Robert Soden Robert Soden - Landscape Painter
Robert Soden
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Current pictures:


In 2017 our elder son Herbert got married, to mark the occasion he and his wife-to-be Emma selected an exhibition of my work, choosing paintings of places that had significance for them, these were hung in our studio/gallery where the wedding breakfast was held.

Now our younger son Simeon is marrying Kellie and he has chosen an exhibition too, hung in my new studio where we are a hosting a ‘banquet-for-the-bridegroom’ the night before his wedding. He chose paintings made in the early 1980's before he was born showing skeletons taking holidays in Rome where they are ‘enjoying’ fascist and Roman architecture, others are seen camping at Finchale Abbey and other historic Durham sites. Simeon, an electronic musician and composer with wide musical tastes told me that he felt that the painting's mirrored the musical genre Black Metal in the gruesome topics and transgressive imagery, he says he thinks of them as pre-Black Metal.

After 40 years it was good to see these imaginative and exuberant paintings again, the concerns for the world that they reflect are still the subject of my work. History and the politics of change are now critiqued through a closer examination of my environment using choice of subject, weather and light as more subtle metaphors for the politics of change.

Simeon also chose the 2 paintings accompanying the exhibition in the PICTURE WINDOW series, which were also made in early 1980’s from drawings of historic interiors in the Bowes Museum and reflect my interest in Hogarth’s engravings where the disarray of furniture is one of the numerous pictorial devices used to convey the narrative.

Previous pictures:


Sunderland's traffic roundabouts are a haven for trees, plants and wildlife. Road users orbiting these semi-secret worlds on a daily basis can observe the passing of the seasons in a contained form. Some offer surprising landmarks too such as the oversize metal pineapples sculptures at East Herrington that welcome incoming commuters approaching from Durham and the A19.

I like the formal qualities that roundabouts afford me as a painter, the placing of the circle, ‘ovalled’ by perspective within the ‘frame’ of the rectangular paper and the tarmac framing, constraining and contrasting with the non-geometric natural forms.

Four paintings, Silksworth Lane, (Sainsburys’) roundabout.

These paintings of the seasons were made over one year, (2010). The consistency of viewpoint and the repetition of road signs and lampposts against which the seasons unfold makes one aware of a passing of a time greater than the time it takes a road user to navigate these now essential, iconic urban structures.

Top window: Winter, 2010, acrylic and gouache on Somerset paper, 75 x 105 cm

Bottom window: Summer, 2010 watercolour and gouache on Somerset paper


Lake District monotypes

In 1992 I was awarded the Northern Arts Major Print Bursary which provided time and materials to make prints at the master-printmaker John Sutcliffe’s Lowick House Print Workshop near Ulverston. I used the award to make monotypes, something I’d never done before. I worked from the Lake District landscape surrounding the workshop.

In the 1640's the Venetian artist Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione invented the monotype process. He printed images that he drew directly onto flat metal plates with printing ink, normally these metal plates would have been engraved with a burin (a kind of pointed metal chisel) or etched with acid. Etchings and engravings are called intaglio prints and it is possible to print many identical copies. Monotypes as the name suggests are one-offs, each one unique and unrepeatable, the process exists somewhere between direct (all prima) painting and the offset nature of printmaking. Many artists favour this process for its spontaneity and painterliness, most notably Degas who popularised this process in the C19th. Monotypes are usually made indoors near or next to the press they are to be printed on.

At Lowick I worked on a piece of light plastic (Perspex) with slow drying, oil-based inks, outside directly from the landscape. I then took the painted-on-plastic-plate back to the print workshop, put it on the bed of the etching press, placed a sheet of damp paper on top and then rolled the plate and paper together through the press. The pressure of the press transfers the ink from the plastic (or metal) plate to the paper. There are always unexpected surprises with this type of informal printmaking - often very pleasing. I really liked the way that it was possible to respond rapidly and directly to the ever-changing skies, clouds and light outside in a print medium. All work is for sale.


Top window: Benedict Building, 2000, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset Paper, 75 x 105 cm

Bottom window: Monkwearmouth Hall, 2005, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Fabriano 5, paper, 75 x 105 cm

The University of Sunderland inherited, from the former Sunderland Polytechnic, some remarkable buildings designed and built in the 1960’s, many now demolished. When I arrived in Sunderland in 1990 they had a real presence in the (now) city.

Their architecture demonstrated confidence and optimism, the Benedict Building's external entrance steps and concrete canopy had a powerful sculptural verve. Situated impressively on Durham Road Monkwearmouth Hall of Residence had a tower and concrete buttresses between which sat notable abstract relief panels.


