'Carl Randall - Japan Portraits' is a limited edition signed paperback catalogue illustrating paintings and drawings made in Japan. 120 pages, full colour. Bilingual English and Japanese. Order a signed copy from the National Portrait Gallery London.
Introduction by Japan writer Donald Richie.
Back in the 1950s, foreign friends and myself living in Japan used to distinguish among what we called the three classical foreign attitudes to the country and its inhabitants. The first was an enthusiastic and uninformed euphoria. This feeling of an intense happiness was based upon perceived differences (more profound then than now), upon friendliness and opportunity, and by the idea that our mere presence here was improving us. Euphoria being unstable, this emotion sometimes leads to the second classical foreign attitude, its precise opposite. Differences disappeared and were found to be more invented than real, friendliness was there for a purpose, and we were not noticeably improving. Sometimes this second attitude led to exodus. The disgruntled packed up and went home like the disappointed lovers they were. Sometimes, however, if one managed to avoid the perils of a transient happiness and an apparent disillusion, something like stasis was achieved. This was the third classical foreign attitude. One was married to the country, a condition which does not forbid affection but insists upon both knowledge and experience.
This is obviously what happened to me. I came to Japan in 1947 and have more or less remained ever since. I experienced all three attitudes. Almost all of my writing has been about the place and its people, and I am, if not a citizen, at least am official permanent resident. Understanding, however, need not take that long. This is what interests me in the work of Carl Randall. He has been here a comparatively short time, and I do not know where he is on the emotional scale provided by the classical foreign attitudes (if, indeed, they still exist), but looking at his work about Japan, I can see that their lessons have been digested and that their meanings have been internalized.
This I find to be particularly true in the large, detailed canvases from the ‘Tokyo Portraits’ series. Inspired by the crowds of Tokyo, they consist of hundreds of heads painted directly life, without use of photographs, made in collaboration with almost one thousand residents of the city. These heads exist within condensed layers, all flattened as though seen through a long-distance lens. We can think of canned sardines or rows of masks standing at a Japanese festival, we recall the crowded streets of Tokyo, or the famous criss-cross of Shibuya as the traffic light changes and the masses advance. We can also see, inscribed in these canvases, all three classical foreign attitudes. Though foreigners themselves are included, the Japanese person in these four canvases perhaps most encountered is an elegant, long haired woman with a slender neck, her face repeated to the extent that she almost becomes a type - indeed a face that may reflect some of the euphoria of finding oneself in a country filled with such. She is not smiling (few smile in a Randall painting) and she is not making herself accessible, but I detect in her very number a distant euphoria I remember well. Though unsmiling, in these images she and her fellow Japanese are not threatening - they are worse: indifferent. Classical foreign attitude two is there because it is euphoric love being rejected. One senses this feeling as the traffic lights change at the large Shibuya criss-cross, as eyes all straight-ahead, the mass approaches.
In these paintings something is perhaps being said about over-population, urban isolation, multi-culturism; or about conformity, the costs of social self, and the loss of individual self. Japan, after all, openly acknowledges (in its language, its social structure, its government) the existence of not only an individual self but also the presence of a social self. Every Japanese learns to acknowledge the difference between honne (the way things really are - the individual) and tatemae (the accommodation agreed upon - the social), just as they know the difference between ninjo (the way you really feel) and giri (the way you are expected to feel). This dual control is one of the ways in which Japan accommodates its social utopia of everyone being a member (the nakana), and of excluding those who are not.
These, then, are some of the themes with which the work of Carl Randall concerns itself. There are others as well. One of them chronicles the view of a European artist living in Tokyo, as illustrated in the ’Everday Tokyo’ chapter. His large highly detailed ‘Shibuya’ drawing evokes the crowds, the enormous TV screens, the billboards, the advertisements and atmopshere of Tokyo’s famous teenage shopping district. `Subway`, ‘The Yamanote Line’, and ‘Notes from the Tokyo Underground’ depict the commuters and crowded interiors of cities trains, whilst everyday urban life is captured well in paintings such as ‘Pachinko’ and ‘Mr.Kitazawa’s Noodle Bar’. In ‘Kabuki Chou Triptych’ and ‘Uguisudani’, he draws on nocturnal Tokyo with its neon-lit bar scenes, hotels and women standing under street lights, whilst ‘Shinjuku’ and ‘Tokyo Cityscape’ show the city’s buildings and characteristically crowded streets. All might be subsumed under what Randall might see as his major theme - the human figure set within modern Japanese urban environments.
