Joseph Raffael’s Prismatic Watercolors Celebrate the Beauty of the Natural World

When asked why he is drawn to watercolor, American artist Joseph Raffael has explained, “For me it is an alchemical medium—colors mixing with water, joining with it, being extended by it—creating new life where none had been before.” His works are indeed teeming with life. Exacting brush strokes coalesce into flowers, palm fronds, shells, and koi ponds—reflections of his day-to-day life in Cap d'Antibes in the South of France, where for some 30 years, he has surrounded himself with gardens in a home perched on the Mediterranean. This September, Nancy Hoffman Gallery in New York debuts  a selection of his new and recent works in “Joseph Raffael: Moving To The Light,” alongside a new book of the same name.

Raffael has a knack for capturing dramatic contrasts of light and color found in nature. Highlights of cadmium yellow oppose deep purples and blues; lush greens foreground bright pinks and reds. Meticulous brushstrokes articulate leaves, petals, and other plant life; in some works vegetation fills the entire picture plane, and in others it looms before pale, sun-filled skies. In Reunion (2014) and No Beginning No End (2014), brambly branches, bulbous petals, and pointed leaves come together like threads, woven together in a tondo.

Raffael begins by photographing natural environments. He then maps the most compelling organisms and plant life, and then interprets those forms through pigment on paper. Since he moved to the South of France with his wife, the Brooklyn-raised artist been committed to exploring the natural world through watercolor.  Pieces like Life Dreaming (2014) demonstrate a dedication to rendering minute details, as well as his enthusiastic approach to capturing the natural beauty of the region.

In Moving Toward the Light I (2015), a horizontal frame contains a series of palm fronds fanning upwards toward the sun. The color palette—greens, blues, greys, and the white of the paper—is more muted here, in comparison to other more exuberant works. Even so, the leaves seem to scintillate, flutter, and consume the composition, nodding simultaneously to nature’s ethereal beauty and resilience.


—Anna Furman


Joseph Raffael: Moving To The Light” is on view at Nancy Hoffman Gallery, New York, Sep. 10-Oct. 24, 2015.


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