Joseph Raffael



      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
      hand-colored frontispiece.
      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
      Numero, Florence.
      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
      Prince studio.
      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
      to paint.
      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
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
      Shadow Diptych.

      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
      By Donald Kuspit and Amei Wallach
      Abbeville Press