Art as revelation: The soulful Torah journey of Yoram and Meira Raanan

Art of Revelation is a coffee-table colourful celebration of spirit, the material embodiment of a soulful journey through the Torah.

Dr. Inna Rogatchi

Judaism Yoram Raanan surveys devastation
Yoram Raanan surveys devastation

Israel is blessed to have a modern day Bezalel in its midst. His name is Yoram Raanan, a masterr artist who loves the land of Israel in an all-consuming way that bursts out of his canvases.

Yoram, an American whose paternal and maternal grandparents were both from Lithuania, came to live in Israel 40 years ago. He married his wife Meira, a Canadian Jewish student visiting Israel at the time - with the distinct feeling that she would not leave the place - within the first year of their arrival to the country.

“I was lucky”,  Meira smiles. I am sure they both are. Meira, educated in Jewish art, thought and theology, works alongside her husband, faithfully and productively. Temima, one of their four adult children works with her parents at Art Raanan that takes charge of Yoram’s works.

Recently, the Raanans produced and published a wonderful book. Art of Revelation is a coffee-table colourful celebration of spirit. It is a material embodiment of both Yoram and Meira’s soulful journey through the Torah, with Yoram’s magnificent artwork on every Parasha and Meira’s concise comments on her husband’s work and the Parasha.

Book Cover: The Art of Revelation INN:IR

Any project on the Torah is a multi-year journey. In this case, Yoram produced his illustrations for the Parasha each week for three years, 2014-2016. For every Parasha, he followed the essence of his own perception, the way he felt at that moment. Unusual for an artist today, he is immersed in the Torah study. “Sometimes I concentrate  on Chumash, it could also be intense study of halakha, though I tend to go with hassidism and mysticsm," Yoram said in one of our conversations..

He loves to walk in the places where every inch is imbued with the origin of Jewish spiritual heritage. This artist lives at the site where King David is believed to have composed his - and our - Psalms. And you can see the imprints of these unique colours, that enlightened air, that intensity of the very being of Judaism which is only authentic in Israel because it has its earthly origin and dwelling only in Eretz Israel.

Raanan’s King is a rare figurative work for the artist who works mainly in the genre of abstract expressionism, and is a memorable, deep and personal portrait of King David.  

Yoram Raanan. King (Shoftim). Acrylic collage on canvas. 100 x 120 cm. 2015. INN: IR:

Aside from that one portrait, there is nothing realistic in the works that greet you from the pages of Art of Revelation. There is an ocean of spontaneity there, delicate fantasy, fine vision - and tangible love. Love for the Land, our Forefathers, our tradition, our dream.  The works are magnetizing and radiate sincerity, a very rare combination in contemporary art. And yet, they are modern in style and bold in colorist execution, the work of a master.

The book contains 120 full-page illustrations and as it reveals the colors of Torah for us in the perception of Yoram Raanan, we gain not only a full spectrum of hs vision, but are also  amazed by its large diversity.

There are works from different periods included in the book, in additional to the core works made for that special project in 2014-2016: Fantastic works from mid-1990s, human and intense in feeling (such as Day Six I). It seems as if the images there speak to you from the canvas; some dramatically, some emotionally, as if they come from another century (for example, Pass Over); there are also many symphonies of colour singing the narrative of the Torah.

Yoram Raanan. Pass Over (Bo). Acrylic on canvas. 80x 100 cm. 2000   INN:IR

Meira and Yoram Raanans selected the works for their Torah journey to show viewers a multitude of the subjects and themes in our spiritual foundations. There is the Torah symbolism, the poetry that the artist was able to express distinctly with regard to our Law, the warmth and continuity of our tradition, the ups and downs of the Jewish history, human dramas, challenges, choices - all of it in an intense artistic world created by Raanan on his journey through the Torah.

My personal favourites in this generous richness of images and spiritual poetry are Yoram’s unforgettable Cherubim from his Chuppah Shir HaSihirim work (1993), his Shabbat Crowns (2014), one of the best, in my opinion, works on the theme of Shabbat in Jewish art in general, his mesmerizing Menorahs, and the very special work which stands out, even from this high quality collection of art, Counting the Weeks (2014-2015)

Yoram Raanan. Chuppah Shir HaShirim. Oil on canvas. 122 x 92 cm. 1993. INN:IR


Yoram Raanan. Counting the Weeks ( Emor). Acrylic on canvas. 90 x 120 cm. 2014-2015. INN:IR

My husband, himself an artist on Jewish themes, said simply: “This is outstanding work. It says it all. It all is there. And it is endlessly beautiful”. The amalgam of beauty, his own life of colour, invention, freedom of artistic imagination, poetic perception of Jewishness has made Yoram’s work unique.

 Yoram Raanan. Shabbat Crowns. Pastel over acrylic on paper. 56 x 76 cm. 2014 INN:IR

Behind the album's creation

The book is unique in another way, however.. Not only because of the works themselves - in this sense every illustration of the Torah is unique. This book is unique because it is a memorial to the great art works which no longer exist.    

Many have heard of the tragedy that Yoram Raanan suffered two years ago, in November 2016. His studio burned to the ground, with all 2 000 paintings stored there, the result of 40 years of the work of the master, along with all the books and records of his career. It was a disaster of historical proportions. It is hard, if possible, to imagine how an artist who has put his soul into every single one of his works can survive such a horrific loss.

How did Raanan react? He was calm and in full self-control, saying: “Well, it certainly means something important. Most likely, it means that I will have to start from a new beginning, and to look and think and create in a different direction”. My husband and I were stunned at Yoram’s philosophical approach to the disaster, at his humility and ability to be so positive and ready to work almost immediately after such devastation. 

Meira mentioned to me that the artist named his first painting after the disaster Angel’s Sparks. In the painting, one can see a good deal of black background, and some grey bits referring to ashes, with lesser amount of orange bits referring to fire - but the prevailing ones are light yellow bits with transparent hues of sun and hope. Angel’s Sparks expresses the light of hope prevailing wihin the danger and sorrow of reality. The artist makes a simple and clear statement of the aspirations of his soul.

When Yoram fled his home with Meira in the middle of that fateful night, while their studio and garden went up in flames, in that mad rush he managed to grab a flash memory stick and stuff it into his pocket. On that stick were his Biblical works. The book that the Raanan family has published now, two years after the fire, is the memorial to those great works of the outstanding master.

Yoram is a very intuitive artist. Not only does he like to experiment with techniques for his paintings, he is as if driven so by something or someone, or both, from inside or from Above - so that the images appearing on his canvases appear as if by themselves. Such was the case with his beautiful Esther and with many other works as well.

“And then, all those figures, they appear from nowhere, and continue to come,"  he told me recently about The Art of Revelation. “So, it can only mean that there is somebody else there with you while you work,” I responded.. “There certainly is," Yoram told me in an emphatically confident way. “That’s why I always call on and perceive my friend, the great Jewish master artist, the biblical figure Bezalel.”