Carl Randall's "London Portraits" at the National Portrait Gallery


14 July 2016

Carl Randall's London Portraits

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At any one moment, the National Portrait Gallery proudly displays around 1,400 paintings and on the 13th July 2016, which happened to be the day I visited, 15 of these portraits were painted by former Daiwa Scholar Carl Randall.

Some of Randall’s previous work is centred around Japan, and his personal experiences within the country. Randall travelled to Japan as a Daiwa Scholar in 2003, and later studied at Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku (Tokyo University of the Arts), completing a PhD.

Randall’s art has previously been displayed at the National Portrait Gallery. After being awarded the BP Travel Award in 2012, Randall was given the opportunity to document the places and people found along Japan’s Tokaido Highway, such as Geisha and koi carp in Kyoto, a sumo wrestling match, and Mount Fuji.

For this collection of portraits, Randall’s stimulus was London, and the personal significance of the city for prominent British individuals, who come from varying fields of our society. Each sitter discussed their chosen location with Randall, who completed sketches of the backdrop, as well as a sitting and sketching session.

What makes each portrait fascinating is the story each sitter gives behind their choice of location within London. The personal experience, anecdote or memory provided by each person gives the painting a deeper, more dimensional meaning, evoking memories of happy times, a momentous life event or sweet childhood nostalgia.

For instance, poet and writer Benjamin Zephaniah chose the Epping Forest for his portrait’s background, stating the forest is an escape, an open space, perfect for practising karate. The glory of removing yourself from the confinement of a four wall office, or a sweaty Victoria line carriage, and entering the magic of a forest by way of freeing yourself, evokes joy for many-a-city dweller; Randall’s portraits give a sense of solidarity to modern city life.

The beauty of nostalgia is a further theme common in Randall’s London Portraits. Several individuals chose a location significant to their childhoods, or a place in which wonderful memories were created. There’s Nick Park, who remembers his childhood sketches of the dinosaur gallery at the National History Museum. David Mitchell favoured St Paul’s Cathedral, which provides a beacon by which his continuing existence is affirmed; he’s visited in every decade of his life. These portraits show that a space is not simply a space, it holds a variety of different meanings to people; your life can be represented through the space you occupy.

The portraits are bright, colourful and quirky: your eyes are drawn to them immediately. The bright blue depiction of the Thames in Simon Armitage’s painting, and the multicoloured stripy tie newsreader Jon Snow wears give the best examples of Randall’s striking use of colour in his portraits.

Visiting the gallery today to view the portraits was a wonderful experience. It highlighted the importance of taking opportunities., Randall’s style and attitude seem to be largely influenced by his time in Japan, and the experiences he had living, studying and working in the country. I hope the Daiwa Foundation are able to continue their scholarships programme in the future, in order to breed further artistic, as well as other talent across a wide range of other disciplines.

Carl’s portraits can be viewed on level -2 of the National Portrait Gallery, adjacent to the Portrait Café. Opening hours are 10-6pm daily, extended to 9pm on Fridays. Admission free. They will be on display until September 2016.



Written by Georgie Turner, Hendon School.

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