As a storyteller, Joshua Raz sees painting as a conduit for writing. He differentiates his canvases by enunciating each as punctuation in an ever evolving story that plays out from one to the next. Mid-century American poet Howard Nemerov wrote that ‘both poet and painter want to reach the silence behind the language, the silence within the language.’ But in Joshua’s paintings we witness everything but silence: often his lone figures hover in abundant spiralling landscapes where paint flows and dissipates into wide pools of colour. These paintings suspend our usual understanding of familiar surroundings, skyscrapers and lakes all slipping seamlessly into one. All the world's drama, weather and nature, and all at once.
Sometimes Joshua will favour subtle blobs and flecked paint to achieve the glimmering definition of light in the distance, writing accompanying poetic apercus to provide a sense of intimacy for the curious characters right at the front of his compositions: ‘Dawn came and the sun congealed about the horizon, its image looming across creases in the water as it rose.’ Often depicted smoking, or in contorted poses, these characters become bystanders to otherwise uninhabited landscapes compelling the viewer to reconsider how they see these scenes. He finds himself referring to paintings by or where subjects blend into the tones of the backdrops. In Joshua’s you’ll notice hair or a face submerging in the same current as the flowing water beneath, distilling into graphic swirls suggestive of undulating waves. These graphic marks make their way into all his paintings, too; certain twists and turns of his brush are used to signify whirlpools of wind, or wobbly gleams of yellow mimicking reflections of sunlight glittering on water. They chime with depictions of the breeze from applying painted layers of concentric circles and jagged stripes, or in painting of a boat, irregular lines indicate contours or shadows of the wooden joints.
John Berger wrote that Renaissance master Andrea Mantegna ‘sets out to embrace the totality of what the world offers at a given moment.’ Joshua similarly strives for depicting everything that falls at his grasp, the remnants of each painted mark masked behind evolutionary accreted layers. It’s often knowing when to stop which becomes the hardest part, as he works on a few canvases at once, to draw out the process. The solitary figures almost always peer into the foregrounds, while cropped trees also take centre stage, bark often painted in luminous abstracted marks. In Decathect, a blue halo hovers behind the branches, reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s painting of a ; or in On thin ice (reprise), he paints a thicket with differing pressures of brush and horizontal lines, similar to the way Sky Glabush achieves in his orange-hued painting of a .
Art historian T.J. Clark, in his book Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come, distinguishes the disparities of paintings and writing, noting how ‘paintings are not propositions: they do not take the form of image-sentences.’ This isn’t true for Joshua, as almost every composition emerges from his writing, the paintings reinterpreting his words as boundless scenes, his canvases inhabited by his unremitting descriptions: ‘The intruder flicked the light switch and the room hummed in iridescent shards for a nanosecond before the fuse blew out and all else buckled with it.’ Although his sentences aren’t a feature of his exhibitions, we can unpick flashes of an unravelling story through repeated motifs on the surface – you’ll notice an ice skater gliding into the distance in Windblown ice skaters and again in On thin ice (reprise) or the same hued reflection of sun in Sink in and On thin ice. In this way, Half Tranced is a series that views like a long circuitous sentence, each painting revealing another glimpse of the page and of a poetic sensibility.
Joshua Raz (b. 1993, England) received a BA in Fine Art from Newcastle University. Recent exhibitions include: Trails Through a Reverie, Ronchini Gallery, London (2022); Love is the Devil, Marlborough Gallery, London (group, 2022); Joyride, Bermondsey Project Space, London (2022); Uncovers, Christie’s and Unit London, London (2019).
Courtesy Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin. Photo: Matthias Kolb