AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL CHRONOLOGY
February 22, 1933
I am born in Brooklyn, New York, to a family in which my mother, Cora
Kaelin Raffaele; two older sisters, Jean and Audrey; and an aunt, Mae
Kaelin, are the constants; my father, Joseph Marino Raffaele, is rarely
present. During a solitary childhood, when I am often ill, I develop my
own inner world; nature is my most faithful companion.
I nearly die from spinal meningitis. My father insists that I attend Public
School 198 rather than the local Catholic school, which makes me an outsider
in the neighborhood but broadens my view of society. Drawing is my favorite
subject; I also spend hours drawing at home. I enjoy ice skating, roller
skating, and walking-activities that allow me to be by myself in nature.
My mother, sisters and I spend summers on the tip of Long Island, in Cutchogue,
Mattituck and Peconic. I spend most twilights on the beach, watching the
sun set, in awe and silence. In fact, I watch nature throughout my childhood-everything
from the trees’ evening shadows moving along my bedroom walls in Brooklyn
to the reflections of summer light on Long Island Sound. Movies become
important early in my life, and I see up to five films a week; movie theaters
are my first museums.
November-My mother dies after a long illness. The theme of death and near
death recurs throughout my life and deeply affects my art.
I attend Midwood High School in Brooklyn. The most important and memorable
part of high school is Art Club, where (often alone, which is preparation
for the solitary studio activity of my later years) I make posters after
class for school activities and get my first taste of handlettering with
a brush. At Midwood, I am introduced to poetry, classical music, and jazz
by fellow student Stanley Nelson. I begin spending weekend evenings in
my room painting scenes of nature. Saturday mornings, I take life drawing
classes at the Brooklyn Museum; those afternoons I spend drawing sculpture
on my own, throughout the museum.
I attend the School of Art at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of
Art and Science, in Manhattan. The first year I study drawing with Sidney
Delevante, who encourages his students to be artists while also developing
their poetic nature. My second year John Ferren, an Abstract Expressionist,
teaches painting, concentrating on color. My third year Leo Manso inspires
me with the excitement of being an artist. Abstract Expression is a strong
influence at school; it helps me to "let go," to see the whole
picture, to trust the paint and the brush, and to ritualize the art of
painting. Evenings and weekends I work as a clerk in the Central Circulation
Department at the main New York Public Library.
Summer-I attend, on a fellowship, the Yale University-Norfolk School of
Music and Art, in the Connecticut countryside; for the first time I have
access to individual studio space. I begin to take photographs, which
I later paint from. My first photo is of a nun in a landscape three years
later I paint a series of nuns in various landscapes. At the end of the
summer Bernard Chaet, artist-instructor, encourages me to go to graduate
school at Yale, and with his aid, I receive a scholarship.
I move to New Haven, Connecticut to attend the Yale University School
of Art-the first time I’ve lived on my own. I take Josef Albers’s color
and drawing courses and study drawing and painting with Chaet; James Brooks,
an Abstract Expressionist, is a visiting artist my final year. Albers
is a major influence on me. He does not use terms like hue, form or tone,
but instead speaks of a "feeling" or a "weather" or
a "time of day" or a "geographical feel" when discussing
student work. Most important for me is his insistence that we not paint
in any established way (such as Abstract Expressionism or his own style).
His appearances in the students’ studios are impromptu and always brief,
his remarks pertinent and direct. He speaks to me only twice in two years,
saying just a few sentences and once only "Aachhh!! Boy!! SHIT!!!"
As a result, I learn not to expect or depend on approval from others,
even those I most admire, which is probably the most decisive lesson in
my art education.
In the evenings, the Yale Art Library is a haven and treasure house for
me. I discover a decrepit volume of Sandro Botticelli’s line drawings
for Dante’s Inferno; their extreme complexity and abstract quality
appeal to me, as do the grace of the line and the subject matter. In the
library, I also discover Edvard Munch, whose color and emotional intensity
touch me. Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet offer me
solace during a rather solitary and soul-searching time. Gertrude Stein’s
originality encourages me, as does the fact that she lived in a foreign
In art history I study Oriental art, and the landscapes feed my soul;
I also take a course in which I see French nineteenth-century art. My
graduate thesis is a handmade book with my own calligraphy of Dylan Thomas’s
collection of stories Quite Early One Morning, with collages of
leaves from New Haven trees and colored papers from Albers’s color course
as illustration. (Albers does like and appreciate this.)
After graduating with a BFA, I leave to begin my life as an artist, rather
than staying on for a master’s degree, as most of the others did in my
class. I work as free-lance designer at Jack Price Textile Studio in Manhattan,
where the artists Carolyn Brady, Audrey Flack, and Paul Thek are also
designers. I learn to do "repeats"-i.e., to copy exactly a freely
drawn and painted design within a certain measurement. This is a great
drawing lesson that proves useful in making art later on. I also learn
how to reproduce colors accurately. I paint on my own on weekends and
nights: a series, in oil, of nuns in landscapes and homages to Alain-Fournier
after having read his book Le Grand Meaulnes (1913) and to James
Agree after reading A Death in the Family (1957).
