Monday, June 24, 2013

Carl Randall's Japan - the best BP Travel Award Exhibition ever!

Last week I enjoyed the best BP Travel Award Exhibition I've ever seen at the National Portrait Gallery.

BP Travel Award Exhibition
Carl Randall with part of his series of paintings of the people of Japan

© Carl Randall
Photo © Katherine Tyrrell

To my mind Carl Randall, who won the award in 2012, has just raised the bar in relation to the quality of Travel Award Exhibition. I'm rather inclined to think the National Portrait Gallery agree with me because they've brought it all the way to the front of the Gallery and made it a very prominent display.

'In The Footsteps of Hiroshige: The Tokaido Highway and Portraits of Modern Japan' is on display at the National Portrait Gallert until September 15, 2013 and will then tour to Aberdeen and Wolverhampton until June 2014.

Carl’s proposal for the award was to travel in the footsteps of the Japanese woodblock print artist Ando Hiroshige (1797–1858), who in 1832 traveled along the Tokaido Highway - an old trading route that ran from Tokyo to Kyoto, producing a series of woodblock prints showing the people he met and the landscapes he experienced along the path.  (see images of these in The 53 Stations of the Tokkaido Road)

Carl's idea was that he should produce contemporary equivalents, documenting the people and places of modern Japan, 180 years after Hiroshige made the same journey.

I met Carl last year and was very taken with his proposal for his project as I was already very familiar with Hiroshige's work and liked it a lot - see Carl Randall wins BP Travel Award 2012. This post explains a lot about the detail behind the project and also a lot about Carl himself.  

So what did he do?

  • He left London the day after the awards presentation last year and travelled to Japan 
  • He then travelled along the modern equivalent of the Tokkaido Highway which takes in both marine and inland landscapes between Tokyo and Kyoto.  (This is a link to the Wikipedia account of the historical rest stations in  53 Stations of the Tōkaidō)
  • He's created a series of portraits of the people of Japan which demonstrate a cross-section of old and new Japanese society. 
I have visited a cross-section of professions from old and new Japanese society - from salary men in office blocks, to farmers in rice fields; employees of motorway restaurants, service stations and roadside hotels.

Eight of the series of fourteen paintings by Carl Randall
Top row (L to R) The Rice Farmer's Daughters, Sumo, Tetrapods, Zen Garden, Kyoto
Bottom Row (L to R) Aka-Fuji, Rainy Season, Hakone, Kyoto

© Carl Randall
Photo © Katherine Tyrrell

The faces amongst the trees just appear to be faces
- until you look more closely
- and realise that some are using their mobile phone
  • The places depicted en route also reflect a variety of modern and traditional Japanese icons depicted - from love hotels, sushi restaurants and bullet trains; to Mount Fuji, Zen Gardens and Kabuki. 
  • Interestingly one of the unifying themes is the mobile phone which is omnipresent in the paintings.  The use of this as a constant motif grounds each of the portraits very much in the present and prevents them from becoming seen as a copy of Hiroshige's work

The exhibition comprises one large work in pencil and pen and ink on paper and then a series of small oil paintings on canvas.

Six of the series of fourteen paintings by Carl Randall
Top row (L to R)
Bottom Row (L to R) 

© Carl Randall
Photo © Katherine Tyrrell

Carl explained to me that he intentionally did not reference Hiroshige's work - otherwise he'd have felt as if he was just being doing a pastiche of the great ukiyo-e master rather than creating entirely new work which stemmed from the concept rather than the actual images.

Carl is also doing rather well with the rest of his art.  He's currently got a monochrome painting in the current BP Portrait Award 2013 Exhibition following his success in 2012.

Shinjuku, Tokyo by Carl Randall
1060 x 2330 Oil canvas 
© Carl Randall
Photo © Katherine Tyrrell
AND he also has another of his monochrome paintings in the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy (see below right).

Carl Randall - Japan Portraits (below) is a documentary film made of him at work on his paintings in Japan.  The 'Tokyo Portraits' section shows the artist in the capital city - sketching in a ramen shop, on city trains, at Shibuya crossings, and at the artists' studio.  The 'Hiroshima Portraits' section shows an earlier project which involved painting painting of the portraits of 'Hibakusha' (survivors of the Atomic Bomb, Hiroshima City).



Tokyo Subway (£22,000) by Carl Randall
currently being exhibited (top) at the
RA's Summer Exhibition
Photo © Katherine Tyrrell
I also did a video interview with him which I shall be uploading shortly.

The catalogue for the main exhibition - The BP Portrait Award 2013 - also includes a feature on his travels in Japan and the resulting series of portraits that he painted for the exhibition.

'Artists & Illustrators' Magazine (July issue) will also feature an article on his show at The National Portrait Gallery.

Carl has also had a book published - ‘Carl Randall - Japan Portraits’ - which acts as a 120-page full color hardback catalogue of artwork made in Japan.  It's also available to buy at The National Portrait Gallery shop.

I bought a copy. I have a very strong hunch that Carl is going to become a very successful artist if he continues with his theme of painting portraits of people in Japan.  I can certainly see him continuing with this theme of recording the contemporary life and lives of people in different places through painting their portraits within a modern context.

Definitely one to watch!

About Carl Randall


Carl Randall (b. 1975, UK) is a graduate of
  • The Slade of Fine Art, London (BA, Painting), 
  • The Princes Drawing School, London (Drawing Year), and 
  • Tokyo University of Fine Arts, Japan (MA & Doctorate, Fine Art). 

He has won several prizes, including 2nd prize twice in The William Coldstream Painting Competition at The Slade (1996/97), 1st prize in the 1998 Singer & Friedlander/Sunday Times Watercolour Competition (a national painting competition), The 2011 Nomura Art Prize, Tokyo, Japan (awarded by Tokyo University of Fine Arts); and The 2012 BP Travel Award (The National Portrait Gallery, London). Scholarships include The Daiwa Anglo Japanese Foundation and MEXT Scholarships to study in Japan.

He has exhibited and sold with various galleries internationally – The Royal Academy of Arts, The Jerwood Gallery, The Mall Galleries, The National Portrait Gallery, London; Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Arts, Tokyo Art Award, Japan; Art Taipei, Taiwan. Artist in Residencies include ‘Hiroshima Art Document’, Hiroshima City (to meet and paint portraits of survivors of the atomic bomb); and ‘ING Fresh Eyes on Formula 1’, Fuji Speedway (to document the Formula 1 races in Japan).

Where you can see and hear about Carl Randall's art



For more about Hiroshige 


See my website About Hiroshige - Famous Japanese Printmaker

For more about past years of the BP Travel Award 


See my previous posts on this blog

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