In the week he celebrated the 40th anniversary of his making aliyah, Yoram Raanan, an internationally-acclaimed artist, celebrated a new beginning. His 300-meter studio (the size of a tennis court) in Moshav Beit Meir burned down in November. During the spate of fires that month, a police helicopter sent down a flare after spotting two suspicious people. Unfortunately, the area, heavily forested, caught fire. The studio contained 2,000 paintings, worth millions of dollars, along with catalogues from his exhibitions, records, documents, art books, photographs of his work and, of course, the canvases, paints and turpentine that made the wood structure so flammable.
Originally from New Jersey, Raanan, graduated from the University of Arts, Philadelphia in 1975. He began traveling the world, intending to get to the Far East. But when he arrived in Israel he fell in love with the country and stayed. The 63-year-old painter has been here ever since. He married Meira, originally from Montreal, and they raised four children and are now enjoying grandchildren. They settled in Moshav Beit Meir, where he built homes for his family and a studio for his life’s calling.
Yoram Raanan’s paintings reflect a shimmering spiritual experience that blends thought with texture, spirit with symmetry and vision with an otherworldly light. His art is unique and vibrant, his subjects Torah, Kedushah and Eretz Yisrael. He calls it Contemporary Jewish Expressionism and says he’s been influenced by a range of artists and styles from Rembrandt to artists in China.
He paints in stages, working on several paintings at once, moving between them, keeping his energy for each one fresh and dynamic. Prolific is an understatement, as he has averaged over 60 paintings a year. If he’s not painting, he’s thinking about painting. He’s always working on his art, which documents the history and heritage of the Jewish people, 24/6.
And in the same spirit that he paints, Raanan declares the loss he suffered, however tragic, a korban. His avodat Hashem is painting and now his avodat Hashem is accepting the loss of his work.
Raanan was sleeping in his studio when his wife woke him up at 2:00 a.m. and told him they were ordered to evacuate. Raanan grabbed his wallet and keys and drove with his family out of the moshav. It took a long time, as they were evacuating the whole area. They almost didn’t make it out but, thank God, there was no loss of life. However, Raanan lost most of his life’s work.
Of course, about a thousand of his paintings grace the walls of private homes and public buildings the world over. Raanan has 20 of his paintings in his own home and most (though not the latest) of his work has been photographed.
The Jerusalem Post has been running a weekly series of Raanan’s painting as part of a weekly parsha series. The series compromised about 170 paintings and Raanan intended to show them in a major international exhibition. In addition, he and his wife had plans to produce a glossy coffee table art/parsha with commentary.
Raanan is looking forward to starting over and creating a new body of work. But first he has to rebuild his studio. Although the government is claiming responsibility, it isn’t clear how much compensation he’ll be receiving.
There has been an outpouring of support from people who are also pained by the loss of such magnificent art. He has already been commissioned to create new paintings on the subject of Geula. “Everyone is hoping for Geula. It’s a universal theme of coming out of darkness. It’s cathartic,” the artist says.
“This theme of building through destruction seems now to clarify for me why I feel so comfortable with the fire disaster,” he continues. “It is a part of the process I go through all the time, in my work. When I paint, often I destroy a layer to allow something new to emerge. I always have to be willing to give up something to make room for something more meaningful and expressive.
“My process happens through creation, followed by destruction and the newly emerged creation, followed by clarification. I am always destroying one layer in order to create a new reality.”
Raanan says that this is true in life as well. We have to accept what is a vehicle for struggle and, through this, ultimately growth. “The birthing process begins with great love and inspiration, gestation, then breaking through pain to deliverance and a new, and ultimately, great life.
“Now, I only want to go forward.”
Raanan’s attitude is as inspiring as his art. And as he goes forward, on his new creative journey, there is no doubt that he will continue to make a Kiddush Hashem with both.
A fund has been set up to help Raanan rebuild his studio. Donations can be made here: https://thechesedfund.com/cause/fund-for-renewing-a-lifetime-of-precious-raanan-art. His art can be seen at www.yoramraanan.com.