Missing You: Art School

Top Window: Art School Entrance, Backhouse Park, 2012, watercolour and gouache on Somerset paper, 75 x 105 cm

(On the right-hand side you can see a kinetic sculpture by Walter Hudspith, a aformer lecturer at the Art School).

Bottom Window: Art School, seen from Backhouse Park, 2012, watercolour and gouache on Somerset paper, 75 x 105 cm

(I always liked the way this building appeared to float above the park).

The University of Sunderland inherited, from the former Sunderland Polytechnic, some remarkable buildings designed and built in the 1960’s, many now demolished. When I arrived in Sunderland in 1990 they had a real presence in the (now) city.

The former College of Art building, then called the Backhouse building (later renamed Ashburne House), had a very distinctive block of modernist studios rising from a podium with a glass exterior joined, via a sensitively designed ‘bridge’, (the art and design library, containing 120,000 books and reading rooms), to the C19th former home of the Backhouse banking family. Situated in the beautiful Backhouse Park, (gifted to the city by the Backhouse family), this site was vacated by the University in 2012, the buildings left to rot and studio block subsequently demolished in 2020. The art school, a great loss, is still mourned by former students and staff who found the parkland setting to be inspirational.

The new owners claim that the demolition of the art school studio block would have a positive impact on the Park, however the erection of a high wooden fence to separate the now privately owned land from public park obscures the view of the glorious spring flowers that carpet the drive way to Ashburne House each year, given that Backhouse Park was given for all the people of Sunderland to enjoy, this is a shame, and in place of a unigue building there will be a (very probably) a bog-standard housing development.


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Dhillon's Londis, Belvedere Road, Ashbrooke

Gouache, watercolour and acrylic on Somerset paper, 75 x 105cm

When I was making this painting I suddenly realised why I was so interested in painting shops, I think its because my favourite aunt had a small shop and sub-post office on the corner of a Victorian terrace near where I grew up in Somerset. It stocked amongst other things loose sweets in large glass jars - pear drops, bull’s eyes, aniseed balls and Trebor chews. In these troubled times of war, climate change, economic crisis, perhaps I am seeking comfort in nostalgia as while painting I have been thinking about my auntie’s shop with its cosy back room, warm fire and endless supply of sweets.

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Olly Faith, African Food Stores, Attires and Accessories, Pallion Shopping Village

Gouache, watercolour and acrylic on Somerset paper, 75 x 105cm

This shop has recently opened and is very close to The Redeemed Christian Church of God and is one of a few corner shops that is not open on Sundays.


Top window:

Sunderland Civic Centre, (Before), 2021, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper 75 x 105cm

Bottom window:

The Demolition of Sunderland Civic Centre seen from Building Hill, (After), 2023, watercolour and gouache on Somerset paper, 75 x 105cm

Sunderland Council is responsible for authorising the demolition of one of the few significant 20th century buildings of national merit in the city - the Civic Centre, by designed by Sir Basil Spence, Parks and Bonnington. As I discovered when I worked outside on these painting, the Civic Centre was a building loved by many.

Having lived in Sunderland for more than 30 years I have witnessed the demolition of some fine examples of 1970's architecture by the University, it now has plans to demolish the National Glass Centre. Both the NGC and the Civic Centre are buildings that were thoughtfully and brilliantly sited and became significant and important landmarks. This endless erasure of architecturally significant elements of the built environment, significant to the lives of many and substituting it with the truly mediocre, is making the city bland and ugly. Is the crammed, architecturally I dull redevelopment of the Vaux site the only way forward?


Stadium of Light under Construction 1996 to 1997

To mark the end of the Football Art Prize exhibition at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens on 11 March 2023, (which includes one of my paintings of the Stadium of Light under construction called Goals not Coals, 1997), PICTURE WINDOW features four other paintings from this large series of paintings recording the construction of Sunderland’s Stadium of Light between1996 and 1997. You do not need to have an interest in football to enjoy this exhibition, the variety of paintings, drawings, videos and the artists comments about their work and their love of football make the show a fascinating experience for everyone.

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The Constructors, (Steel Framework Stadium Assembly), 1996 Watercolours, gouache and acrylic on Saunders watercolour paper, 66 x 101cm

The painting shows the steel framework that will support the raker beams and stadium seating. In the background you can see the now demolished, iconic shipyard crane called the Winston Churchill.

