San Francisco

Joseph Raffael

Reese Palley Gallery

All three levels of the Gallery Reese Palley were recently devoted to a show of paintings, constructions, and collages by Joseph Raffael. The great profusion of work on display suggests that Raffael loves to make art, and also that nothing stops him. The subject matter tells us again that he is an enthusiast. A few years ago he used subjects drawn from Oriental or Near Eastern culture, executed with incredible richness. Raffael works from photographs, but the sense of texture and the emotional brilliance he produces with his brushstrokes make him a remarkably painterly realist.

He is also remarkable for being without defenses. The American Indians he has painted recently are presented without any comment on their social condition; they are monumental in size and triumphantly present in the paintings, and it is as if America had never been stolen from their ancestors. When Raffael paints the head of an old artist, it is Picasso himself; no diddling around with less quintessential figures, no Homage to Giacometti, who also had a fine head, or Magritte, or Pascin. The danger in all this is that the artist may turn out to be a sentimental jerk. But Raffael is successfully walking the tightrope, combining a high degree of technical polish with a rare and humbling ability to display his own emotional warmth in his work. This show was an absolute triumph.

Jerome Tarshis