Carl Randall at Daiwa Foundation House: the artist as outsider

In his conversation with Andrew Stahl from The Slade School of Fine Art, UCL at Daiwa Foundation House on Thursday, Carl Randall explained how his meticulous paintings evolved from a simple sketch. It might originate from some movements or people’s facial expressions that intrigued him, and then he would make a few quick sketches on the move, and consider the composition. Then over time the quick sketches became more serious sketches, and slowly the overall impression deepened. Finally the characters found their ways into the picture. He would consider the light, tone and texture, making one layer after another. He approached his subject as if he were an outsider, so that he could observe and create, make a documentation of the reality, even if his play on the dimension and proportions of figures betray the artificial nature of a painting.

Listening to his talk, one sees that art is never a coincidence. Talent and perceptiveness are key, of course, but the contents and style come from hard work. Randall conceded that he never used photographs to make portraits, even though he had no intention of making a statement against portraits based on photographs. It just did not appeal to him. He would like to be able to meet his model, speak to him or her, and in those three hours he would observe keenly and feel the model’s presence or personality, pin down his impression of him or her, and to adopt the portrait in the larger urban landscape he was working on. Over the ten years he was in Japan, Randall estimated that he had drawn nearly a thousand faces.

image credit Carl Randall
image credit Carl Randall

He mentioned Edward Hopper as an influence. I have always felt a vague hint of Hopper in his work: the distance between individuals in a familiar yet slightly surreal urban landscape, the unflattering palette of reality, the way time seems to have frozen in the poetic moment, the impossibility to know someone or tell what they feel from just gleaning the surface, and how the mood of an individual seems to enter the colours, the lights, the environment. He said he liked Japan and found it a very calm, orderly city, and though the city is incredibly busy, filled with movements and skyscrapers and neon lights, it is a place where lost things are found.

Stahl asked Randall how he thought about the discipline of the artist. The key, according to Randall, is to treat your work as a job. “You have to get on with it, every single day, otherwise nothing gets done really.”

For more, click here. Exhibition continues at Daiwa Foundation House, 13/14 Cornwall Terrace, Outer Circle, London NW1 4QP until 12 March.

Exhibition at Daiwa Foundation House
Daiwa Foundation House exhibition                           image credit: Carl Randall

Musings on the BP Portrait Award 2013: Carl Randall

Among the exhibits this year, what touches me most is the set of commissioned work by Carl Randall, featuring modern life in Japan.

Having spent years in Japan, his paintings of Japanese city workers are marked by keenness of observation and his authentic interpretation of Asian lifestyle. Frequently using flattened images and creating crowds out of homogeneous faces, his paintings such as ‘Shinjuku’ recalls what it feels to live in Asia, or Japan: a pent-up feeling of isolation and homogeneity arising from the lack of personal space, as one dissolves into the crowd, into the world’s busiest metro station, like ‘petals on a wet, black bough’.

I am especially drawn to the figure of the contemplative young girl sitting by herself in the cafe, positioned in the top right corner of the monochrome painting ‘Shibuya’.

ShibuyaLRG

Wearing a striped t-shirt and holding a cup of tea, there is a dreamy gaze about her, as she looks out of the full-length window at the colourful skyscrapers and billboards. Around her, other city workers and a young couple are immersed in their own conversations, and yet this particular girl in the corner seems to be a pivot in the picture, a figure that represents the complexity of the hidden self, the suppressed loneliness and unspoken dreams within. The geisha-looking actress featured on the skyscraper billboard deepens the sense of nostalgia and the surreal. ‘Shibuya’ engages in a very interesting dialogue with ‘Mr Kitazawa’s Noodle Bar‘, a stark portraiture of Japanese diners. The diners all look rather worn out and bored, and the bowl of freshly prepared ramen seems to become a poignant symbol, a comforting ritual, as food consumption becomes a welcome escape from sheer boredom and life’s worries.

As seen from his documentary made in Japan, his paintings are based on numerous close-up observation sessions and sketches of subjects in real life settings, rather than from photographs or replica:

As a wonderful contrast to his realist, caricatured paintings of city workers, the exhibit ‘Fireflies’ is perfect in form and technique. In the darkness of the night, far away from the built-up area of the city, the two girls look at the glow of the fireflies. The motif of the fireflies recalls the animation Grave of the Fireflies or ‘Hotaru no haka’ (1998), directed by Isao Takahata, which highlights the struggle of young children in wartime Japan and their unvanquished, persevering spirit. The faraway moon, the reflection from the glowing fireflies on the girls’ faces, and the mellow light coming from countryside houses, are imbued with a poetic sense of harmony, celebrating the value of innocence, tenderness and hope.

Carl-Randall---Firefiles-LRG

BP Portrait Award 2013 exhibition from now until 15 September 2013 at National Portrait Gallery London. Free admission

The candid work of Japanese artist and printmaker Emiko Aida

I came across Emiko Aida‘s art prints first at the International Art Fair this year in Royal College of Art, and later at the art print specialist shop For Art’s Sake in Ealing. A 60x40cm aquatint art print called Reverie in the Rain caught my attention. A girl is asleep, in the background a verdant surrounding. It is an apt imagery of an artist’s mind: an active slumber of imagination.

There is a constant play of the wind, the trees, the seasons in her work, tinged with sweet nostalgia. I am drawn to the piece entitled Koinobori, carp-shaped wind socks that celebrate Children’s Day. The poignant choice of colours of those wind socks, the flippant tilt of the pole are put in strong contrast against a more aged background – slate coloured surrounding full of buildings – highlighting the triumph of innocence, the invisible passage of wind and time.

The artist is interested in detail and painting moods. Her work reminds me of the use of imagery in Kazuo Ishiguro’s books: that focus on the introspective, the nostalgic for a floating world. While I think the rich details work in some of the works such as the Koinobori and the sushi imageries, the more abstract artpieces such as The Echo Sounding series might benefit from a bolder, surreal treatment or a stranger use of colour. A tall man in a long coat stands in the rain, looking at the outside world. The fact that his back is facing the viewer provokes curiosity: we can only imagine what will his thoughts are in this rainy weather.

In some of her work there is at times a strange lack of perceptual depth – as if the world has been pressed flat. Check out the perspective she has chosen for the oil painting The Ninten City, with a boy in a hoodie top, overlooking the city from the rooftop, oddly placid. Such perspective gives impetus to the work,  hinting at the unreal, creating a dialogue on the art of perspectives with the work by Matisse and Magritte.

It is most difficult to dwell on the beauty of Japanese art and culture, without thinking about the sorrows of Fukushima.