Bottom Window

Stadium, Winter Sunset, December 1996 Watercolour, gouache, acrylic and pencil on Saunders watercolour paper, 66 x 101cm


PICTURE WINDOW celebrates the variety and individuality that small local shops bring to the urban landscape with their bold signage and colourful frontages. Each shop is unique an characterful in contrast to the sameness and predictability of the large retail chains whose outlets are the same wherever you are. Sunderland has Bangladeshi, Polish, Pakistani, Kurdish, Palestinian, Chinese and Indian shops and restaurants that bring cuisines and ingredients that have added to and enriched our choices. Often these shops are close to the communities that set them up and to places of worship, for example the Halal Shop is next to the Mosque.

Whilst painting these paintings I was met with much kindness offered coffee, tea and chocolates, I also learnt much about these communities.

Top window: Ala-Uddin, Retailer Of Fresh Bangladeshi Fish and Vegetables, Tatham Street

Bottom window: Delicious Polish Food, High Street West.


Sunderland shop

Top Window

Wear U Well While U Wait, (Borough Road, Sunderland), 2016, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper, 75 x 107cm

Bottom Window

Al-Huddah, (Borough Road, Sunderland), 2016, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper, 75 x 107cm

These paintings celebrate the gloriously varied appearance, diversity and usefulness of small shops to their local communities.

Wear U Well While U Wait traded for more than 50 years before its proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Hibbert retired in 2022, remembered not only for mending shoes and cutting keys but also for their friendly waves to passers-by most of whom they knew, they are much missed on Borough Road.


Sunderland Mosques

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Hendon Jame Masjid, Laura Street, Sunderland

Here, two typical Victorian terraced houses have been repurposed into a mosque, decorated on the front wall and windows with striking decorative motifs.

Watercolour and gouache on Somerset paper, 75 X 105cm

Bottom Window

Sunderland Central Mosque, Chester Road

This is the oldest mosque in Sunderland converted from a shop to prayer rooms in 1982. I was told by members of the congregation that it was founded by 2 doctors who worked in the local hospital. I particularly enjoyed painting the decorative painting on the outside of the building.

Watercolour and gouache on BSK Reeve paper, 75 X 105 cm


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Palazzo Sagredo, (Galileo’s Hideaway), Castello, 2022

Bottom Window
The Bricks of Venice, (Fondamenta del Schiavoni , Castello), 2022


Broad Meadows

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Sunset over Suburbia, January, 2022, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper, 76 x 106cm

Bottom Window
Dusk Broad Meadows, January 2022, watercolour, gouache, and acrylic on Somerset paper, 76 x 106cm

The paintings record the fleeting nature of the sky and were made on consecutive winter evenings when there was some spectacular winter sunsets.

Sunsets have been a subject for many painters, notably Turner, they are the consequence of the industrial revolution and particulate pollution it causes.

This is the last of the current season of Picture Window displays.


Top Window View over Low Hill, 1987, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Fabriano 5 paper, 70 x 100cm

Lower Window Storm over Low Hill, 1987, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Fabriano 5 paper, 70 x 100cm

Bridewell Artis’s Residency Liverpool

These paintings were made during an artist’s residency at the Bridewell Studios, Liverpool 1986-87, an exciting, febrile city where political history was being made in the aftermath of Militant’s, (Labour Party faction) domination of the City Council, the Toxteth Riots and just before the opening of Tate Liverpool and subsequent culture-led regeneration of the centre of Liverpool.

Liverpool, from the elevated site of the studio, offered vistas of cleared housing covered in mature vegetation, the incongruous juxtaposition of grand Georgian houses with new-build bungalows and the extraordinary weather effects resulting from being on the River Mersey. It was here that weather and its effects became an important subject in my work acting as metaphors for the turbulent political events of the day.


Top window:

Valley of Glass, Sewardstone Essex, 1985, watercolour, and pencil on Fabriano 5 paper, 70cm X 100cm

When I lived in Walthamstow in the 1980’s I would often make drawings in sketchbooks with pencil of the nearby Essex countryside, these provided information for larger watercolours made in the studio. This painting of glasshouses in Sewardstone shows one of the many small market gardens that supply London with fruit and vegetables. Paintings made from drawings in the studio are very different to those made outside directly from the subject, as there is time for a different kind of invention and a more considered focus on formal issues.

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May in April, Essex, 1988, watercolour and gouache on Saunders Waterford paper, 66 cm X 100cm

This clapboard-clad farmhouse in Essex was painted directly from the subject. Clapboard are overlapping horizontal boards and is traditional building material in Essex.


North Circular Roadworks.