I receive a Fulbright Fellowship to paint in Florence, I travel in Europe
with friend and photographer Peter Hujar. We share a house with studios
on a hillside overlooking Florence, with a view of the Duomo on one side
and the Tuscan landscape on the other. I’m very impressed by the Tuscan
landscape and by man’s effect on it, its order and beauty. My Fulbright
project is to study triptychs and altarpieces in Florentine churches,
where I discover Piero della Francesca and Giotto. Ironically, while in
Florence I also discover the American transcendentalist writers Henry
David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson at the American Library.
Abstraction begins to lose some of its attraction for me. I paint large
circular oils of abstracted flowers from the garden and also complexly
colored watercolors of flower forms. I make a hand-calligraphed book with
flower watercolors of Ernst Juenger’s novel On The Marble Cliffs (1947).
I design and have printed a limited-edition book of Stanley Nelson’s long
poem "The Passion of Tammuz," financed by ten-dollar contributions,
with my line drawings as illustrations; a special edition of ten has a
While I’m in Europe, my first exhibition, of the nun-in-landscape oils,
is held at Kanegis Gallery, Boston.
An exhibition of my work done while on the Fulbright is shown at Galleria
December-I return to New York City, where I live and paint on West Twelfth
Street, sharing an apartment and studio with the Italian opera director-designer
Beni Montresor, I work part-time as a freelance textile artist at the
I receive a $2,000 award from the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation for
my handmade edition of On the Marble Cliffs.
I spend both summers in Italy. Montresor introduces me to the composer
Gian Carlo Menotti, who is director of the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds.
In 1962 Menotti invites me to paint a backdrop for a Jules Feiffer play.
In Umbria I paint a series of watercolors of twilight landscapes viewed
from a tower.
My first New York exhibition, of the Umbrian watercolors, is held at D’Arcy
Galleries. Prior to the opening, hepatitis almost kills me; I spend nine
weeks in the hospital. Abstract Expressionism’s complexity and directness
had always appealed to me but now, after this near-death experience, my
work becomes more realistic: "real-life" images, fragmented
on white-ground canvases, are influenced by my renewed appreciation of
life and of being alive within it.
My father dies, I paint Padre Morto (my collection).
Stable Gallery, New York, holds a one-person show of my white-ground paintings.
I teach painting for the fall quarter at the University o of California
at Davis, where I meet the artists William Allan and William T. Wiley
and their families, who become good friends. For the first time, I see
that an artist can also have a family. I have a studio in an apartment
on a hill in San Francisco, overlooking the Bay and Chinatown. I see William
Allan’s 16mm film focused on one section of a creek with its water continuously
flowing, constantly changing, which reminds me of gazing at the water
when I was a child. It evokes something in me that six years later will
become the Water Painting series.
After returning to New York, I practice transcendental meditation and
am introduced to the thinking of Krisnamurti and Gurdjieff. I change my
name from Joe Raffaele to Joseph Raffael. I begin large-scale, single-image
oil paintings, including an Egyptian stone head of a cheetah with a blue
tear and a portrait of Tut-both inspired by the ancient view of art-making
as spiritual activity.
July-I meet (via Ray Johnson’s Correspondence School of Art and also William
T. Wiley) Judy Davis, an artist and instructor at Bennington College,
Vermont. She introduces me to the writings of Carl Jung. September-we
marry; I adopt her two young sons, Robert and Matthew. We live and paint
in Robert Frost’s house on Bennington College campus. I begin large portraits
of Native Americans, inspired by the sense I feel of ancient spirit permeating
the local trees and landscape, as well as by a new sense of myself. December-the
single-image paintings are shown at Stable Gallery, New York.
We move to the San Francisco Bay area; I teach the summer session at the
University of California, Berkeley, then begin teaching at California
State College at Sacramento (until 1973). We move to San Geronimo Valley
in Marin County, where we have a house and studio on a hill among the
redwoods. October-our daughter Rachel is born.
Up until this time I have been painting rather opaquely. However, at a
certain point I notice that I prefer the way the watercolor dries on the
surface of the white porcelain plate that I am using as a palette; it
is more transparent and translucent, more fluid and runny than on the
paper’s surface. So I search out paper that gives a similar effect. Later,
I also begin pre-painting my canvases with more than ten coats of white
gesso, sanding between each coat. This surface, combined with diluting
the oils with turpentine (as one dilutes watercolor with water), gives
my oil paintings a look of being lit from behind. I like this. It is also
perfect for the Water Paintings, which follow a few years later.
