Art: A Slice of the River

An artist's sudden maturation is balm to see: 20 years of work, elusive recognition—then a burst of paintings of exceptional originality and depth. It does not often happen that way, but in the past year it has to a soft-spoken California painter named Joseph Raffael, 40. His series of five Water Paintings—large studies of light and reflection on fragments of river, without horizon or air or any of the normal appurtenances of landscape painting—goes on view this week at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in lower Manhattan.

Raffael was born in Brooklyn. He studied and...

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