Victor Raphael: Inner and Outer Space

by Ruth Weisberg

Every aspect of an artist's life mysteriously coalesces to produce works of art at any given point in time. While we are all unique in the details of our biographies, Victor Raphael's journey encompasses experiences and enthusiasms unusual in their range, profundity, and timeliness. Raphael speaks about growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950's excited by the prospect of being an astronaut and voyaging into space. This early desire is surely the sublimating force behind a linked series of works in which the artist imaginatively explores both inner and outer space.

Raphael graduated from UCLA in 1973, and had successful and overlapping careers first as a printer for Triad Graphics and Cirrus Editions, and then as an actor, which eventually lead to producing and directing independent documentaries and videos. All of these experiences prepared Raphael to be able to integrate and master complex multimedia projects.

Raphael's half dozen years as the curator of the Platt Gallery of the University of Judaism reveals yet another facet of the artist's persona. The shaping and selection of other artist's oeuvre is something like the editing of documentaries; they both take an exceptional eye and an empathetic understanding of their subject. The mature artist also brings these skills of editing and shaping to their own work. The task of editing is especially crucial in Raphael's case as his work often involves multiple levels if images captured from photography, video transmissions, and electronic scanning in imaginative and innovative ways. His formats and means vary from intimate pieces based on the elaboration of Polaroids to his ambitious interactive CD-ROM, "Victor Raphael @ ZZYZX, A Creative Journey."

Most importantly, Raphael has carved out a unique and important aesthetic territory that encompasses the exploration of cosmic spaces and the human response to this immensity. Using very sophisticated technology to generate photo-based imagery, the artist elaborates images of stars, novas, and galaxies, to produce work at the intersection of the scientific and the spiritual. This is a challenging concept as Raphael is dealing with two disembodied realms, yet in his hands the results are rigorous, sensual, and deeply engaging. The viewer is pulled into deep space, and at the same time is invited to contemplate a spirituality based on aspects of the infinite. As in the teachings of Jewish mysticism, we are invited to a glimpse of eternity. It is not surprising to discover that Raphael's identity is rooted in his Sephardic heritage. However, his application of gold leaf stems from a wide variety of art historical and religious associations. It functions as a witty subtext as well as a visual seduction. Raphael's work encompasses sometimes discordant realms, which have not been juxtaposed or harmonized by others. For example, his traditional embellishment of surfaces using metal leaf and swirls of gold and silver paint is seen in combination with the hyper real colors and visual effects of high technology replication.

Indeed, Victor Raphael's art, while consciously seductive in its surfaces, is marked by paradox and contradiction. It is both absolutely of this moment and accompanied by a long lineage of art historical associations: it is tactile and disembodied, abstract and physical. Most of all, it demonstrates the rewards of being true to one's own history and uniqueness, and at the same time willing to engage the viewer in a journey of the spirit and the imagination.

Ruth Weisberg, Artist and Dean, University of Southern California School of Fine Art