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About the book

Talking Beauty: A Conversation Between Joseph Raffael and David Pagel About Art, Love, Death, and Creativity is unique among publications about art for several reasons.

It is a conversation. Not an interview. Not a critical assessment of an artist’s oeuvre. Not a historical overview. Not a promotional celebration of an artist’s work. But an honest, wide-ranging, free-wheeling back-and-forth between two fairly idiosyncratic individuals: an expatriate painter in his 80s who has lived in the South of France for 30 years, and an art critic and professor in his 50s who has lived in Southern California for 30 years, where he writes, in plain English, art criticism for the Los Angeles Times and teaches at Claremont Graduate University.

To the conversation Raffael brings his lifelong devotion to the art of painting, which has nothing to do with art-world trends or marketability and everything to do with his conviction that art is an avenue of self-discovery, that beauty and truth matter, and that the most powerful art is born of suffering, is redemptive, is deeply mysterious, and transforms the selves who experience it in entirely unanticipated ways.

Such ideas play a negligible role in the way students of art are taught today at academic institutions, where art is assumed to be an analytical enterprise, a highly conceptual endeavor meant to deliver social commentary and criticism. Raffael describes Talking Beauty as the book he would have liked to have read when he was just starting out as an artist. It is about big, existential issues, addressed and engaged, in non-academic language, as they arise from a down-to-earth discussion about what really matters to two guys who believe that the critical dialogue that has grown up around art misses much of what people want—and need—from it.

To the conversation Pagel brings his belief that art is always a matter of one-on-one, face-to-face experiences, and that its directness and immediacy are available to ordinary folks, to non-specialists, to people who are neither experts nor insiders but still attentive to art’s often overlooked powers. His plain, matter-of-fact language complements Raffael’s romantic outlook.

In Talking Beauty, the two voices combine to create a moving meditation on art’s core purposes: to reveal who we are as individuals and to reflect on what that might mean for all of us.

About the authors

Joseph Raffael is an American artist known for his color-saturated paintings of flowers and fish and the gardens and ponds they inhabit. Until 2016, he only worked large, using small brushes to make huge, sometimes mural-scale watercolors that seem to be illuminated from within. For the past few years, Raffael has been painting intimately scaled portraits of flowers. The source for all of his images is the garden he created with his wife Lannis in Cap d’Antibes, France, where they have lived since 1986.

Raffael was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1933. He attended Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Architecture from 1951-1954 and, in 1956, earned his BFA from Yale University. In 1958, Raffael was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study art in Florence and Rome, which he did for two years. His first exhibition in New York was in 1963. He has taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Davis, and California State University, Sacramento. In 1973, Raffael stopped teaching to paint full-time. Since 1972, he has had 27 solo exhibitions at Nancy Hoffman Gallery.

His art has been the subject of two monographs: Moving Toward the Light: Joseph Raffael (ACC Editions, 2015) and Reflections of Nature, Paintings by Joseph Raffael (Abbeville, 1998).

Raffael’s works are in the collections of nearly 50 museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Library of Congress, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

He paints every day.

David Pagel is a professor of art theory and history at Claremont Graduate University, where he has been on the faculty since 1994. He teaches courses in postwar American and European art and contemporary California art as well as writing workshops and one-on-one studio critiques.

Pagel is an art critic who has been reviewing exhibitions and writing features for the Los Angeles Times since 1991. Other publications he has contributed to include Artforum, Art in America, frieze, Flash Art, art issues., Gallery Magazine, and Arts. In addition to his magazine work, Pagel writes essays for exhibition catalogs. Recent publications include “A Walk in Beauty” in Moving Toward the Light: Joseph Raffael, ACC Publications; “Raimonds Staprans” in Full Spectrum: Raimonds Staprans, the Crocker Art Museum; “Nagle: In His Own Context” in Nagle, Ron, Silver Gate, Inc.; “Gray Area” in Asad Faulwell: Les Femmes d’Alger, ZERO+ Publishing; and “Gestures in Paint” in Robert Rahway Zakanitch, Pomegranate Communications. Since 2009, Pagel has written the wall texts for all of the paintings, sculptures, and photographs in the Dallas Cowboys Art Collection at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Pagel is also an adjunct curator at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY, where he recently organized Unfinished Business: Paintings from the 1970s and 1980s by Ross Bleckner, Eric Fischl and David Salle. Since 1994, he has organized more than 50 group and solo exhibitions for the East and Peggy Phelps Galleries at Claremont Graduate University, including China’s Landscape 3+, The First US-China Art Invitation Exhibition: Feng Feng, Jiancheng, and Che Jian-Quan and Yi Kai: What Goes Around Goes Around, which traveled to the 53 Art Museum in Guangzhou and Alsan Fine Arts, Hong Kong.

Pagel earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Harvard University in 1987 and a Bachelor of Arts in Modern Thought and Literature with Honors in the Humanities from Stanford University in 1985.