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Artist spotlight on

Bernard Rangel has a diverse cultural origin and this is clearly seen in his original and unique artwork. He is a self-taught artist and has been painting for more than 37 years. Since 2004 he has shared his love of painting by organising and participating in paint workshops for children in Brazil and India. 

Bernard started by painting backdrops for the Amateur Hong Kong Ballet group and has since then painted household and commercial interiors, ceramics, bed linen, jeans, paper and on canvas. He works with acrylic, Indian ink and oil paint and plays with a wide variety of colours. It is particularly his backgrounds which capture the attention of art lovers, the public, other artists and critics. He is also the founder of the art genre Contemporary Tribal Surrealism.

He has exhibited in Dublin, Sao Paulo, Bahia, Rome, Hannover, Bremen, London, Washington DC, Mumbai, New Delhi, in 2013 at the IX Florence Biennale in Italy, and in 2016 at the NYC Art Expo in the USA. Bernard’s work can be seen at the Saatchi Online Gallery. Recently, Bernard spoke to the Examiner about his experiences working as an artist:

Meagan Meehan (M.M.): How and when did you decide to become an artist?

Bernard Rangel (B.R.): There are two important things that made me an artist. One was the reality of my educational and the second, my ambition. At the age of six my parents, with the best of intentions, for my education, sent me to boarding school in India, Mount Abu, Rajasthan. In 1965, another war flared up between India and Pakistan, so I was taken back home to Aden, South Yemen, where I was born. Almost a year passed, and then all the British families were evacuated as independence had been granted to South Yemen: there had been many years of guerrilla unrest prior to the end of hostilities. Luckily, my parents had already decided to send me and my elder brother to another boarding school in Ireland, Blackrock College. There I underwent a culture shock on many levels; I stood out in a sea of white faces, the cold damp weather, and the food. Due to me sticking out like a sore thumb, and my fellow students being merciless, unkind, and relentless in their racial awareness I found refuge in the art room. My drawing and painting skills gave me access to extra art classes and a certain peace of mind. This hostile environment ended as the years went by.

The second one was the moment I became an artist at the age of 15 and my ambition flared up inside me. I was at home in Hong Kong, during my summer holidays; three things happened. The first I was paid for an ink drawing of the Vatican Square, for an Air France Travel Agency advertisement in the South China Morning Post. The second, I began painting the stage backdrops for the Hong Kong Amateur Ballet Group, and the final one was my Eureka moment. I was taking Chinese painting classes, an interesting but very boring technique for a teenager. During my brushstroke exercises, out of frustration, I took the Indian ink and poured it on the rice paper. As the paper absorbed the ink I started blowing the excess liquid accumulated in small pools that brought about a pretty interesting image-development. I added a little red paint in the right place, for composition balance and viola the work was done, it looked great. I did several more pieces and realized I was a natural. It was all in me. I then took note of the opportune moment. Both Picasso and Dali were old and it was inevitable that they would soon pass away, so I naturally thought, I would take their place. Pure genius for a punk kid.

M.M.: Growing up, which artists/types of art interested you?

B.R.: When I was doing a class project, on Michelangelo, I decided to re-draw his statue images and those from the Sistine Chapel. I enlarged the images without using any tools and got the proportions right. Besides Michelangelo I also liked Aubrey Beardsley, the Art Nouveau illustrator. I copied many of his drawings in Indian ink and gave them to my mother as Christmas presents. The other artists and the art that inspired me as I was growing up were the styles created by, Escher, Picasso, Dali, Max Ernst, El Greco, Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, Jackson Pollack, Monet and Van Gough.

M.M.: How would you describe your work and what inspires it?

