New York

Joe Raffaele

Stable Gallery

Joe Raffaele’s ability to fix the obsessional image of empirical reality is bewildering and, at this moment, entirely unexpected. He makes one think of Gérome or the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, one without the trappings of a sclerotic Neo-Classicism, and the other omitting a Christian Sermon.

The most unnerving aspect of Raffaele’s work is his refusal to imbed it within an esthetic matrix. Rather, he participates in that esthetic of the absurd animating so great a portion of contemporary art. Yet, Raffaele’s work is as difficult to categorize as are the many nuances of absurdity. Unlike the Surrealists, his pictorial antagonisms, and apparently subconscious contrasts, are not systematized.

Raffaele’s neutrality toward subject matter is all the more baffling because, ostensibly, his paintings appear to be the shopping lists of a raging sadomasochist: disembodied hair, lips, limbs, eyes, genitalia, rare animals, radiant cosmetics. The pictorial rightness of Raffaele’s work is not governed by the overt sexuality of Maldoror’s chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table. It lies more deeply, in a taste formulated before the motion picture screen and slick fashion magazine. Raffaele’s work is highly cinematographic. The pictorial confrontations are montages of huge close-ups or fully bled ads. The barely visible printing registrations of the latter may be a subliminal source of Raffaele’s predilection for the messy porousness of nature: aleatory hair roots, dewy ocular wetness, filigrane webbings of arteries and veins, entartared dentures, abused skin. The sexual connotation of these elements, can, in the final analysis, excite an exacerbated reaction from the spectator. Raffaele remains virtually without sentiment toward his pictorial fragments. They are, for him, no more than the animal, vegetable, mineral clues in a game of Twenty Questions. In addition, Raffaele courageously asserts an unfashionable truth, that painting is a virtuoso art. The source of his painting is not merely nature but nature through a camera lens. Two all-important characteristics impress one immediately: the instantly perceivable radiance of his painting and the entirely fresh sensations it evokes. His insinuating neutrality plays groundbass to our own seduction.

Robert Pincus-Witten