To be something different, a wholly different creature moving through a different world, is a basic childhood dream. "I wish I were a bird," says the little girl, and the little boy, gazing at a black stallion, wishes he could be one though he might not admit it. "Childhood is never lost," feels sculptor John Soderberg, "We simply cover it with years." So, once in a while, we find a need to peer through those layers of years and return for a time to the purity of childhood. Then, though adult, we can for example sit on a rock just off the beach and gazing at the play of waves, be a mermaid.
John Soderberg's Mermaid is lost in that -- a warm return through seawater to childhood, to the pure and innocent craving for a wholly new and different kind of freedom. Inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's classic tale, "The Little Mermaid," in which the mermaid yearns to become human so that she might find her soul and to gain the freedom of legs, and by the beloved bronze of that tale's heroine which sits upon a rock in Copenhagen harbor gazing seaward (as a boy, in 1958, he saw and loved that bronze), Mermaid is sculptor Soderberg's tribute to childhood returned, and to the urge to run away. The pull of the sea, the urge to head west as far as you can go, and the longing for greater freedom. The strangely warm loneliness echoed in the sigh of a conch held close to the ear. The urge to flee adulthood for a while, to pause, and in that pause to return to a simpler, purer, more immediate and beautiful world. Mermaid is all these things, as well. What actually is in the young woman's mind? We can't know. Behind reflections on reflections, beneath which fishes dart, she's safely in her own world for this moment.
There is a centuries-old Papago Indian belief that the sea is pure, since it spits out on land anything which is dead or diseased or doesn't belong. Pure childhood in pure sea is a powerful enchantment. The overall emotional effect, however, is achieved through a masterful collage of visual opposites: one hand is open, the other is closed, and one arm is extended while the other is bent; a breast is free and a breast is restrained, while one leg is up and the other down. Even more: she is calm, still, within the massive movements of wind through her hair and water all around. All these things are basic to John Soderberg who, raised in the Orient, respects the Oriental concept of opposites working together to create harmony. Indeed, one of the most powerful elements of Soderberg's works, including Mermaid, is the creation of harmony through tension at rest. Energy in quiet. Calm within storm. Light within darkness. Peace in fury. The child within the adult. These are central elements in John Soderberg's artistic vision, expressed powerfully in bronze, most recently by Mermaid, the modern young woman happily lost at sea.