Between 1985 and 1991 I made a large number of paintings of the A4606, North Circular Road works in London, mainly around The Crooked Billet roundabout and underpass construction.

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Cut and Cover, 1991, as this underpass was constructed it was a concrete wonderland of mud and reinforcing bars and was painted directly opposite our house. In relation to current H&S situations this construction site’s H&S now seems very lax, I could cross the road at a weekend and wander around unchallenged to make paintings. Cut and Cover construction is when a large trench is dug and is then covered by a concrete deck.

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North Circular Still-Life, a crane jib and pile driving equipment sits on the site of the recently demolished Crooked Billet Pub, originally built in C18th.


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“War Time Garden”, 1985, watercolour and acrylic on Fabriano 5 paper, 70 X 100 cm

In 1985 we moved to Walthamstow in North East London to live in an ‘Acme House’, (short-life housing/studios for artists), the end-of-terrace house built in 1929 was due to be demolished as part of the North Circular Road Improvement Scheme near the Crooked Billet pub. It had a large back garden that had been neglected for many years and had been used as a dumping ground for ‘fridges and other household detritus. The concrete structure in the middle ground of the painting and the green mound in the neighbour’s garden to the right are the remains of Andersen shelters erected after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, (Andersen Shelter's were named after Sir John Andersen who was in charge of Air Raid Precautions). They were small, cheap, semi-submerged, very damp structures made from corrugated iron covered in earth and provided some protection from the fallout of aerial bombardment. My wife, a keen gardener who wanted to make a garden and grow vegetables, had to work around ‘our’ Andersen shelter. This painting shows the garden the first Autumn that we lived there after we had removed two large lorry loads of rubbish from the garden and then improved the soil with car-loads of horse manure that we got from the riding stables in the Lee Valley, (now home to the Olympic Park). We were pleased that the house survived the planned demolition when the North Circular Road Improvement Plans were revised.

Bottom Window
“Virginia's Garden”, 1986, watercolour and gouache on Fabriano 5 paper, 70X100 cm

Because the ground had lain fallow for years under its mounds of rubbish and as a result of the liberal addition of manure, the first year’s crop of courgettes and broccoli in particular were spectacular and were shared with our friends and neighbours.

The gardens along the back of the terrace were separated by low fences, this encouraged a friendly community, we often passed our young children over the fence to play with the next door children and our lovely neighbours did likewise.


Top Window: Cartopia, 1983/4
Lower Window: Danse Ma-car-bre, 1983/4

In 1983 President Reagan made a speech in Orlando, USA calling the USSR the “Evil Empire’, a year in fact after the first Cruise missiles had been imported from the USA and housed at the UK’s Greenham Common RAF base. Protests about the plan to install the missiles began in Britain in 1980. The 1980’s is also the decade in which the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster struck and in which there was a growing awareness of the looming climate change situation.

It is in this context that I made these paintings whilst living in Durham, 1983-84. They explore a post-apocalyptic world set in typical Durham streets ‘peopled’ with skeletons animatedly carry on a kind of life-after-death. For all the grimness of the subject the paintings were very enjoyable to make, they echo the black humour of Posada’s prints commemorating of the Mexican Day of the Dead. Other paintings of this period show flyovers and cities being consumed by cars, these were based on the motorway system of Gateshead and Newcastle and inspired by J.G. Ballard’s Crash and other future fictions and by Jean-Luc Godard’s film Le Weekend.

Nearly 40 years separate these paintings from my most recent but they are linked by common threads, they are set in the North East and they are about what is happening now. The subject matter is still urban and now with the Russian invasion of the Ukraine we are reminded again of the possibility of nuclear Armageddon.


Top Window: Internal Courtyard, Civic Centre, Sunderland, May, 2021
Lower Window: The Civic Suite from Park Lane, 2016

Painting the Civic Centre, which of course requires long periods of looking, made me realise how clever and welcoming the design of the building is as the ziggurat-style ramps allow easy access for those using wheelchairs or prams. I enjoyed painting the engineering brick and paving and I always find going there to be an uplifting experience as the building wraps around a series of intimate outdoor spaces filled with trees and plants and is (or was until the recent destruction) surrounded by mature trees and in Spring carpets of daffodils, scylla and crocuses.

From my Painting Diary 25 May, 2021:

One of the few modern buildings of distinction in Sunderland designed by Sir Basil Spence, Bonnington and Collins is now about to be demolished. What a terrible shame!


Easter Picture window!

