‘He’s not a Japanese artist, you know,’ said the girl at the Berloni Gallery when I gave her my Sequins and Cherry Blossom card. I know. But Carl Randall, winner of the 2012 BP Travel Award, is a former Daiwa Scholar who studied at the Tokyo University of the Arts and paints remarkable hyperrealistic yet subtly distorted portraits of Japanese people. So I wanted to see his latest work.
Yannick and I popped in to take a look this week, rather late in the exhibition’s run but better late than never. We found some of his large oil and acrylic representations of closely-packed faces on the ground floor. They’re Randall’s response to the combination of overpopulation and remoteness, community and anonymity that is typical of the lives of inhabitants of Tokyo and other great cities.
All of the faces represented are portraits of volunteers, but the flat perspective and distortion of the lengthened faces distances the viewer from the real people they depict. It makes one wonder what the sitters thought of the finished portraits, and what a difference it might make to their faces if they smiled.
The sense of alienation continues in works where neon advertising placards shine a cold light on alleyways and high streets dedicated to consumer culture. This is not an attractive, tourist company view of Tokyo – quite the reverse.
Downstairs we found a slightly different approach. The massed ranks of faces had been painted in a softer way, and individual portraits had a sense of humanity and individuality lacking in the more clinical works on the ground floor.
Amongst them was one work that particularly attracted me. Titled Hanami, Hanabi (flower viewing and fireworks) it was a matched pair of pictures, painted in strong colours that came as a relief after the insistent monochrome of most of the other pictures in the show. It shows a typical collection of hanami parties, where office workers have picnics under the blossoming cherry trees and get very drunk.
One lady has dressed in a brightly-coloured kimono for the occasion and her party sit on the kind of blue oilcloth sheet that is almost de rigeur for hanami picnics.
Yannick preferred a sheet of simple line-drawn pictures, of which I can only show a detail here.
(Apologies for the slight reflections in some of these photos. The works are framed under glass, the art blogger’s worst enemy).
The exhibition at the Berloni Gallery on Margaret Street continues until 15th November. It’s open Tuesday to Friday 11am to 6pm, Saturday 12am to 4pm.