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Moving Toward the Light | Joseph Raffael


Moving Toward the Light is the title of a recent published book on Joseph Raffael, as well as the title of one of his newest, most ambitious works. Known for his monumental watercolors celebrating nature, thse artist’s work of the past three years continues to push into new terrain. Taking the viewer deeper and deeper into the mysteries of nature, Raffael remains ever the explorer of what the eye cannot behold, be it with blossoming branches in a profusion of blues, or palm fronds of greens, greys, silvers and lavenders. Like an explorer combing the depths of the sea for wonders below, Raffael captures on his camera in an instant, wonders that surround him at his home and in his garden in France, transforming what he sees into a heightened vision in watercolor. Everything he paints is part of his quotidian universe.

Thirty years ago, Joseph Raffael and his wife Lannis moved to the South of France, wanting to simplify life for Joseph to devote himself to painting without distraction. Over this time, the couple, who live in a simple home overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, have created what might be called an earthly paradise. Lannis planted a garden with flowers every color of the rainbow in the midst of ancient trees, bushes and succulents. They created two koi ponds on the property, framed by stones the Mediterranean has washed smooth. The flowering plants matured, the carp grew large, the birds in the outdoor aviaries multiplied. It is this paradise teeming with life force that provides the artist with his subjects: flowers, koi, birds, shells, the abundance of the gardens that surround them.

Raffael photographs his world, zeroing in on what interests him. A selection process follows during which he views and reviews images and decides what to paint next. From the photograph he makes a “map” only he can follow, and then begins to paint in a unique and intuitive fashion in watercolor. He paints wet into wet, puddles the paint, surrounds images with an “inner frame” of paint, celebratory of the act of painting. While the works have a freshness and spontaneity, they take him months to paint as he carefully weaves tapestries of color in paint on paper. These are watercolors like no others, rich, sumptuous, saturated, luminous.

Following his last gallery exhibition, his most recent works reveal that light is the artist’s prime subject of exploration and interest. Pervading each image is the pure light that emanates from his brush, as well as from the sun that shines over the sea where he resides. These large and commanding works encompass the viewer in a world the eye alone cannot behold in nature. They invite the viewer into moments of discovery, thought and contemplation, of music, of harmony, of peace and quiet. Simply stated Raffael’s new work is a celebration of life.

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.

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