l'Art de l'Aquarelle - N°3
December 2009 - January 2010
Interview by Laurent Benoist
-You studied with Josef Albers, whose teachings emphasized the importance of colour.
Do you still feel today, in your array and choice of colours, influenced by him ?
The basic influence of Albers remains with me, although it is not on the conscious plane.. His effect on me happened decades ago. It is IN me. He set me on a road, and gave me a shove in a certain direction, and I've been traveling that road ever since. However, I have taken many side roads, and come upon many unknown painterly byways & trails which ART&LIFE have presented to me.
The below is not about Albers but rather about how I feel about color----
“COLOR”by Paul Zelanski and Mary Pat Fisher
published by Prentice Hall
“Joseph Raffael has shared with us his feelings about use of color:
'The older I get, the more I feel that color is what painting is.
Painting is primarily color.
Theoretically I learned that at the beginning, perhaps it was Albers from whom I first heard it, but here I am now, in these twilight skies,
knowing that, for me, painting is color.
And because my works are primarily about the act of painting while using nature's realm as point of departure, (or is it point of arrival?)-----
and that I feel nature in all its mystery and spiritual breath can best be expressed by color's energetic spectrum.
Color is a language. It is the language of painting. How painting expresses itself is in large part with color.
With all its variety and liveliness, color acts in the work of art as blood does as it circulates through our bodies. Color is what keeps the painting alive and moving.
When I paint, it is basically the putting of one color next to another ----- that's really what I do. Colors building slowly and inevitably, constructing and creating what is to be born in the painting-to-be.
One color appears, and then another one goes next to it, then another lies itself over a color, and then a spot here, a speck there, and then an air of a color there, then a glob of color there.
A kind of democratic state is born as all these individual color beings join together, living,working and playing together in one space.
I believe that the more color surprises reveal themselves, the more the painting will be rich, more like life, in all its revelations of the unexpected, the never known before, the inevitable being made manifest
Let the tapestry be as full as possible.
Let the colors sing and zing.
Let colors speak their language of life.
Painting is primarily color'.
-Your first works were abstract expressionist paintings; do you feel figurative painting is more apt to depict the beauties of Nature ?
I feel all my works are abstract. If you look at them closely, which you can do on my site you'll see that it is all abstract. The point of departure is the figurative. The moment the paint is applied from brush to paper it becomes an abstract exploration.Just as nature is completely abstract. When I was small I learned this when I would spy an autumn leaf on the ground. From a distance it was a leaf. I'd pick it up and bring it close to my eyes so that there was no 'leaf' outline, and visually it was totally abstract. That's how I see. In ptg I am more interested in the painting than in the 'subject. Another more apt way of putting it would be to say that for me---
Painting is the subject of painting.
-Would you define your paintings as realistic ?
-You paint both in oils, acrylics and watercolours. What are in your opinion, the virtues of the latter ?
Often I am asked why I use watercolors. 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.
For me, this medium is a perfect dance partner.
No, it’s more than that, it is the dance’s original choreographer. Actually, for me it is Dance itself.
Watercolor is powerful, having a life of its own.
With it I have to let go because it pushes me out of the driver’s seat, takes over the wheel.
I am no longer in ‘control’.
I am sitting there beside it, but it becomes the driver, the driving force.
The water color process takes me and itself to a destination I had’nt even known existed, or that the new found place was even on the map.
Parenthetically, in life on actual car trips when I’ve gotten lost,
went off the main road and found new terrains,
it was these un-for-see-able places, these new discoveries which turned out
to be the most memorable and the most valued of places arrived at.
It’s the same way with watercolor. Whatever I put down on the page, the paint will dry as it wants to.
What I love and appreciate and honor most about watercolor is that it has this particular and unique nature.
The pigment combined with the water is unpredictable when wet, & when dry truly becomes something else
—- surprising and totally original .
For example, let’s say l work an hour on a painting —- the colors will have a certain intensity, the forms a certain identity — the painting will look a certain way,
it will be how I had, more or less, wished it to be.
Yet, after it’s dried, when I come upon it, it will look 70% or 80 % different than it had when wet.
It is not longer what I had painted but something else & new in a way I could never have imagined.
Therefore, in doing a watercolor, I never know how it will turn out.
The water color always paints itself, creates its own painting.
As you can imagine, this phenomenon is very freeing.
I figure, it’s like life. No matter how much we plan for a certain day to be a certain way
we can never, ever know what in actuality Life will have in store for us, what will be coming around the corner, and what will insert itself into the ‘picture’ we’ve so carefully envisioned.
It’s like that with watercolor. It’s alchemical and mercurial having its own intent & purpose.
What was it Wallace Stevens said?
“The Blue Guitar surprises you.”
I have realized over these decades of painting, that the more I get out of the way in the painting process, that the ‘never-seen-before’, the ‘not-yet-known’, can emerge and come into existence.
