Slideshow: The Art of Yoram Raanan
The canvas as a conduit for the light Above.
Yoram Raanan’s studio is a playground. It’s the size of a basketball court, with hundreds of paintings, in various stages of completion, dotting the landscape – on the walls, on easels, and scattered all over the floor. This is where he creates some of the Jewish world’s most prized works of art.
Yoram gain notoriety in 2016 when his studio burst into flames during a wildfire. He has since rebounded, painting new works and publishing Art of Revelation, a stunning coffee-table book of his treasured art.
Originally from New Jersey, Raanan grew up in a traditional, but not strictly observant home. He drifted from Judaism for a while and then, while on a worldwide trip, he ended up in Israel and was brought to Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem. “I spent a week there and heard ideas that resonated with me deeply,” he says. “But it was too intense. So I went down to the Sinai desert and spent two weeks processing everything that I’d heard. At that point I was ready to come back to Jerusalem and start taking Torah seriously.”
Since then, Raanan has fused Torah and art in a dazzling display of colors that reveal a brilliant inner fire peeking from behind the many layers of paint. He works mostly on the floor, kneeling or leaning over the canvas. He rarely uses brushes – rather his fingers, hands, and an assortment of paint knives and rags to drive the paint around the canvas.
The results are stunning. As one critic described his work: “The iridescent veil opens to reveal the most elaborate concept, suggestive of an actual physical space and highly abstract, the detailed filled scene appears like a celestial palace.”
Raanan’s works can be found in collections and galleries around the world – in the private collection of Hillary Clinton and hanging in Jerusalem’s luxury Waldorf-Astoria. A Raanan original sells for a lofty price; for the rest of us, there are high quality fine art prints.
Raanan’s studio and home is located in Beit Meir, a picturesque moshav, 20 minutes west of Jerusalem. It is there that he spends almost all his time – painting, praying, raising a family, and enjoying his main diversion: gardening. On the land surrounding his studio, Raanan dug in with his own two hands and built a sprawling landscape of waterfalls, caves, winding paths and observation points.
Aish.com met with Raanan at his studio. Here, in his own words, he describes some of his favorite work.
Visit him online at yoramraanan.com.
When I stand in front of a blank canvas, I usually have no idea where things are headed. I have no concept or theme. I just pour color onto the canvas and let my emotions speak through my hands. It goes beyond logic. Sometimes I hit a point where the painting is not revealing anything, so I turn it upside down or sideways. I may leave it for a few weeks, and then come back to try again with a new layer of paint. This is what happened with Hidden Sage. I worked and worked, until finally the structure and color began to appear. My best paintings are the ones that catch me by surprise. One abandoned wave with my hand drenched with paint reveals the image of an old sage that I never could have known would be there. In this way I find new light in the darkness.
Birth and death are the great unknowns, yet integral to the life cycle. In tune with this cycle, the process of painting is one of creation and destruction, leading to new creation and discovery. Sometimes it goes fast, and sometimes it is painstakingly slow. I've done complete paintings in literally 10 minutes. Some paintings have taken years to complete, like this Mount Sinai. I painted it passionately in two days, and everyone who saw it thought the result was amazing. Several people wanted to buy it, but I didn't feel it was finished. It stayed that way for 10 years. Then when it was chosen to be shown at an art gallery, I worked on it every day until it was really finished. The process of creation and destruction – that's what brings perfection. It's a metaphor for life.
My painting is very seasonal. In the springtime it's full of optimism and new freedom. In the summer, the long hot days are intense and introspective. When November rolls around, I suddenly start painting menorahs. I try not to think too much when I'm painting. I paint from intuition, and try to express some indefinable feeling inside. One thing I've learned is that I'm not in control. The more I allow the Divine to flow through me, the more transcendent and the work of art becomes.
Gift of Malkei-tzedek
I'm always trying to challenge myself to grow, as a person and as an artist. When I'm painting I will look for that expression that takes things deeper, to bring out something that's never been done before. I get a lot of satisfaction from knowing that people like my paintings and that they are willing to validate that with a good price. One man told me the only thing that keeps him from slipping into depression is contemplating my paintings in the middle of the night. The colors, textures, and light spoke in a way that gave him hope. Hearing this gives me hope and encouragement, too.