B.R.: There are two parts to the essence of my work. The first is my spiritual awareness of life, and the second is the inclusion of it in my work. Despite being educated a catholic, as I grew older I transformed my strong spiritual drive into a non-dogmatic ideology. This gave me personal comfort and through further in-depth investigation, and a questioning of all that I had witnessed through my life experiences, (being of Indian origin and born in a country of Muslim faith) I understood that I did not need to justify it to anyone else or fight against other faiths or religions that I inherently knew, were of no comfort to me. I allowed my intuition to flow through me and began less and less to draw and predetermine what I wanted to express. This for me, lends to a very creative and original work and I am inspired by the tribal designs that naturally come from my subconscious, as it unfolds. The source is both historical and present. I fuse all these different registers, and the resultant harmonious images turn out to be a balanced composition that visually works very well. I have noticed that the end result of the work, in fact, reflects the Global Village we live in today. This to me, is particularly evident in a current world-wide phenomenon carried out by people, regardless of sex, economic station, or social position: that of being tattooed. For me, this external signage manifestation is a sub-conscious desire to identify and find others of a similar mind-set. To top this all up, I have encountered that each viewer of my art, recognises design influences according to their own visual registers. This of course allows for some interesting comments and imaginations that become the ice-breakers to many unforeseen conversations. Finally, over the many years’ people had persistently asked me the name of my art style. Naturally, I was challenged to find a correct terminology. I tweaked many combinations over a period of 20 years. I found the definitive name in 2010 when I was preparing for my participation, in my first collective show in New York, at the Amsterdam & Whitney Galley in Chelsea. As I was hanging my works, the gallery owner asked me the name of my style. In answering him the name just popped into my head, and it sounded perfect as it rolled off my tongue. I finished the hanging and then ran downtown, and found a Lids store where I got 20 baseball hats made with Contemporary Tribal Surrealism embroidered on it.

M.M.: How did you go about getting into galleries and/or public showcases?

B.R.: At the very beginning, in Dublin, I put my works in a small restaurant beside the record shop where I worked. In Brazil, to where I moved to in 1985, I started to show my work at the TV Tower, an open air market space, in Brasilia. Then, when I moved to a smaller costal town, I put up my works in my bank agency, and later, I started holding my own exhibitions in small guest houses in Porto Seguro. My drive to get my work to the wider public was getting more intense, so then I began to exhibit in collective regional shows, and as a consequence of this I was invited to paint live in the reception hall of the biggest hotel in town. Then, with the start of the Information Technology age, and the birth of the commercial internet in the 90’s I realised that art galleries would no longer play an important role for me to get my art to a wider audience. Through the internet, I had direct access into people’s homes, where they could look at my work and appreciate it at their own leisure, regardless of where they were in the world. Soon I began to make very simple transfer photocopy reproductions of my paintings and heat press them onto t-shirts. This I did to avoid selling my original creations cheaply, just to pay my bills. Then I taught myself Corel Draw, a vector program, to digitally reproduce some of my works. This enabled me to manipulate them and have a more diverse output, avoiding pixel distortion, as I enlarged the images as reproductions. Today the technological advances in printing on multi-surfaces make this output much easier. My next step was to teach myself video editing, to take advantage of YouTube, which was the new platform at that time. I ended up making 75 mini movies of my works, so people could see how I was progressing. This eventually led to another new idea, an animation of my work from the digital designs I had in hand. This gives birth to a completely different approach. The viewer is not presented with a ready-made that has to be deciphered. The viewer is now involved in its development as the work unfolds, and their imagination is stimulated in the process.

In 2015, I used the Kickstarter platform to fund raise, so I could participate in The New Artists Fair in London. Here I discovered the phenomenon of the cyberspace living room. It took me two attempts. The first was a complete failure as I was too excited and precocious in my attempt. In my second and successful attempt, I was fortunate to have the cooperation of a gifted young video director, Shanil Kaowl. For me the “cyberspace lounge” is a very exciting virtual area where you literally have to keep your wits about you. There is little face to face contact, and you have to pay close attention to the words used and the manner in which the interaction evolves. It’s a perfect space for adlibbing and I value the direct feedback I receive, as it is a genuine emotion from the images I send out.

