Stepping into USC Fisher Museum of Art is like stepping into another world — literally. Displays of galaxies, planets, celestial bodies and cosmic wonders frame the walls of the entryway. Set to the backdrop of an ethereal melody, all of the senses are stimulated at once. From the fresh blast of air conditioning to the vibrant colors of the artwork to the hypnotic quality of the music, one is transported not only to another world, but to another frame of mind. That’s the point.
Travels and Wanderings, an eclectic display of artist Victor Raphael’s work over the last 30 years, is a collection of works that embodies just that.
“We focused in on key pieces and theories that filled out this theme — literal and metaphoric travel,” Raphael said. He noted that he worked closely with the museum’s director and curator to select the works.
“In a sense, when you talk about a person’s travels and wanderings, it can really apply to all of us. We’re all on this journey of life; our wanderings are tangents that become enriching [and] inform our next move, direction,” he said.
The collection centers around many of Raphael’s own travels and wanderings: The Louvre in Paris, the juxtaposition of traditional and modern Japanese culture in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima, Martha’s Vineyard, Alaska, the Getty in Los Angeles — to name a few. Wherever he goes, Raphael always has art on his mind.
“I’m always thinking about doing work,” Raphael said. “I try to take my cameras with me whenever I can. That’s what made Polaroid so special — it was the thing before digital technology where I could see [an image] on the spot.”
Raphael’s work is unique in that it defies traditional boundaries. Instead of using a Polaroid or a print on its own, Raphael applies embellishing techniques such as gold and nettle leaf painting and chromogenic print to add a whole new dimension to his art. The result is stunning, especially in his space collection: bedazzled galaxies, asteroids like scattered jewels, stars sparkling gold.
“I think it’s cool the way he can manipulate one image and make it look completely different,” said Lauren Goehner, a junior majoring in psychology who works at the museum.
Her favorite pieces are Raphael’s Polaroids, clever artistic snapshots placed throughout the museum, also enhanced with the gold nettle leaf and chromogenic print, which give them a metallic quality.
“They become hybrids, combinations of different mediums [where] one informs the other,” Raphael said. “At one level, I’m really interested in challenging all these categories, that something is either this or that, by combining media in a way to create a reaction in the viewer that causes them to take pause to consider what it is and how it is speaking to them.”
Zak Cheney-Rice, a senior majoring in cinema-television who also works at the museum, likes Raphael’s “Space Fields” portion of the collection for this reason.
“It’s like something from this universe, but made up at the same time,” Cheney-Rice said.
Raphael also implements a variety of multimedia and interactive technologies, including film and computers, as part of his art.
“[There have been] paradigm shifts with digital technology. At the beginning, people were very resistant to these forms, but they have to understand this is all a continuum of evolution and progress. It’s an exciting part of being an artist in this time, not only reflecting the time we live in, but times of media and new tools,” Raphael said.
In Travels and Wanderings, several films are interspersed throughout the collection. One compilation of images set to poetry depicts a tribute to the life of one of Raphael’s favorite artists, Jackson Pollock. Another shows the crowded airport from his travels in Japan. Still others are flashes of color and sounds destined to lead to sensory overload.
Two films are projected onto large screens and given private viewing rooms: One portraying outer-worldly images of space and another a soothing, lulling shoot of Raphael’s time in Alaska, with a frosty gray ocean and glacial ice caps falling gracefully into the sea.
“It’s an immersive experience because the rooms have been designed to sit and watch the pieces versus the video monitors that address the subject matter with the series,” Raphael said.
In addition to the films, there is also “Space Fields,” where viewers use a computer to click through a variety of Raphael’s pieces. All of these elements of his artwork have “played out to what I think is a unique body of work, not quite like anyone else’s,” Raphael said. “I’m not bragging, it brings on a new set of challenges. [My art] is hard to categorize sometimes.”
Yet Raphael said his art is about “resisting categories,” and he expressed his desire for his work to be “freer of those definitions.”
His brilliant combination of photography, painting and interactive media certainly accomplishes this goal, and inspires the viewer to contemplate his or her own travels and wanderings.
“What we do as artists is try to create a world of our own. I really feel that world is pretty evident to me, and I hope to the audience as well,” Raphael said.
He stressed that as an artist, he is interested in “finding beauty,” and in “the little details that reveal something divine or wonderful.”
“There is plenty of horror and death and destruction in the world,” Raphael said. “I’m trying to find some place that resonates more deeply in the soul … that tells us maybe things are all right; something that speaks to people on different levels and in different ways.”
At his exhibit in USC’s Fisher Museum of Art, one can find just the place.