In California I feel a sense of expanded space. I paint Release,
feeling as though I am released as well.
I have a solo exhibition as Reese Palley Gallery, San Francisco. I begin
the large animal-head portraits, including Lizard and Lion.
January-I have a solo exhibition at the animal-head portraits at Reese
Palley Gallery, New York. March our son Reuben is born. August-I meet
Nancy Hoffman in San Geronomo and join her new gallery in New York. September-William
Allen takes photographs of waterways for me to paint; I begin the Water
Paintings series. December 8-January 1973-Landscape is included
in Nancy Hoffman Gallery’s inaugural exhibition.
Summer-the first five of my oil Water Paintings are shown at the University
Art Museum, Berkeley; Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art; and Nancy Hoffman
Gallery. October-we travel to Scotland, while driving in the Highlands
I come upon the scenes that inspire Black Craig (Art Institute
of Chicago) and several other dark Water Paintings. After returning to
California, I stop teaching to paint full-time.
I receive first prize, Tokyo International Biennale, Japan.
January-my first visit to Hawaii is sponsored by the U.S. Department of
the Interior as part of a Bicentennial program inviting artists to honor
the United States. A touring exhibition of paintings by the participating
artists follows, called America 1976; I exhibit Island Magic.
My return flight from Hawaii is delayed for several hours, so I leave
the airport; in Hilo during the wait, I discover and photograph a lily
pond. I had taken more than a thousand slides during my Hawaii trip, but
when I return to my studio, I realize that the lily ponds are what I want
April-Clinton Adams, director of the Tamarind Institute, University of
New Mexico, Albuquerque, invites me to a be a guest printmaker there for
a few weeks. I’m introduced to lithographic printmaking and create my
first print: Island Magic. In the following years, I collaborate
with various printers, including Will Foo, Charles Gill, Susan Goldsmith,
David Salgado, Maurice Sanchez, and John Stemmer, among others.
John Fitz Gibbon, an art historian and writer, invites me to visit Dr.
and Mrs. McHenry’s koi pond in Sacramento. I take many photos and begin
to paint fish, including Fish Dream, Luminous Pond, and
Wind on Water Spring.
October-I meet W. Brugh Joy, MD, a healer and spiritual teacher; I participate
in his two-week workshop-conference on transformation in the Mojave Desert.
It gives me the insight necessary to help move through the life-changing
events that follow.
January-Joseph Raffael: The California Years 1969-1978, organized
by Thomas H. Gsarver for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, opens;
it will tour the Des Moines (Iowa) Art Center, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha;
Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach California; and Denver Art Museum.
I also have two solo exhibitions at galleries; one opens in January at
the Barbara Fendrick Gallery in Washington, D. C.; the other runs February
1-March 14 at the John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco. Summer-I travel
to Hong Kong and environs. Inspired by a visit to a Buddhist monastery
in the hills of a nearby island, I later paint Lily with Dragonfly
and other works based on the site.
April-my wife and I separate. May-Matthew dies after an automobile accident.
After his death, I undergo a transitional time of spiritual and creative
reflection, wanting to connect more deeply to my artist self. I begin
deepening my exploration of Eastern medicine and thought, needing to rediscover
a "beginner’s mind." Closing my studio to everyone, I curtain
the windows, the glass doors, and even the painting area within my studio.
I need to paint on absolute privacy to find my original artist again.
I paint Naked, Dying, and Ascension. I meet the
spiritual teacher Paula Scott.
I paint the oil portrait Matthew with his face smiling. A friend, upon
Matthew’s death, gave the family a flowering cherry tree; its first spring
blossoming touches me, and I paint Matthew’s Branch. I meet Lannis
Wood, transpersonal counselor and tarot teacher, who employs the tarot
and its symbols in her work. For the next two years I work with her, exploring
life’s metamorphoses: during this period a wonderful friendship develops.
April 15 - May 16-solo exhibition at John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco.
I visit Paris and southern France, considering buying a house in the South.
Ann McLaughlin and Garner Tullis invite me to make my first monotypes,
at the San Francisco Experimental Workshop.
April 21-May 22-solo exhibition at John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco.
During a summer trip to Holland, Italy, and mostly France with Robert,
Rachel and Reuben, I see an Edouard Manet retrospective at the Grand Palais
in Paris. I’m particularly struck by two tiny but powerful canvases, one
of asparagus on a dish and the other of oysters. After returning to the
United States, I paint large oil portraits of myself and the children.
April 2-May 7-solo exhibition at the Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago.
May-Lannis and I begin living together; our family increases with the
addition of her three children, Sean, Rachelle, and Casey. November-a
show of the figure paintings is held at Nancy Hoffman Gallery. During
that exhibition, Lannis and I leave for Italy, to explore my Sicilian
roots on my father’s side and to revisit sites of my early years as an
artist in Florence. After this trip we realize we want to live in Europe.