The Western Wall is the most hallowed spot in Jewish consciousness, where we both commune with the memory of Israel's former glory, and hope for its restoration, may it be speedily in our days.
Many times a painting will speak to me in a different way than it does to others. Someone once came to my studio and pointed to a colorful vertical painting of the Western Wall, and said they wanted to buy "that painting of the sunset at the beach." I consider that a success. This means the painting hit a point of depth where it is operating across a range of emotions.
Heichal Shel Ma’ala
This painting represents the heavenly sanctuary that parallels the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It's important for me to be connected in a spiritual way. In the art world, there is so much honor and glory given to the artist that one can really get an inflated ego. My relationship with God constantly reinforces the idea that I'm human – vulnerable and mortal. I can nullify my own ego, and make myself a conduit for the light from Above. Hopefully this will reflect itself in the magic of the painting.
Tree of Life
I'm always trying to explore new modes of expression. On a trip to the printer I came into the possession of hundreds of book covers of the Chumash and the Talmud. (These covers were never attached to the books, so they do not have sanctity.) I began painting on them, and found that the texture and imagery of the book cover bleeds through and enhances the painting. I pieced some book covers together as a sculpture, and placed a branch in the middle. The branch derives its nourishment from our holy books; it really is the Tree of Life.
I rarely use brushes. I'll splash some paint on the canvas, and then begin wiping things around with my hands or a rag or palette knife. The details come with a gesture of the movement of my fingers. I'm often not sure what imagery will be revealed. I'll turn the canvas upside down, or add another layer, and eventually the theme begins to appear. With this particular painting, I was working on the canvas horizontally, and made three lateral wipes with a rag to wipe out excessive paint. Only when I turned the canvas 90-degrees, did I discover the three pillars that would become the essence of this painting. These represent the essence of the world, which is held up by the three pillars of Torah, prayer, and acts of kindness.
Creation: Day Five
This is from a series I did on the Six Days of Creation. The birds and the fish seem to emanate from the same source with their shapes blending and flowing. These six days were the time of greatest creative energy in the history of the universe. I tried to capture that with interweaving movement – an explosive dance of movement and color.
Life is more than the reality we experience on the temporal level. It is blood and also spirit. Therefore, I paint of the here and now; earthly passion as well as the spiritual energy behind it. I appreciate the beauty of every day, and also try to bring recognition of night and darkness. Abraham's binding of Isaac represents this duality: alone on a mountaintop, facing the greatest of all tests – totally beyond the dictate of logic. In a place of surrender, Abraham is empowered to perform the will of God. This place of submission is "bitul," going beyond personal will and ego, subjugating oneself to the power of the experience and intuition of the soul. The process of this painting was a dynamic struggle. I felt as if I had gone through an Akeida myself, bound to the painting, yet emerging renewed.
This was one of those inspired pieces that happened very quickly. It is painted in oil but, with a direct watercolor approach. Every stroke was put down in the right place, with the right color, in the right time, and way. It was painted with joy and surprise. In 20 minutes, it was finished.
Originally this was a horizontal painting of an eagle with outstretched wings. It was very large and expansive, yet too undefined. I searched for a more compelling image, and turned the canvas around. As I added puddles of more color, the image of a woman emerged. She was merely a hint of a figure. As I accentuated, highlighted, and defined the painting, this enchanting woman came to life. I saw it as a representation of Queen Esther, the symbol of Jewish royalty.
Her ethereal quality symbolizes her spiritual selflessness, as she goes to the king to plead for her people. Behind her to the right, I saw a slight hint of a personage in the shadow. I decided to bring out the figure of Mordechai, in a subtle and yet deliberate way. He was always the supporting figure in her life.
Living and working in the Land of Israel allows me to constantly touch and breathe holiness. At the same time, I live with the dynamics of an historic people emerging in the modern world. I like to take long walks outdoors in the mountains around my home, with the crystal blue sky and the breathtaking vistas. Breathing the wonderful air of the Land of Israel is inspiring. These ancient hills and stones, with heaven so close, and the pulsating vibrancy of a people so connected to the land, engender a rebirth of the miracle of life each day.
Purchase prints at yoramraanan.com