Artist Yoram Raanan straddles multiple worlds, dancing back and forth between the spiritual and physical, heavenly and earthly, contemporary and old. His one-of-a-kind artwork is an expression of these dualities, and his contribution to the Israeli and Jewish art world is far greater than the collection of patterns that he paints on a blank canvas.
Born and raised in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Raanan made aliyah in 1976, cutting short a trip around the world. He was planning to make a stopover in Israel on the way to the Far East but he fell in love with the country and has been there since.
Raanan is a pioneer in the world of art, practicing what he calls “Contemporary Biblical Expressionism,” or Jewish art. According to Ranaan, there was no such thing as Jewish art at the time he began seriously painting in the 1970s. His art is inspired by Jewish life, land and learning and evokes various themes, from Biblical figures to Israeli landscapes to Jewish symbols. Most of his painting is done by hand, without a paintbrush. He experiments with a variety of colors and light and angles, at times flipping around the canvas to achieve a preferred outcome. The result is a piece of art full of mystery and intrigue that lies somewhere between the irrational and rational, the past and the future.
Raanan’s penchant for art is an expression of his outlook on life, which he approaches with imagination and an open mind, rather than a straight and narrow path. When he embarks on the journey to create a new painting, he envisions in front of him a blank canvas with endless possibilities of expression and imagination. In his words, art is a world where he can be his own boss. There are no rules, no right or wrong.
Raanan is a bit of a misfit in the art world. When he studied in yeshiva he was an outsider for being an artist. And in the art world today he is still a misfit with his religiously infused art, which is taboo even in Israel. Raanan has found a niche among individuals looking for serious contemporary art that also has content and that will inspire and challenge them at the same time. “Even today I feel that I fall between the cracks and find diamonds,” Raanan explains. And he is still hoping for his “big break.”
Raanan’s studio is situated on a magnificent 1.5-acre property in the Judean Hills where he and his wife call home. The property is replete with a variety of trees and flora that provide a magnificent backdrop to his studio, along with fishponds, waterfalls and wooden terraces. On a clear day one can see the Mediterranean Sea in the distance. His own backyard is an inspiration for much of his creations.
The life of an artist in Israel is not easy. In the United States there are many more grants and foundations available that enable artists to exhibit and create art. Israel is still behind in this field. Though Raanan insists that opportunities are emerging for Israeli artists and that Jewish art in particular is expanding.
Times have not always been easy for Raanan. In 2000 during the Second Intifada he went five months without selling one painting. He could barely pay for basic necessities. And in 2015 Raanan experienced a major setback when his studio and a large part of his property were set ablaze due to a devastating fire that swept across the Judean Hills. Twenty years of his life’s work were consumed in just a few moments. In addition to his studio and paintings, many of the trees he had planted with his own two hands were destroyed. Raanan received an outpouring of support from the Israeli and international community, along with government assistance. He did not waste any time rebuilding what was lost. Within eight months he was painting again in a newly built studio. Today the trees that turned to ash are once again bearing fruit.
It is this resilience that has kept Raanan going. His name—evergreen in English—sums it up. “It is my nature to constantly break through and be fresh. I was driven to create. That’s what artists do. I believe that I have something to share and felt that this was my journey in life and how I can make my life meaningful and hopefully other lives as well.”
Today Raanan’s paintings are hung in homes and public spaces around the world. Many of his clients from overseas relish the opportunity to have a piece of the Land of Israel in their homes that will add meaning to their lives. Raanan indeed can be commended not just for his paintings, but for putting Jewish art on the map.
Raanan’s studio is located in Moshav Beit Meir. His artwork can be viewed at yoramraanan.com.
Alisa Bodner is a Fair Lawn native who immigrated to Israel a decade ago. She is a nonprofit management professional who enjoys writing in her free time.