Chapel Repaired is a large work on canvas (60″ x 80″) oil and dye inspired by Giotto’s Arena Chapel, creating faux stained glass using handmade stamped images.
Robert Soffian is an emeritus professor of theatre, a director, painter and poet. He holds an MFA from the University of Virginia (1985) and a BA in Cultural Studies/History from the University of Wisconsin in Madison (1969). For the almost 30 years he taught at Shasta College in Redding, CA. Robert has directed, designed lights, created mis en scen, and experimented with digital projected scenery for well over 100 plays. As a producer, he ran two theatres: Century Hall and the Metropole Theatre in Milwaukee, WI. He has curated dozens of exhibitions, ballet, opera, performance art, and music events. (He is credited with having discovered the Violent Femmes).
Robert was born into a family that collected art and he and his siblings were encouraged to express themselves through writing, painting and performing. The walls of his childhood home were covered with the Modernists, and the tables and mantles festooned with classic busts and figures. His father reads Robert Shakespeare while he sat on his knee on the living room sofa (true). He was introduced to poets and writers as his guides from an early age. However, he was a diffident child, dyslexic, stuttering and awkward in public. Not until years later did he become the non-stop talker and communicator that he is today. Irony was his constant partner. His mother would often say, “Robert, not everything is a joke, you know!”
I am a painter who utilizes neo-archaic images and forms. I communicate narratives by way of a private vocabulary comprised of ideograms, vibrant scenic metaphors, glyphs, and disguised figures in motion. I manipulate these forms by altering and juxtaposing handmade stamps like in a puzzle. These etching–like vehicles can be used in a multitude of variations. They morph and age through a process of combination and re-shaping. By revisiting non-rational ancient sources, I see my work as a mythology. I construct my paintings as psychic landscapes. My practice reveals an influenced from a long career as a theatre director and lighting designer (40 years). The elements of play are strong influences as are improvisation and chance. I am interested in telling lyrical stories symbolically. Seeing the picture frame as a place to enact stories of characters in action energizes me.
In my younger years, I studied classical archeology and that has influenced my approach to my practice. I have a deep interest in paleontology as well. There is also an element of repetition and the industrial in my process of stamp making. I find this freeing. I often work in series, painting in oil, ink, gouache and dye. However, I am always experimenting with materials and surfaces and technique — papers of all kinds, wood, canvas, and aluminum. Recently I have been doing many types of frottage (rubbings) and adding a collage of photos and other materials. My palette tends to be wildly colorful. I find I am attracted to the lyrical essence of things. In a sense, my entire practice is a negotiation between the formal qualities of paint and the conceptual. There is always an idea there – a first principle. This guiding impulse finds its best expression through being open to the qualities of the new materials I discover. So, in this process, the old becomes new again.