Now, I also exhibit in art fairs around the world, as interacting with the public is very important, for this is where I get face to face feedback, opinions and ideas, and I also get to meet and interact with other artists from all over the world: I use the social media platforms and post short items of interest about the artist and their work. The art fairs I have shown my work in are; the Hanse Art Fair in Bremen, Germany in 2010, in Chelsea, London, at the Untitled and the Parallax Art Fair in 2007 and 2012, at the IX Biennale in Florence, Italy 2013, and more recently at the NYC Art Expo in 2016, USA. I have also exhibited in galleries in the USA, India, Italy, Germany and London. And as an active participant in the dissemination of “Developing the Alternative Intelligences” I have held art workshops for children in Sao Paulo, Brazil (90 children) in 2004, and in India (350 children) 2007, in Mumbai.

M.M.: Do you have a favorite piece? If so, which one and why?

B.R.: Oh, such a difficult question. Yes, I have many, and all for completely different reasons like; conception, execution, development of ideas as the work becomes a reality, colour composition and medium selection. As I have to choose I suppose “The Big Heart” is the one. The circumstance of this work truly surprised me, and how it came to be was a consequence of my day to day in action. In 2013 my health issues were reaching a climax. I had been diagnosed with an enlarged left ventricle of the heart. The next step was having a MRI scan. As I lay in the restricted, confined metal drum, the clanking noise of the working apparatus kept on echoing in my head. I was unable to move and I felt as if I were in my coffin. I was freaking out, but I could do nothing about it. I had to wait for the session to end. Finally, the ordeal over, I found myself in my studio painting. As the work developed I saw a heart take shape. I then went about completing the work. When finished, I was intrigued by the elements that were present there. It was then I remembered a nightmare I had when I was in school. I had been buried alive, as I was escaping from tribesmen on the rampage for a kill!

M.M.: What are your mediums of choice?

B.R.: I love painting and I love all the paint mediums, as each one has its own set of challenges set by their physical limitations and boundaries. Exploring them and manipulating them is what I enjoy. The sensation for me it is like bending a metal bar with my bare hands. It seems almost impossible, but with a little extra effort I manage to get the job done. The slow drying time of oils allows for after-thoughts and ideas to be registered and included. I also discovered that by putting different types of solvents, cereal based or petroleum based, allow for some really exciting effects to happen on the canvas. Acrylic paint dries fast, and the ideas have to be executed and implemented at the time of conception. They are also more vibrant in pigmentation than oils. Finally, Indian ink is, I suppose, the most challenging, as its strength does not allow for much space to manipulate, and neither is it forgiving. It is black and strong and you really have to know what you want to express on paper or canvas. I love each one for their own realities and I respect each medium for what I am allowed to do with them and how my visual expression is formed. I paint on metal, wood, board, paper, canvas and ceramics.

M.M.: Are there any mediums that you haven’t worked with yet but hope to soon?

B.R.: I have not worked with polymers, wood or stone. For me these are mediums that have physical limitations, involve specific skills and need proper technical training so I would rather paint, as I have more freedom to create. 

M.M.: How did you develop your unique style?

B.R.: As I already said this took place when I was 15, practicing my Chinese brush stroke techniques, and I decide to be a punk and act my age. I let loose, and took a step into the unknown. It was a “what if” moment, but I confided in my ability to proceed and find a new image format. You could say I took a calculated risk, as I seemed to know what I was doing. Much later, I taught myself how to experiment with the different mediums and respect their natural limitations, to get the most out of them, and give life to what I wanted to express. I allow my intuition and imagination to flow and I am open to discovering new techniques that give birth to a more interesting expression, for me.

M.M.: To date, what has been the most rewarding experience involving your artwork and/or being an artist?

B.R.: As you have gathered by now, I have many stories about my work. And yes, I have enough for a book or two. There is one in particular for me that stands out from all the others. This one is a real story of desire and reality, and a happy outcome for all involved. It was after I had finished some special decorative paintings for a furniture store owner that had contracted me. He had three large stores in Sao Paulo, and I painted marble, patina and other decorative effects on the walls, plaster columns and wooden beams of his stores.