Upper window

Backyards, Tunstall Vale, Ashbrooke, Sunderland, 2022, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper, 74 x 105cm

Victorian Sunderland (Ashbrooke, Thornhill, Hendon etc.) was built by very skillful bricklayers (and brick makers), whose work not only survives but still enhances the urban scene with grand frontages and the more modest back lanes. This painting of the rear of The Lawns, Ashbrooke, with the spire of St John’s Methodist Church in the background, with its many ad-hoc additions and eccentric plumbing and walls often in need of urgent provides the painter with an interesting subject.

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The Painter’s Shirt, 2022, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper, 74 x 105cm

For 2 months, as the result of an operation, I could only make paintings that would involve the minimum of standing and walking. After painting everything I could in the house and when the weather got better, I moved out to the backyard and inspired by Pieter de Hooch’s, A Courtyard of a House in Delft, 1658, I began to study the 132 years of history shown in the weathered and repaired walls of our backyard and our neighbours’ houses in Spring light conditions. This kept me busy for many days!


This week’s theme is work, as our lovely gallery assistant is leaving us to take up a full-time post, (thank you for all your help Simeon Soden), so the PICTURE WINDOW, PaintingSunderland lockdown project will come to an end for the time being after 30 glorious weeks.

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The Joinery Shop, Nordstroms

I was able to paint the joinery shop at Nordstroms Timber Merchant’s former premises, in Woodbine Street, East End of Sunderland by kind permission of the Nordstrom family. This wood yard had many beautifully hand-painted informational signs, colourful metal racks containing timber and a great variety of wood working machinery. When I was painting there pensioners would often come with shopping trolleys to collect offcuts of wood for their fires, other people took away sawdust for horse bedding.

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Alan Howarth ‘All Vehicle Repairs’

In the East End of Sunderland, especially around the Nile Street and Villiers Street there were many small garages and workshops, a tradition that goes back to the Victorian period when it was the area where you would go to get your bicycle repaired. The garage in this painting was in Nile Street and was demolished as part of a Sunderland ARC’s Sunniside regeneration scheme. Where there were several thriving businesses there is now a large area of grass awaiting development.


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Helter Skelter, Sunderland Illuminations, Autumn 2017

Fairgrounds and Circuses bring cheer to the approaching Winter, they have always been a popular subject for artists as they offer a colourful spectacle beyond everyday life. I painted the Helter Skelter in Roker Park at dusk, just before the crowds, drawn by the spectacle of the lights along the sea front, started to arrive.

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Vegas Circus, Ticket Booth, 2011

Over the years I have made many paintings of Big Tops and circus transport. In 2011 whilst painting the Circus Vegas Big Top on Roker seafront the owner came out to talk to me and said he would put up a sign and start charging people to watch me paint! He then commissioned me to paint his Big Top the resulting painting was to go in the ticket-office trailer. Whilst I was painting I noticed a man with his arm in a sling and I asked what he did in the Circus, he replied that he was the Human Cannon Ball, I asked him if wasn’t a bit dangerous he said, “of course, but I only work for 2 minutes a day!”


Etching is a printmaking process. Etchings are usually made by the artist her/himself and are classified as ‘artist’s prints’. To make an etching a drawing is ‘bitten’ with acid into a metal plate, (zinc, copper or steel). Varnishes and other oil based preparations are used on the plate before ‘biting’ takes place to keep areas of the plate white to make shades of grey when printed, otherwise the whole plate would print totally black, when ‘inked up’ only the ‘bitten’ areas of the plate trap the ink. An ‘impression’ can then be made from the plate onto dampened paper which is rolled through an etching press under great pressure. Etchings are usually made in ‘editions’ and the plate destroyed after the edition is printed. The artist then signs and numbers the prints. These are called autographic prints and are different, for example, from digital prints which are reproductions of an existing artwork or photograph.

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Monkwearmouth Colliery, etching soft ground and aquatint, on Somerset paper. The colliery ceased production in 1993, and was quickly demolished to make way for the Stadium of Light.

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Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland, softground etching and aquatint.

Queen Alexandra Bridge at Night, softground etching and aquatint. This impressive bridge initially had a top deck which carried coal trains and a lower deck for road traffic.


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Mud River Wear, 1994

By painting the River at low tide the tyres and traffic cones in the muddy bed of the river are revealed, these are not randomly dumped but are placed there by fishermen to catch hermit crabs, which they then use as bait to catch cod and otherfish.In the centre of the painting afisherman can beseen searching for bait. On the oppositebank of the Wear isthe Vaux Brewery, demolished in 1999.