Back in California, I paint Ancient Longing, replacing the original
face of Botticelli’s Primavera with that of Lannis. I also paint
the oils Out of the Thicket and The Clearing, which relate
to Lannis and my psychological states after the tribulations of my divorce
and our efforts to leave behind the complications of my San Geronimo life.
We set about making a new life, moving out of the "thicket"
and into the "clearing." We rent a house on the edge of the
Pacific, in Seadrift, Marin County, where we stay until our departure
for Europe, scheduled for three months later. We inaugurate a new, much
simpler, and more reclusive life, dedicated to the art and to our life
January 5-we marry. I paint Marriage. April-my exhibition at Nancy
Hoffman Gallery opens Friday evening; Sunday morning we leave to live
in France. We find a small house on the Mediterranean, where we live a
private, solitary life. I use two bedrooms facing the sea as studios-one
for oils, the other for watercolors. The making of the art becomes our
major focus, while we are also learning to live in a new culture. My first
painting in France is The Bridge, then I make many small oils of
birds, flowers from the garden, us, and other images from our new daily
I have two other solo exhibitions this year: February 28-March 29, Richard
Gray Gallery, Chicago; July 23-September 6, John Berggruen Gallery, San
I paint three large vertical oils of Lannis-Lannis and Claire in the
Garden, Lannis in the Studio, and Lannis with Sunhat Standing
in Garden: Summer (all in our collection). November 14-December 16-my
exhibition In France, the Lannis Series: Part I is at Nancy Hoffman
We begin regular visits to our friends the Makkink family in Holland.
I start the Lannis in Sieste series.
February 18-March 22-the Lannis in Sieste paintings are exhibited at Nancy
Hoffman Gallery. After seeing the Paul Gauguin exhibition at the Grand
Palais in Paris, I begin the Soyez mysterieuses series. We strongly sense
the mystery of life and our lives in particular. I return to water imagery
and also begin to paint large-scale watercolors of the life we share,
such as bouquets from Lannis’s garden, as well as large-scale details
of the he interior of the house. On a visit to the Makkinks I see the
North Sea at twilight, which inspires Soyez mysterieuses VIII.
We buy the house we’ve been renting. The house, studio, and garden become
our haven and inspiration. November 1-April 13, 1991-Soyez mysterieuses
series is exhibited at Nancy Hoffman Gallery.
I continue to explore the garden, interiors, animals, and Lannis as painting
themes; the paintings become clearly a documentation of our daily life.
Summer-after having painted mostly in watercolors, I begin several large
paintings in oil, including the five-panel screen Le 2 Novembre II.
April 4-29-these oil paintings are exhibited at Nancy Hoffman Gallery.
August-Lannis has emergency surgery and nearly dies. After her return
from the hospital, our life and my paintings progress to a deeper level.
An urgency develops to express my love for Lannis and life and art through
my paintings. Our visits to the Makkinks in Holland become more frequent;
they introduce us to two large lily ponds in the Hague, which inspire
Lily Pond,Lannis,Restoration and Lily Pond, Lannis, Light and
March 5-April 13-the Lannis paintings and others in appreciation of Lannis
and our life together are shown at Nancy Hoffman Gallery. April-we tear
down the wall between the two small studios, making one large, light-filled
room where I begin working with acrylics on canvas-a longtime wish fulfilled.
January 20-February 28-my first acrylics are shown at Nancy Hoffman Gallery,
including Renewal and the Galactic Waters paintings. July-in Holland
I photograph a heron by a pond.
April-May-I paint Heron’s Vision. May-we visit the Makkinks in
Holland. I see a coot perched on a nest in the pond where the heron had
been; this inspires the watercolor triptych May 4th, which takes
three months to complete. December-Lannis goes to Bali to visit our first
grandchild; she takes may photographs for my eventual paintings. I stay
home to paint; the next year, I paint La Magie de Bali.
January-our friends the Loizos family invite us to the desert in Borrego
Springs, California. There we see an oasis, complete with palm trees and
waterfall; I take photos of the oasis, which I later paint. Katina Wood
and Chris Desmond take us to the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, California,
where in the Japanese Gardens I photograph a flowering tree; in May-July,
I base a painting on it, called 12 March. August-I begin the long-planned
Lannis’ Garden series. October 9-November 5-my exhibition at Nancy Hoffman
Gallery includes Heron’s Vision, May 4th, Metamorphose,
12 March, and the first Lannis’ Garden paintings.
The above AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL CHRONOLOGY has been excerpted from the book
REFLECTIONS OF NATURE: PAINTINGS BY JOSEPH RAFFAEL
By Donald Kuspit and Amei Wallach