One of my heroes died this week. Joseph Raffael was an artist who spoke and will always speak to my soul. We lived in different places. Lived different lives. Worked in different mediums. He was famous but left the NY art scene to live quietly in the south of France. I never made it big enough in NYC to have to leave it. But I live in the quiet town of Northport on the north shore of Long Island. We have each experienced different successes in our lives. A man, a woman, so different but so the same.
His own garden was his inspiration as mine to me. The whole garden and the individual flowers he grew there were his references. My garden too supplies me with the imagery and stories I create from. He worked in watercolors, me, not so much. Give me digital, give me a computer and stylus, give me my oil paints and I’ll paint you some flowers.
He studied with the greats. He went to Cooper Union and Yale School of Art. I went to the State University Queens College for art and the New York Botanical Garden for botanical illustration. He won a Fulbright fellowship & studied two years in Florence and Rome. I was a single parent painting when the kids went to sleep.
Every other year or so Joseph would have a solo show at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in Chelsea that I would make a pilgrimage into Manhattan to see. I would find myself immersed into his world. Not just his garden, his flowers, but more importantly, his spirit, his thoughts, his beliefs. It was a spiritual journey I engaged with on those visits. His spirit resonated within me. I took my camera to the shows and from that I made videos to pay homage to him and his work. Perhaps you will understand if you watch them.
Joseph wrote books too. I have them and read them from time to time when I want a renewal. They are a touchstone to the thinking that he and I share. His words speak the thoughts residing in my mind. We both experienced deep and life-changing loss which turned us to search inward for answers to our questions.
Joseph and I never met in person but every single morning I wake up to his “Pink Peony” hanging on the wall opposite my pillow. He signed it to me with my name and with his. He appreciated what I had created for him. He wrote to me from France to thank me and the package arrived at my doorstep.
Joseph Raffael lives on in his paintings, his writings, his spirit, his very being. I do not mourn his passing, I celebrate that he lived!