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Hornby Train Set, 1996

The advantage of painting indoors is that it is comfortable and time can be lavished on detaileddescriptions of things, this is not always possible when working outside in difficult weather conditions. I enjoyed having the time to paint the trains and model railway set up in detail over a number of sessions, this was set up in our sons’ attic bedroom and it became the repository of a variety of toys acquired at school fetes and toy shops. The railway setis now packed up and put away awaiting further use.


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Cullercoats Bay

I painted this view of Cullercoats standing on the pier. Overlooking the bay is the spire of St George’s church.I just managed to finish the painting as high tide lapped around my feet and painting trolley.

In the 1820’s Cullercoats became an artist’s colony, painters came to record the coastline and the men, women and children who made their livelihoods from the sea. The American artist Winslow Homer settled in Cullercoats in 1881 returning to America in 1882.

Lower window

Souter Lighthouse, Marsden, South Tyneside

Looking across from The Leas, Souter Lighthouse, standing on the Lizard Headland, is a dramatic sight. The Fog Horn House, standing in front of the lighthouse, (now decommissioned), produced a five second blast every 30 seconds during fog and poor weather. On the same site there are cottages formerly occupied by the lighthouse keepers and their families and a walled garden that can just be seen on the left of the painting. Souter Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1988 and is now a National Trust property. It makes an interesting day out.hen I was painting I heard a tremendous cheer, the building site spectators had heard on the radio that Keven Keegan had left Sunderland AFC’s rivals Newcastle United.


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Gateshead International Stadium, 2008.

This painting is part of a series of paintings of Gateshead International Stadium, commissioned by Gateshead Council. One of these painting is now on display in the Stadium.

I have chosen to put these two paintings of sports stadia up as a nod towards the Olympics which are entertaining us at present

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Goals not Coals, The Stadium of Light Sunderland AFC. 1996

I painted the construction of the new football stadium from the beginings of steel erection to its completion, I took particular delight in painting the steel framework, (as somebody once said the RSJ (rolled steel joist) is my muse).

The Stadium of Light as it is now called is on the site of the former Monkwearmouth Colliery, the remanants of which (the coal staithes) can be seen in the foreground. As I painted the construction work I noticed that groups of men would meet up at the same time every day to discuss its progress and the fortunes of the football club, they were former miners and were recreating their bait times, (pit meal breaks) by meeting up in this way.

One day when I was painting I heard a tremendous cheer, the building site spectators had heard on the radio that Keven Keegan had left Sunderland AFC’s rivals Newcastle United.


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The SD 36, Seaham Harbour

The SD36, seen herein Seaham Harbour, is a coble, a type of open, traditional fishing boat developed on the North East coast of England. Cobles areflat-bottomed to enable ease of launching from shallow beaches and high-bowed to launch into the surf and contend with the currents and tides of the North Sea. The design is thought to be of Norse origin with a later Dutch influence. They are traditionally built without plans, the craft of coble building is dying out. The S D on the side of the boat is the first and last letter of the fishing boat’s port of origin, in this case Sunderland.

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The Julie Ann, Seaham Harbour

I have always loved painting boats of all kinds, the lettering and numbering on the side of fishing boats is interesting to paint and I have always found the colours of the fishing boats and the bright colours of the lobster pot buoys and flags cheerful sight.


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Foxcover Industrial Estate, Seaham

When Seaham’s three pits closed in 1992 the character of Seaham changed, Foxcover Industrial Estate was built where Dawdon Colliery once stood, a Sainsbury’s Local and a popular housing development now sit on the site of Vane Tempest Colliery. This former pit town now has the air of a seaside resort not an industrial mining complex, it’s a place to come to enjoy, beaches, sculpture and ice-cream.

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View of the entrance of Seaham Harbour and Piers, 1994

View of the entrance of Seaham Harbour and Piers seen from above, was painted on a foggy day in 1994, the horizon obscured by North Sea Haar. The harbour was built to export millions of tons of coal hewn from Seaham’s three collieries. This painting was made before the more recent regeneration of the Harbour and seafront. Traces of sea-coal can be seen on the beach.


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Whitburn House, Front Street, Whitburn

Whilst the workers lived in fairly uniform cottages, the coal mine and ship yard owners built mansions in a myriad of styles.Whitburn House, built between 1867-69, by pit owner Thomas Barnes, is an ornate stone and half timbered extravaganza. It is only an attention to detail and painting on site that allows each painting to become an accurate portrait of each home.

