Gut reaction

Peter Randall-Page thinks of his

ofemotions that are too elusive for words. Miranda France met the artist at a retrospective show ofhis sculptures and drawings, at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh.

It isn‘t easy to talk about transportation spiritual that is. not public. Peter Randall-Page is endeavouring to steer clear of mushiness as he explains to me the fascination of tiny living creatures. with all the zeal ofa first time father. He has the attraction of the bizarre on his side. because it is not just nature‘s conventionally beautiful side that cnthralls Randall-Page. He relishes its glistening underbelly. the cocoons heavy with unexploded life. the sea creatures whose translucent skin barely holds the organs pulsating underneath. Part animal. part vegetable. his stone sculptures are divested of a beauty that teeters on the brink of the sinister.

‘We live in a time where everything to do with human beings in the world is a total

disaster and we’re constantly feeling a terrible social guilt. We’re marring everything, just by being.’

‘I suppose some of the images are slightly disturbing‘. he admits. ‘in that there‘s a sense of something animate or dormant within a sort of skin. But I can‘t see the world as being divided up into good and evil. It seems to me that if birth and growth are there, then so are death and decay. they‘re both part of the same spectrum. When I‘m actually making the shapes I want to make them beautiful. I suppose I want to redeem my own fears and anxieties about things by making them “good“f

Organised by The Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture and the Leeds City Art Gallery. this is the first major retrospective of Randall-Page‘s work, and easily fills lnverleith House at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Inside are the small sculptures, made over the last ten years and sometimes remniscent of Miro in their playfulness, as well as drawings of cones. fruits.

54The List 3— 16July 1992

sculptures as the poetic embodiment l





Peter Randall Page: Where the Bee Sucks 1991. Kilkenny limestone

seed pods and worryingly familiar fleshy. gut—like coils. Hunks ofsmooth. solid. human-sized sculptures are dotted around the garden near the cafe. and on the other side of the garden. under some Giant Redwood trees. are some earlier works. straightforward botanical depictions of cones. including a Giant Redwood cone.

Randall-Page began studying in the 1970s at Bath Academy of Art. already a devotee of Constantin Braneussi ( 1876—1957). a sculptor who stressed that his works had no ‘meaning‘ beyond their shape. and this is still a cornerstone in his philosophy. "l‘hey‘re not sculptures about ideas. I‘m not having an idea and then coding it into an object so that it has to be decoded back into words again. I would like them to react directly on one‘s senses. I‘m trying to make an object that‘s an embodiment ofa feeling.

‘I hope that they work as a kind of metaphor. mixing different things that you might have some sort ofemotional. probably subconscious. feeling about. and putting them together rather in the same way that a poem juxtaposes things that in a piece of prose might not make logical sense.‘

He feels very strongly that his work should not be intellectualised: what you see is what you get. you don‘t need to read a book about it first. ‘lf something can be said. then I can‘t work up the enthusiasm to make a sculpture about it. I think it‘s more efficient to say it. Ever since I was a student I‘ve been frustrated by so much work that is basically just illustrating something that would be much better said in words.‘

Doesn‘t that mean it would have been more efficient for Rodin to kiss someone than make a sculpture about kissing?

‘Oh well. I think that ifl tried to describe Rodin‘s Kiss to you it would fall very short of the

experience of actually seeing it and that is the acid test in a way how short the verbal description falls of the reality.‘

l le says that potential art audiences are scared off art by a suspicion that all artists are Charlatans. "l‘here isn‘t much trust any more. So many people feel that they‘re being conned. or being made to look silly. A lot ofthat is to do with ideas oftaste. Advertising is all about saying. “look. there‘s us and them. and if you understand this ad then you‘re one of us.“ I think a lot of art has become cliquey. and to do with taste. which shouldn‘t be relevant.‘

To a certain extent Randall-Page has had an

; opportunity to win back some of the cynics. In his

outdoor commissions he involves the local community in his decisions about the kind of

sculpture he has in mind and where it will be

placed. and they may lend a hand with some ofthe work. Some of his pieces are hidden away in the depths of the countryside. For a cliff-top walk in Dorset he made a series ofsmall fossil-like sculptures hidden in stone niches like wayside shrines.

Randall-Page appreciates the chance to work with the community and to have a positive input into their environment. ‘We live in a time where everything to do with human beings in the world is a total disaster and we‘re constantly feeling a terrible social guilt.‘ he says. ‘We‘re marring everything. just by being. But when you look at the positive ways in which people have been able to interact with the landscape. it can be very reassuring.‘

Peter Randall-Page: Sculpture and Drawings [980—1992. Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, until 9 A ug, 10am—5pm.