On October 26, an exhibition of small square format watercolors by Joseph Raffael, opens at Nancy Hoffman Gallery, continuing through December 9. For the first time in over twenty years the artist has devoted himself to an intimate scale, and for the first time he has eschewed landscape or vertical format in favor of the post-modern square to explore in depth and breadth the garden single bloom by single bloom.
Each watercolor is a flower, some recognizable--a rose or peony; others abstract as the artist zeroes in on the central core of the flower opened and unfurling its myriad petals, like a pulsing heart. While each work depicts a bloom from the artist’s own garden, the show itself is about painting, painting in watercolor, and above all, about the artist’s appreciation of life in his 9th decade. For many years Raffael has painted on the heroic scale delving deeper into beauty as manifest in nature, capturing in paint what the eye cannot hold and behold. His dialogue with and about beauty is the watchword of his practice, he has been in constant conversation on the subject with brush in hand. The artist has said of beauty: “Opening ourselves to beauty, we let go of ‘rational mind,’ and the critic within us and we become part of a trusted flow, not concerned where it will take us.”
Several years ago, the artist took on the challenge of painting light in his show, Moving Toward the Light, a difficult and transcendent challenge. In this new body of work of the past two years, new challenges have arisen, as the artist began his journey into small square format works. While the manifest content of the watercolors is the flower, the hidden content is life’s ranging stages and emotions, as suggested by the titles: Ascension, Promise, Radiant Heart, Opening. Each is a visual haiku, a poem evoking images of the natural world.
Thirty years ago, Joseph Raffael and his wife Lannis moved to the South of France, wanting to simplify life so that Joseph could devote himself to painting without distraction. Lannis planted a garden near the edge of the sea in the midst of ancient trees, bushes, cacti and succulents, with flowers of every color of the rainbow. The flowering plants matured, and an earthly paradise blossomed. It is this paradise teeming with life force that provides the artist with his subjects: flowers that surround their house.
These are not images of flowers qua flowers, these are abstractions inspired by nature, resplendent reflections on life, meditations on what it means to be alive. Each work is an ode to life in multi-color, “jewel-encrusted” passages of watercolor. These are paintings to “fall into,” to roam about in and to explore. Every square inch is filled with rich color, interweaving squiggles, and lines and circles and facets, and juxtapositions that frolic and play with the mind and the eye, colors that cavort energetically across the paper, and cohabit joyfully. Simply stated, Raffael’s new work is a celebration and appreciation of life, and an invitation to each viewer to gaze upon intimate works, and become lost in all that nature and painting have to offer, what Raffael likes to call “beyond appearances.” And as he has often said: “My painting is and always has been a kind of conversation with mystery.”
Joseph Raffael was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933. He attended Cooper Union, New York and received his B.F.A. from Yale School of Fine Arts. While at Yale he studied with Josef Albers. He also received a Fulbright Fellowship to Florence and Rome.
The artist’s work has been exhibited in this country at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York; ARCO Center for Visual Art, Los Angeles; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock; The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi; Arts Center Galleries, Old Forge, New York; Arvada Art Center, Denver, Colorado; Bergstrom-Mahler Museum, Neenah, Wisconsin; The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; The Canton Museum of Art, Ohio; City University of New York, Baruch College; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio; Davenport Museum of Art, Iowa; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; The Denver Art Museum, Colorado; Elvehjem Art Center, Madison, Wisconsin; Evansville Museum of Arts and Science, Indiana; Flint Institute of Arts, Michigan; Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art, Colorado; Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Indiana; Gibbs Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina, Charlotte and Philip Hanes Art Gallery, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee; The Jacksonville Museum, Florida; Las Vegas Museum of Art, Nevada; Minnesota Museum of Art, St. Paul; Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Museum of Art, Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, Saint Louis; Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Academy of Design, New York; Newport Art Museum, Rhode Island; Newport Harbor Art Museum, California; Oklahoma City Art Museum, Oklahoma; Parkland Art Gallery, Parkland College, Champaign, Illinois Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Polk Museum of Art, Lakeland, Florida; San Francisco International Airport, California; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; Scottsdale Art Center, Arizona; Sioux City Art Center, Iowa; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts State University of New York, Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, California; Stony Brook; Tucson Museum of Art, Arizona; Wichita Art Museum, Kansas; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, Wisconsin; among other institutions. His work has also been shown at the Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourg, France; Fukui City Art Museum; Hokodate Museum of Art, Hokkaido; Iwaki City Museum; Iwate Prefectural Museum; Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo; Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art; Miyagi Museum of Art, Sendai; Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama; Sogo Museum of Art; National Museum in Gdansk, Gdansk, Poland; Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts; Tokushima Modern Art Museum; Museum of Modern Art, Shiba; and Kochi Prefectural Museum of Folk Art, all in Japan, and Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan.
Raffael’s work is represented in many museum collections, among them: Allentown Art Museum, Pennsylvania; The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; Boca Raton Museum of Art, Florida; Bauer Museum of Art, Valparaiso, Indiana; The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; The Canton Museum of Art, Ohio; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California; Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; The Denver Art Museum, Colorado; Des Moines Art Center, Iowa; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York; Fond Regional d’Art Contemporain, Auvergne, France; Fort Worth Art Museum, Texas; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Jacksonville Art Museum, Florida; Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; Krannert Art Museum, Champaign, Illinois; Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Long Beach Museum, California; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida; Museum of Outdoor Art, Englewood, Colorado; National Collection of Fine Arts of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; The Oakland Museum, California; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; Rahr West Art Museum, Manitowoc, Wisconsin; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California; J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky; The Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio; Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Maryland; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.