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Noble Street, Hendon

The Sunderland cottage, a type of housing particular to Sunderland,is a real step-up from multi-occupied tenements, it had its own front door, which provided privacy and social status. They were solidly built, single-storey dwellings, although many now have had their roof spaces converted into extra bedrooms with added dormer windows. Some are built straight onto the street and some have small fenced forecourts, they all have walled backyards leading onto what was originally a cobbled back lane. The yard had an outside toilet, a washhouse and a coalhouse with a wooden hatch high on the outside yard wall for the delivery of coal. The coalman could drive his horse and cart down the back lane and empty the sacks of coal directly from his high cart through the hatch into the coal shed.

Most of the cottages, found in many parts of Sunderland, were built between 1860 and 1910.The Sunderland cottage is a bit like a Tardis, it looks small from the outside but once inside you find it much larger than its outward appearance, they are much loved and many are little palaces.A French friend remarked on a visit to Sunderland that the high walled back yards reminded her of Morocco where she grew up.

Both types of housing were built between 1860 and 1900 when both Sunderland and the North were in their pomp, the wealth built on the Industrial Revolution meant that there truly was a “Northern Power House”, not a sound-bite coined by George Osborne in 2014.


Painting the Workplace

I have always found the process of making paintings of civil engineering projects exciting and enjoyable. The process of earth moving and under and above ground construction provides lots of interesting visual opportunities for me as a painter. Over many years of making paintings of workplaces and major engineering projects in situ, some as commissions, I have noted that the people working there, because I am seen painting on site, feel that their work and their working practices are valued. This is particularly true, I have discovered, in civil engineering projects when much of the completed work is covered up as sites are landscaped for public use. Because the work that I make is accessible and is about somethingthat workers are familiar with and often proud of, this often prompts discussion on contemporary art practice not just withconstruction workers but the wider community who pass by as I am working. The two paintings on display in this week’s PICTURE WINDOWS are of the building of the new Wear Crossing now known as the Northern Spire.

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Northern Spire, July 2018

At the time of making this painting the new Wear Crossing as it had been known, had just been named via public vote, The Northern Spire. The painting was made on the south side of the River Wear standing on the central carriageway prior to the bridge opening. To enable me to do this painting, Farrans the main contractor, who had kindly given me site access to paint the construction process, built a temporary pedestrian barrier around me to prevent me from been run over by construction traffic.

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From South Bank to North Bank. The New Wear Crossing, March, April 2018

In this painting the bridge deck almost reaches the north bank of the River Wear, the blue tusk like prongs in the painting are the mechanical apparatus used to launch the deck in sections across the river.


Upper window

Beach Hut Painting, Southwold, Suffolk

Southwold is famous for its colourful and jokily named beach huts. It was challenging to find a way of depicting them that did not reiterate existing images found in paintings and on postcards. This long view sideways from the veranda, I hope, shows the rarely depicted joy of looking away from the sea and watching other people’s beach lives play out on the verandas of these miniature homes-away-from-home.

Lower window

Beach Huts, Southwold, Suffolk, Late Afternoon

Painted on a hot June afternoon in Southwold, at a time when most of the holidaymakers have left the beach for tea. Just visible on the horizon is the Sizewell B Nuclear Power Station, the only intrusion of the contemporary world on this lovely, gentle seaside town.

These and other paintings, made over a number of years in Suffolk, were made possible due to the kindness of friends who shared their lovely cottage and beach hut with us and thus introduced us to the joys of Southwold and Suffolk in general. Unlocking the door of the beach hut after a walk to the pier tells you that your holiday has begun, thank you J&B.

Canary Wharf from Hampstead Heath, 2006, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Hannemuhle paper (78 x 108 cm). (POA)

This painting of Canary Wharf, seen from Hampstead Heath, situates one of the UK’s main financial centres in a composition reminiscent of an 18th century topographic watercolour, the expansive view of the landscape framed by a large tree. This picturesque style of painting was much favoured by the wealthy land owning classes of the time as a means of documenting and displaying their homes, land and other assets. This painting made in 2006 however shows the faraway banks in Docklands, ‘home’ to the newly wealthy aristocracy of financial traders who accumulates their wealth in less tangible forms.

Roseberry Street and Tower Blocks, 2019-2021, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on paper (75 x 105 cm). (POA)

When I was painting Roseberry Street from beside the clock on Newcastle Road, a former waiter from the Roker Hotel on the sea front, told me about when the painter L. S. Lowry stayed there. He said he always came down for breakfast after all the other guests had left because he did not want to talk about painting. In fact he never talked about painting or art, (his breakfast was huge, porridge and a full English, his evening meal apparently was always cold beef and chips). Lowryalso tried to avoid the comedian Dora Brian who also used stay at the Roker Hotel when she played at Sunderland Empire and wanted to talk to him about his paintings. The waiter also had to tip him off so he could avoid The Daily Mirror photographer who was trying to take photographs of him when he was at the hotel. The painter, he said, liked the town best when it was grey and damp with drizzle.

