"I don't really paint photographs," says Northern California artist Joseph Raffael, "I use image as a structure. I'm usually painting colors and light forms which flow out of the brush."
Variously labeled a Photo-Realist or illusionist, Raffael began painting from photographs in the 1960s, evolving a closely cropped style that Thomas Albright called "intuitive pointillism." Since the 1970s, Raffael has painted microcosmic portraits of nature in an iridescent, extremely lush style that attempts to blur the boundaries between realism and abstraction, subject and its ground.
In his first Los Angeles exhibit in nearly a decade, Raffael presents a new series of woodcuts, lithographs and etchings under the umbrella title, "Luminous Journey." Carp, koi and waterlilies are depicted in limpid, yet fragmented washes of bright, translucent color, in which the interplay of light and shadow creates a phenomenology of flux and impermanence. Raffael admits a great debt to the Taoist notion of ch'i , whereby the artist attempts to capture the spiritual force of his subject by imbuing it with life and transcendental resonance.
Certainly Raffael has captured the indeterminacy of Japanese ink painting in the delicacy of his stroke and patient buildup of color, yet there is also a disturbing sense of commercialism and easy accessibility about his recent output. The work has become precious and decorative rather than subtly evocative and intangible. Raffael's unquestioning glorying in the transitory marvels of nature now read like paeans to the mastery of his own technique. In this era of questioning all received ideas and imagery, particularly Romanticism's notion of sublimity, Raffael's visionary and escapist world view seems not a little overbearing. (Lizardi/Harp Gallery, 54 S. Raymond Ave., to July 31.)