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by Judith Christensen

(Pepperdine University, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Malibu) A touch of gold can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. And Victor Raphael has an alchemist’s sensibility for what it takes. He begins with a medium that’s not considered permanent. That medium--Polaroid film--is valued instead for its immediacy. Raphael applies gold and other metal leaf directly onto the surface of the Polaroid. This process transforms these photographically quick-and-dirty images into enduring works |of art. Most are tiny (4 1/4" x 3 1/2"), but elegant.

Sometimes Raphael begins with images of objects--a tile floor, a column, the ripples on the surface of the water in a pond, or an ancient sculpture, produced from Polaroids taken at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Others begin as snapshots of shooting stars, novas and comets taken while NASA programs aired on TV. By enhancing a specific characteristic or a particular pattern with specks and streaks of the metal leaf, subtleties become prominent features. Spiral Nebula VIII (1991) has a brilliancy and depth that, no doubt, was lacking in the original Polaroid. The bright blue and copper spiral spinning on a deep black field elicits the sense of powerful movement and, toward the center, ever-tightening compression. And it’s Raphael’s alchemy that is responsible for the intensity of that sensation.

For anyone interested in space exploration from childhood on, as Raphael has been, embracing technology seems only natural. Scanning the Polaroid onto the computer not only expands the ways Raphael can manipulate the images, it also allows him to produce larger images and to work in different formats. Comet Nebula (1997) has the same spiral form as Spiral Nebula VIII, but the red-hot center is surrounded by yellow, orange, purple and blue etched with gold. With dimensions of several feet, rather than several inches, the scale of Comet Nebula contributes to its ability to evoke the magnitude, as well as the mysterious grandeur of space.

Raphael may not have fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a NASA astronaut, but he does pilot a metaphorical space journey. His most recent techno-endeavor is a CD-ROM, A Creative Journey. With a click of the mouse, the viewer can navigate within each of the pieces or around Raphael’s studio. The CD-ROM is among the over 100 works of art included in this twenty-year retrospective.

Victor Raphael, "Spiral Nebula VIII,"
metal leaf on polaroid, 4 1/4 x 3 1/2", 1991.


Victor Raphael, "The Three Triangles,"
oil pastel and metal leaf, 40 x 30", 1983,


Victor Raphael, "Comet Nebula,"
Iris on canvas/metal leaf, 29 x 35 1/2", 1997.

Tibor Jankay, "Two Nude Women at
the Beach," oil on masonite, 1981.

Tibor Jankay, "Profile of a Woman's Head
with a Vase of Flowers," oil on masonite, n.d.
Also on view are paintings by long-time Pepperdine faculty member, the late Tibor Jankay. A native Hungarian, his studies in Paris in the first half of the 20th Century left a lasting impression. Influences of Picasso and Leger are visible in his brightly-colored figurative works and geometricized city- and landscapes. Also visible is a tender poignancy, especially apparent in his portraits of lovers embracing or of women with their children. Many of these images portray people on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, a favored subject in his later years. But these are not paintings about the Venice Beach scene in all of its bizarre permutations. He stylized the people, the scene and their mode of dress so they belong to no particular time or place. Jankay, with an optimistic compassion, was interested in exploring not the idiosyncrasies, but the commonality of humanity.