Lowry used to do drawings for the waitresses’ when he stayed at the Roker, the waiter’s regret is that he did not ask for one himself. He said the artist was always polite and addressed everyone as “Sir”.

Just as I finished my painting a passer by asked if he could photograph the painting as he had grown up in one of the cottages.

Diary Entry, May 19th 2019.

A walk along the Eden Vale Mineral Line, Sunderland, May 2021, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on paper (75 x 105 cm). (POA)

Sunderland is criss-crossed with former mineral lines previously used to transport coal from local collieries to the docks, these now disused lines have become important nature corridors through the city and are well used by walkers and cyclists. When I made this painting the weather was bright sunshine interspersed with thunder and lightning, this gave me impressive cloud formations to paint that echo the graffiti bubble writing on the wall on the left.

Over my many years of painting outside I have come to realise that people like to see the places where they live being depicted, it confirms the value their home patch. Passers-by also seem to love watching the making of a painting. While I was painting the cherry blossom in this painting some ESOL students walked past and took selfies with the painting, another person asked why I was painting the graffiti as he didn’t think it was the sort of subject that artists would paint. The graffiti for me is what makes the painting interesting, it’s a visual foil to the cherry blossom. Another asked me to explain the difference between acrylic and oil paint. I do not invite these encounters but I accept they are part and parcel of working in the urban environment. I always learn something about the place I’m working in from the people who talk to me, either a bit of local history or an interesting personal anecdote.

St Mary the Virgin, Wambrook Somerset, 2005, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper (75 x 111 cm). (POA)

I have always loved painting the Somerset landscape of my childhood: the verdant and generous hedgerows filled with flowers and wildlife, the tapestry of small fields dotted with farm buildings made of a warm Ham stone and the small village church at Wambrook with its tower. Sadly the small family farm of my youth: 30 cows, a few pigs and chickens scratching about in the dirt of the farm yard is no more, replaced by an excutive housing development the owners of which complain of cockerel’s crowing and the smell of cow muck, where there was once an orchard of cider apple trees and pig basking in the mud there is now a swimming pool.

Rockwater, Offshore Supply Vessel, Greewells Quay, Port of Sunderland, 2009, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper (75 x 105 cm). (POA)

The Rockwater was a diving support vessel for the offshore energy industry and was built in 1983 and decommissioned in 2018. I've always loved painting the colourful boats that pass through the Port of Sunderland, that is once again a thriving port.

Colliery Tavern, Sunderland, 2007, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper (75 x 105 cm). (POA)

The Towers of Sunderland from Strawberry Bank, 2017, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper (75 x 105 cm). (POA)

It’s always a thrill walking down Strawberry Bank and seeing Sunderland spread out below with it’s impressive range of towers (painted in situ in 2017)

Stand of Poplars, Wilsford, Wiltshire, 2002, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper (75 x 105 cm). (POA)

Asset Stripping, Cornings Demolition, 2009, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset Book paper (75 x 105 cm).

The Grand Canal from beside the Rialto Bridge, 2018, watercolour and gouache on Fabriano Unica paper, 70x100cm (POA)
Visit this gallery for more Venice paintings: Venice 2018-19

The Bents, Whitburn, Boats at Midday,, 1998, watercolour and gouache on Somerset paper, 75 x 106 cm. (POA)

Cherry Blossom, Suffolk Street (opposite Valley Road School), acrylic, watercolour, acrylic and gouache on Somerset paper, 76 x 108 cm. (POA)

De Gallant, Skonnerten Jylland and Froya, Manor Quay, 2018, acrylic, watercolour, acrylic and gouache on Somerset paper, 76 x 108 cm. (POA)

Red Gables, Alexandria Road, 2011, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper (77 x 107 cm). (POA)

Credit Crunch, 2009, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper (77 x 107 cm). (POA)

Bothy, Grizedale, 1986, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Hahnemuhle paper (77 x 107 cm). (POA)

Muller's Swiss Bakers 2004, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Hahnemuhle paper (77 x 107 cm). (POA)

Thunderstorm over Monkwearmouth Colliery 1992, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Hahnemuhle paper (77 x 107 cm). (POA)

The Second Day of Spring, 2014, watercolour, gouache and acrylic on Somerset paper (75 x 105 cm). (POA)