Eyestorm, London, United Kingdom

San Francisco by Alessandro Raho

Alessandro Raho Biography

Nassau, Bahamas, 1971

Alessandro Raho takes photographs of people and places he knows. From his photographs he makes paintings and prints, in which his subjects - ranging from Raho's artist friend Ewan, to the English coastal town of Eastbourne - are lent an unlikely but unembarrassed glamour. Though the people in the portraits underplay their own presence, Raho positions them centrally. In Ewan the subject looks us right in the eye, stealing a good third of the canvas from his monochrome backdrop. Thanks to Raho's careful verisimilitude, Ewan seems literally present, but human presence creeps in elsewhere as well. The seascapes feature yellow specks on the horizon; lit windows confirming not- far-off habitation.

Raho's work deals with narrative, nostalgia and desire. Like most of us, he was introduced to the photographic image via family albums. He pored over his mother's patchwork collection of faded color snapshots - they picture his early life in the Bahamas without filling in the whole story. If we follow this idea of photographs as being fragments from life's narrative, it makes sense that Raho's first paintings were based on film stills. In his early work he appears to have wanted to freeze cinematic frames in a way that was more satisfactory, and more permanent, than pushing the pause button on the video recorder. He reworked each single 'frame', investing it over time with sustained painterly attention. In doing this he transformed the image: the trace of a moment in time becomes simply an opaque layer of color on a surface.

'It was the image I was interested in', says Raho, 'films offered images that were well composed and aesthetically pleasing, and on top of that they felt relevant and contemporary. as did TV, magazines, posters and newspapers. I didn't have to look far to see images depicting "city" life. Living in a city one is surrounded by them. Of course with all these media it was photography that was the common denominator.'

Raho's dissatisfaction with 'finding' images in this way led him to begin taking his own photographs of his friends. In the process of this transition - and while looking at the German artist Gerhard Richter's seminal 60s paintings of found photographs, and the painterly darkroom experiments of Richter's former collaborator Sigmar Polke - Raho transformed photography's position in his work. In a sense, he became a painter when making photographs, and a photographer when making paintings. Both media are employed simply to make images, and neither is prioritized. Raho's subjects appear deadpan in a way that dismisses the instantaneous advantage of modern cameras' shutter-speeds. The poses recall those of James McNeill Whistler, for example, an artist who was notorious for making his unfortunate subjects endure hundreds of lengthy sittings. Meanwhile, the photographic images that Raho has made at night require long exposures that give them a 'time-stretching' feel.

Early photography, wherein treated paper was left out in the sun to gradually absorb its rays, is a more fitting analogy than contemporary technology for the way in which Raho paints and photographs; in both cases, the process is one of slow accretion. But Raho's method of making his photographs more like paintings uses the most advanced contemporary techniques. The process of digitally editing the photographs, selecting the inks, working on the pixellation of the Iris prints is very close to his process of constructing a painting from a projected photograph. Both the paintings and the resultant prints have that same invisibility of touch - the lack of overt artistic gesture, style or directional line - which gives them a flatness that is strikingly contemporary (and enigmatic, for such intimate and nostalgic work).

In Raho's paintings and prints there is evident attachment to the power of the image to invoke - without explicitly revealing - a narrative, and to stimulate flights of fantasy that never need be marred by the eruption of the real. He has looked closely at the work of a variety of photographers (from the inert, repeated architectures of the German couple Bernd and Hilla Becher, to the trashy glamour of West Coaster Jack Pierson), but Raho's photographs have a unique twist because they are so rooted in the practice of painting. He is part of an emergent generation of artists who use the imaginative freedom of the handmade to deal with fantasy.

Raho's work offers us permission to escape into the straightforward enjoyment of an image. The luxurious surface of the oil-painted image, the controlled and edited photographic print, and the digitally manipulated ink-jet print are all covers, assisting the artist in obliterating any jarring details pertaining to the image's actual moment of capture. The flattened generalization that you find in Raho's images (which occurs through mechanical reproduction as much as painterly translation) creates a kind of nostalgia in the present tense. Raho pictures personal subjects, but what he's really concerned with is the attractiveness of the image. The narrative fragments do not speak, they are mutedly beautiful moments in a future perfect that can only exist as a work of art.


Thaddeus Ropac, Salzburg, Austria, 2001

Asprey Jacques, London, 2000

Monica de Cardenas, Milan, Italy, 1997

Maureen Paley/Interim Art, London, 1996

Jay Gorney Modern Art, New York, 1996


'OO', Barbara Gladstone, New York, 2000

'Surfacing: Contemporary Drawing', ICA, London, 1998

'Face to Face', Victoria Miro Gallery, London, 1996

'Brilliant! New Art From London', Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA, 1995

'Artissima 94', Turin, Italy, 1994


Gisbourne, Mark, 'Oculus Imaginations', Contemporary Visual Arts, issue 31, 2000

Jones, Jonathan, 'Portrait of the Week', The Guardian, May 20, 2000

Perretta, Gabriele, 'Young British Artists', Flash Art International, March, 2000

Packer, William, 'Dumb by name but not by nature', Financial Times, January 12, 1999

Maloney, Martin, 'Alessandro Raho, Interim Art', Flash Art, May-June, 1995

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