When walking down King Street on a busy afternoon, how many of us stop to take note of our surroundings? How many of us pay attention to the graffiti on a park bench, the reflection of lights in the counter of a restaurant, or the haughty stride of a businessman headed back to the office? If we do notice these scenes, how many of us think to turn them into art? In 20 eight-inch circular paintings, displayed in beautiful wooden hand-crafted frames, Robert Lange has turned simple moments of his public and private life in Charleston into a compelling and playful experiment in observation.
It all began with Lange's desire to see if he could fit the personality of a four-foot painting into a circular eight-inch one. Bringing a chrome garden ball with him as he ran around town — from dinner out to a stop at the marina after dropping off rent to the landlord — Lange placed the ball on the ground, a countertop, or a bench, and took a photograph. Back in his studio, he painstakingly recreated the images reflected in the ball. He says the process kept him honest. "The image reflects the ball's point of view, and the ball can't edit. I wanted to let the ball tell the story," he says.
Typically, the formula comes first in a Robert Lange painting. His is a controlled process that begins with a concept and a final goal. He knew he wanted to have 20 paintings with a cross section of Charleston scenes: a restaurant, a beach, a park, a school, and more. However the approach is new for Lange, who's known for his hyper-realistic style. "This is the first time I didn't change a thing," he says of the attention to detail in each work.
What's also new is the view of Lange's personal space. Keenly aware of his audience, which perhaps comes from being both an artist and gallery owner, he refers to his process as a "visual journal." This is not your typical viewing experience, and efforts to engage the audience are evident in the careful details. For example, in "Observing Beautiful," we see the artist at work painting his frequent subject and wife, Megan Lange. Every detail is included, from the framed art on their bedroom walls to the clock on the bedside table. Look long enough and you will be rewarded with miniscule details like a tiny lighthouse in the background of "Observing Full Circle."
Reflective surfaces have long been a theme in Lange's work. "I go to eBay and Craigslist to find reflective objects," he says. "I also have an ongoing collection of interesting objects that people have given me." This unique format creates a warped, bending effect and offers a fish-eye view of each scene. In "Observing the Connections," we see a snapshot of a busy lunchtime sidewalk. Lange is posed in the center of the image with his camera hiding his face as a businessman strides past. "He was looking at me like, 'Come on, get a job already!'" Lange laughs.
In an effort to pay homage to his gallery artists, Lange offers "Observing Creativity." Reflecting the view from the gallery's wooden swing, the viewer can spot fellow RLS artists in half-inch depictions. A Nathan Durfee painting is recognizable in the upper front left, and one of Amy Lind's circus paintings can be seen further back. Like the works of the Dutch artist Jan van Eyck, these paintings within a painting highlight Lange's technical ability and humility.