paintings is manifestly, and determinedly, alive.


Bob Allies and Jill A Franklin, London, March 2012



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