Time will tell whether Randall, having mastered attitudes first and second, will graduate to the third, and whether he stays or not - whether he marries love and fear. His artwork is of interest to me, and is valuable and important, in that he is the only Western artist in Japan that I know of who uses non-Japanese techniques to produce works about modern urban Japan. In doing so he defines both himself and his subject matter. As a writer who has lived and worked in Japan for over sixty years, utilizing the country as my subject matter, I well understand how difficult it is to respond creatively to the place and its people. The works in this book show this talented artist trying to make sense of Japan through his paints, canvases and pencils, as I have done with my books. Here Randall has avoided hackneyed images of Japan and produced a fresh and original body of work, one which responds visually to Japanese culture and its society, and helps explain both.
- Donald Richie (1924 - 2013), former curator of film at the New York Museum of Modern Art, is best known for his histories of the Japanese cinema and his monographs on the film directors Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa, and is widely hailed as the man who introduced Japanese cinema to the West. Named "the dean of Japan's arts critics" by Time magazine, he was often the point of contact for Western artists visiting Japan such as Francis Ford Coppola, Susan Sontag and Igor Stravinsky. Richie has become recognized worldwide as a Western authority on Japanese culture and society, and has written on many aspects of the country including ‘The Inland Sea, the Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics’, ‘Fads and Fashions in Japan’, The Japan Journals: 1947-2004’, and ‘Tokyo’.
Foreword by zoologist and author Desmond Morris.
Any Europeans who have worked in Japan will find their memories of that extraordinary country flooding back when they stand in front of Carl Randall's paintings. The solemn stare of the sardine-packed players supposedly enjoying themselves in the pachinko parlour; the sudden, brief injection of rural relaxation into the bustle of city life with the annual cherry-blossom-viewing in Ueno Park; the new addiction to western music and night-clubbing by urban teenagers that so alarms their elders; the defiant insistence on body privacy on crowded transport; the unsmiling faces in the teeming city streets, consumed with their inner thoughts; the stillness of the elderly seated figures with their personal emotions so carefully concealed by their faces, all of these are captured by Randall's penetratingly perceptive eye.
The singularity of Japanese culture is summed up by his ‘Zen Garden, Kyoto’, a garden that is bizarrely completely free of any kind of vegetation. This ancient garden at the Ryoan-ji Temple, with its immaculately placed rocks in a sea of carefully raked gravel, sums up the deep pleasure that the Japanese take in cultural restraint. Just as the walls of this hypnotic garden hold back the extravagance of nature visible beyond its confines, so the older Japanese hold back their feelings and mask them from the outside world. It explains why they find the body language of westerners so clumsily exaggerated and awkwardly asymmetrical, and why they are embarrassed by their visitors' failure to understand the subtle rules of degree-of-tilt in the bowing ritual that so frequently punctuates the daily routine. The unique oddity of Japanese culture is perfectly reflected in the strangeness of Randall's paintings.
In my book ‘The Human Zoo’ I described the dilemma faced by human beings living in large cities - how, after evolving in small tribes where everyone knew everyone else, they now found themselves surrounded by thousands of strangers. Walking down a busy street it was impossible to interact with all these strangers and the only solution was to turn them into 'non-persons', as if they were trees in a dense forest. Randall's paintings ‘Shinjuku’ and ‘Tokyo’, amongst others, dramatically reflect this aspect of urban survival, with each of his mentally blinkered citizens isolated in a personal cocoon amidst the swarm of humanity.
- Desmond Morris is an English zoologist, ethologist and popular author in human behaviour studies. Published in over thirty-six countries, his books often examine how the biological nature of the human species has shaped the cultures of the contemporary world. His renowned, best-selling book ‘The Naked Ape’ (1967) looks at humans as a species and compares them with animals, and ‘The Human Zoo’ (1969) examines human behaviour in cities. Other books from his over 50 publications include ‘People Watching’, ‘Pocket Guide to Manwatching’ and ‘The Nature of Happiness’. He has also presented a number of TV series and documentaries, including for the BBC ‘The Human Sexes’ and ‘The Human Animal’, and for Japanese TV ‘The Manwatcher in Japan’.