I was at home planning to paint a large collection. I decided that I needed some sponsors to carry out the project. I made a list and then reduced it to three people whom I knew would be happy to participate. The more I looked at the possibility of getting three business men to sit and listen to me, the more it became evident that there were far too many variables at play. Then I realised I really only needed one; the next day I received a phone call. Apparently a lady friend of the furniture chain owner, whilst visiting his establishment to buy some furniture, saw my work on the walls and asked for my number.

When I had successfully finished painting her four-suite apartment, with the requested special effects on the walls and ceilings, her husband commented that I was very expensive, as he paid me, but very good, to have made his wife happy. He then invited me to visit the hotel he had constructed and was in the final stages of decorating. I took my portfolio of art works, he liked what he saw, and we stuck a deal for me to paint 75 works of varying sizes, all originals, and be finished and hung in 5 weeks. I took on the challenge and finished with three days to spare. On receiving payment, I took a weekend off and flew to the Falls of Foz de Iguacu, in the south of Brazil, to see the most beautiful and largest volume of falling water in the world, to relax and recharge my batteries.

 What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become an artist?

B.R.: Do it for yourself and for the love of expressing your ideas and your work. If you want to take your work to a professional level it becomes a very different ball game. Here you will have to teach yourself to be a business minded person, understand your material and time costs, the shelf-life cost of the work, your aggregate value, find out who is the potential owner of the work, and you will have to think of ideas that are interesting to you. You will also have to learn many new disciplines, technologies, develop other facets of your personality, leave the ethereal world of the creative mind, and come down to the material world to deal with people that see your work on their own terms, plus, you will have to know how to identify them and understand and respect that they have their own reasons as to why they like your work. You must learn to interact with other participants in the art world, as there are many with varying degrees of personalities and qualities. You will also have to develop your other inherent talents, and bring them all together to explore all the tools available to you, to become a better professional. You will be the better for it, and it will take you down avenues giving you many stories to tell others. You will also be exposed to the varying scenarios and events that your ambition will lead you to. Most of all; do not be arrogant, for you are just another piece in the cogwheel of creation.

M.M.: Are there any upcoming projects and/or events that you would like to mention?

B.R.: Yes, this is another project that started about twenty years ago. It was an idea to synchronize a painting of mine to music, i.e. as a person listened to a song a picture would slowly appear, as the playback happened. As there were no software programmes ready then, the idea was put on hold. Then in 2007, with some new work finished that had a few unconventional but very creative and unique designs, I felt I needed a new tool to help me show it to the public. I came to this conclusion, as over the years I had noticed that people automatically filtered any new idea or images they were exposed to. The consequence of this would be the construction of an imaginary wall. I overcame such a problem in 2005, when I was presenting a paper in Manhattan at the 2nd World Congress of the OPGC ( (Organization for the Promotion of Global Civilization). I was programmed to speak on the third and final day, and I was the only fine artist presenting a paper. I had watched and listened to the other world renowned directors, scientists and philosophers, with an endless stream of degrees after their names, speak and show graphs during their presentations. I decided to prepare a 15-minute slide projection of my finished paintings to coincide with my delivery, as that was all I had. When I finished they all gave me a standing ovation, and I was immediately invited to sit on the board. I realised the projection captivated their attention as I spoke. With this in mind, I looked for a tool to dribble past and overcome this information filter. I imagined the following concept: To stimulate the viewer by engaging their imagination whilst watching, as a completed work, would unfold before them. With the help of two After Effects program technicians, Persio Amaral and Joao Carlos Guena, I was able to achieve my objective with the Metamorphoses and Floating animations. Now, the new work will be an hour long digital animated loop, of about 30 works. The intention of the digital loop is to place it in waiting areas, where people can be distracted and their imagination stimulated at the same time.

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