By being in the painting moment, by surrendering to it, by truly letting go, forgetting the self,
one can invite to center stage that which had for so long
been waiting in the wings, just waiting to come out on full stage, and be in the full light,
as it gets the chance finally to express itself.
I feel that by being open to this unseen’s Big Mind, whose space is unlimited and boundless ,
one can find that which yearns to be revealed,
and it is that which can be birthed in the work of art.
-The role played by the borders : are they a way of differentiating the world of the painting as opposed to the “real”world ?
What you write is very astute.
I would say it a bit differently-----
“They are a way of differentiating the world of the painting as opposed to the “real”world painted “
-What purpose do these borders serve ?
They say “This is a painting”.
-Is it fair to say that your paintings are not faithful renderings of Nature ? Is your vision dictated as much as by what you see as by what your artistic instinct may dictate to you ?
You're quite right. It is fair to say that the ptgs are not faithful renderings of nature.That's not my intention.I am inspired by nature and the 'real'. However, something else happens once the painting begins.... it take on a 'life' of its own.
The artistic instinct in the 'moment' decides and describes how the ptg needs to be and will be.
-You have lived in France many years. To what degree has French culture – and even perhaps the flora in Europe – influenced your paintings ?
Living in France has been a great gift.
Basically I have lived in reclusion for the past 25 years. Just Lannis and myself with the gardens, the animals, the birds and the fish. I could concentrate 1OO % on
the art which wanted to express through me. In France I am given this liberty.
I was able to quit the 'art world' as I knew it, and to concentrate upon, and tap into something more eternal.I found it here in this house, this studio this garden, this sea, this France.
-How do you achieve such complex compositions (such as in “Coming Together”, for instance) ? How do you manage for instance to keep the foreground distinct from the background ?
Speaking of Albers. He used to speak about Gestalt. We had color exercises to explore the concept of negative/positive space, how to make all the elements of the picture stay on the same plane.
That has been a vital lesson which for me is now second nature. I have learned from nature that all is equal. This sense that all is equal and in balance. I see everything as fitting together. For example, in this moment, I look out the studio window, and I see the view of the sea, the pine trees, the garden, a roof top, the horizon line, and the sky. I don't see it sequentially but rather all at once. It is all ONE.
I can isolate elements, but only after the fact.
That's how I see, that's what and how I paint. The 'all' being made up of many parts.
I paint with the very large paper scrolled, rolled up, with only the area I'm ptg being visible. So, piece by piece the ptg comes together. The title COMING TOGETHER is
most importantly a reference to what feels like my whole life 'coming together' in a conscious way at this time.
-“Inauguration” or “Solstice”, for example show a very distinct foreground and a “fuzzy” background. How do you obtain such an effect ? Is it by working with a wet on wet technique ?
I believe it's lots of color and forms breaking down and buildng up over and over. Sorry, I don't know what a wet on wet technique is. I paint wet into wet all the time. Is that what you mean?
-Your watercolours always seem to include in the background other pictures or other paintings (such as In “Appreciation” or “Studio Bouquet”, for instance). Is it a way of paying homage to painting or do you include these images because they hold special significance for you ?
These most recent few years the flowers from the garden have been brought inside to the studio where they are put into vases and become part of the 'Gestalt' of our daily interior life. Again, the idea of parts making up the whole. In the studio I have photos, other paintings, bits and pieces of visual matter which are in a continual flux. They are on the wall, they are leaning up against objects, they are on surfaces. The bouquets become part of the mix. I do feel that these works are paying respect, an homage to Life, and in particular the life I have had and am having. In “Coming Together” there is, for example Pierre Bonnard standing in front of one of his ptgs in le Cannet, not all that far, perhaps ten miles or so, from where we have been living all these years. Bonnard a favorite of mine since Yale School of Art days. (He understood mightiy the picture plane). A few yrs ago Lannis and I saw his giant retrospective in Paris. One of the three or four times I ever cried in front of a ptg was on that day in front of one of his ptgs.The photo I had printed up from a newspaper article and had it in my studio.
In “Coming Together” there's also a scene seen from our Paris hotel room where we've been staying for a couple decades, and which most likely we won't be going to again---in a way, the end of an era. I wanted, as I say, to pay homage.
-To what extent do you think the sheer size of your paintings has influenced your way of painting ? Or is the other way : did the way you paint influence the size of your painting ?
The way I paint, the scale of the information in the images which I want to paint demand space. In any case, that's how I see it. I like the idea of the ptg looking at the viewer than the other way around.
-The beauty of watercolour stems, to a certain extent at least, from the interaction, between the “right” paper and the paint. Have you tried out many different papers before you settled for the one that suits you best ? Is there one particular paper you favor ?
I was fortunate I found my paper early. An artist friend Bill Allan suggested ARCHES
and I've ptd with it ever since.
-Are there particular colours that form the basis of your palette, or does each subject dictate the choice of colours ?
Each subject dictates the choice of colors.