Exhibition - Joseph Raffael: Regeneration

Friday, Apr 23, 2021 at 11:00am

Nancy Hoffman Gallery
520 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001

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From the time Joseph Raffael moved to France some 35 years ago, he has devoted himself to the medium of watercolor, using this fluid material to explore nature, its richness, its mysteries, its depths. Much of what he has painted, in fact, most of what he has painted, has been in the artist’s own backyard, the varied blooms of rainbow-colored flowers from his garden, the shimmering carp from his own pond, the multi-colored birds from his backyard aviaries. For his newest series, the artist combines his love of pure nature with that of animals, what he calls “spirit beings.” Seeing an image of a bee in flight about to land on a blue flower piqued his interest to begin the series. The suggestion of flight, a quiver of movement, almost impossible to capture, became a touchstone to renewed energy in the work. Regeneration, the title for Raffael’s show tells the tale. These works have a shimmering intensity, a life force urgency that is palpable. The dictionary tells us that “Regeneration” is the process of renewal and restoration, and that is precisely what the artist accomplishes in his new works, on view from March 11 – May 8, 2021. 

After painting intimate scale, square format works of a single bloom for a few years, Raffael pivoted in his new works, creating a dialogue between a “spirit being” and the natural world: a bee hovers near a flower’s nectar, a butterfly alights on a tangle of spring green grass, a parrot perches in front of a tapestry-like lush flowering tree, a rabbit sits bemused, focused on the viewer, in a field of sprightly grasses. Perhaps the bee that sparked this series spoke to Raffael in his ninth decade about life force, about intensity, about the joy and prospect of nectar, which for the artist is the sheer joy of painting. The bee posed a challenge, and the artist was up to the task. How to paint a creature in flight, about to alight, how to paint the flower filled with nectar that is the destination for the bee? The entire works vibrates with energy, the flower’s tendril-like petals are moving before our eyes, they dazzle as the bee is about to land. The viewer feels the drama in the pit of her stomach, the heart quickens. Raffael pulls it off. There is no sweetness here, no sentimentality, no quiet moment, this is a moment fraught with possibility. 

A yellowtail butterfly alights on rich green blades of grass that are woven so tightly on the ground that we see no dirt. We are dazzled by the myriad greens; there must be 20-30 colors of green if we study the full expanse. In nature’s casual arrangement of grasses, the butterfly seems almost regal, formal, heroic, symbolic of life’s passages. An owl gazes full face at the viewer, peacefully perched on its branch, the symbol of wisdom. A dog peers through soft ferns, seeming to anticipate an encounter, a creature, man’s best friend, waiting, patient, each image a dialogue. These are not simple paintings, each is a rich statement about life, about possibility, about renewal. The artist has long been in dialogue about beauty, in many ways, it is the watchword of his practice, a constant conversation with brush in hand throughout his life. 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.” 

Joseph Raffael moved to the South of France to simplify life, to devote himself to painting without distraction. His wife Lannis planted a garden near the edge of the sea, with flowers of every color of the rainbow. The flowering plants matured, and an earthly paradise blossomed. More than the artist’s single flowers, his “beings” are resplendent reflections on life, meditations on what it means to be alive, engaged, in dialogue. Each work is an ode to life in multi-color, “jewel-encrusted” passages of watercolor. Simply stated, Raffael’s “beings” are what he likes to call “beyond appearances.” And as he has often said: “My painting is and always has been a kind of conversation with mystery.” And this exhibition proves the case. 

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, 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 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. 

Exhibition Date: March 11, 2021 - May 22, 2022 

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