Visual Art

Raymond Elman’s Portraits Tell Stories at the Jewish Museum

Written By Michelle F. Solomon
November 30, 2023 at 3:21 PM

Raymond Elman’s “Pictured Above Is At Least One Person Who Loves the Boston Red Sox and Edward Hopper’s House,” Morton Dean, 2014, 60 X 40, is one of the 27 portraits featured in an exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU through March 3.

(Photo courtesy of Raymond Elman)Artist Raymond Elman’s work is true to the phrase, “every picture tells a story.”

Notable people that the artist has encountered in his life and with whom he has forged formidable relationships come together in “Raymond Elman: The Portraits” at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU in Miami Beach, where the exhibition will be on display now through March 3.

The presentation makes viewers feel like they are privy to a gathering of who’s who.

The 27 portraits include two stages of Elman’s artistic life – his time living on the tip of Cape Cod beginning in the 1970s and his settling in Miami in 2012. He now lives in Aventura.

Raymond Elman in his Miami studio with his portraits in the background. (Photo by Lee Skye, courtesy of Raymond Elman)

Narrowing the show to a little more than two dozen out of the hundreds he’s created since he began his portraitures in the late 1980s came down to the connectivity Elman feels with each subject.

“In some cases, they are ones I like the best and of the people I like the best, but another element is that I have done interviews with almost every one of them,” he said.

Accompanying the works are QR codes that lead to interviews that Elman conducted for the e-publication ArtSpeak, of which he is the founding editor-in-chief, and part of FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + the Arts (CARTA).

“Saint Robert at the Haulover Cut.” Robert Zuckerman, 2021. 60 x 40 inches. Mixed-media on canvas. (Photo courtesy of Raymond Elman)

Elman says the multi-media experience offers visitors insight into his subjects — the sort of candidness that makes his work so interesting and enlightening.

He stood in front of his portrait of Miami artist Michele Oka Doner.

“I remember I asked Michele what would be a location that was meaningful to her? And she said, ‘Well, a banyan tree’ and it was the one right across the street from where she grew up in Miami Beach.” Elman says that in the interview accessed via QR code, Oka Doner goes into details of how the banyan tree became part of the Florida landscape … “How it got here and how the trees wound up propagating, spreading.”

“Banyan Tree.” Michele Oka Doner, 2017. 40 x 60 inches. Mixed-media on canvas. (Photo courtesy of Raymond Elman)

Elman hadn’t thought about creating representational art until 1989. He had been laser-focused on abstract art after his graduate studies at NYU where he met his mentor Knox Martin, a painter, sculptor and muralist. (Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Elman got his undergraduate and MBA degrees at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.)

“He was the one art teacher who made me believe in myself, he changed my life,” recalls Elman of Martin. He created abstract art during the 1970s and 80s. But in 1989, Elman began dabbling in portraits. “I never intended to do representational art,” he admits.

The first of the portraits followed his wife, Lee’s, pregnancy.  The next were of his son, Evan.

“I so enjoyed (creating these) that I decided that I wanted to document my life and the Outer Cape Cod Art Colony (Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet) by doing portraits of other people.”

(Go Inside the Exhibition at the JMOF)

He developed a technique, he explains, where the portraits begin as photographs, then he enlarges them and prints them on up to 20 multiple sheets of archival 11 x 17-inch paper, using a large-scale high-resolution printer. He soaks the printouts in water and adheres them to canvas using a polymer resin, then he paints over the image with oil paint.

“I don’t call myself a photographer because I don’t know much about my camera. I call myself an artist or painter who uses photography as an element. One of the things that I thought was one of my strengths as an abstract artist was the juxtaposition of shapes to create a dynamic tension. And now that kind of happens for me automatically.”

When he and Lee picked up and left the Cape for Miami full time in 2012 after being snowbirds in a Miami Beach condo since 2001, he knew he wanted to continue his documentation of people. “We moved to Miami because of the explosions of art communities here so we were just transferring from one art colony to another as far as I was concerned,” he said.

“BIMA (Back in Miami Again).” Lourdes Lopez, 2016. 60 x 40 inches. Mixed-media on canvas. (Photo courtesy of Raymond Elman)

Elman remembers how his first Miami portrait came to be. He was watching Cuban American Richard Blanco, who was raised in Miami, read his poem, “One Day,” on television during President Obama’s inauguration in 2013. That’s when he decided Blanco was the one to start the next chapter of his portraiture documentation.

“La Carreta.” Richard Blanco, 2014. 40 x 60 inches. Mixed-media on canvas. (Photo courtesy of Raymond Elman)

“I told him, like I say to all my subjects … we should capture a place that has meaning to you. And we went to La Carreta.” The colorful background of the interior of the Little Havana restaurant as a backdrop to Blanco’s portrait is made even more brilliant with Elman’s oil painting technique.

(Richard Blanco talks about reading his poem at Obama’s inaguration)

At the museum, Elman stopped in front of one of the first paintings encountered in the show. It’s of newsman Morton Dean and part of the artist’s Cape Cod series. Its title is, “Pictured Above Is At Least One Person Who Loves the Boston Red Sox and Edward Hopper’s House.”

Dean wears a Red Sox hat in the foreground and the American realist painter’s house is in the background.

“He told me he used to go on a walk,” says Elman, adding that Dean had a house on the Cape in Truro, Mass., close to Hopper’s and not far from where Elman lived at the time. “Mort would find all these used paint tubes and stuff like that, and he would collect them as artifacts.”

Then he adds, “Morton Dean, as a matter of fact, is the first person to buy a painting of mine. It was an abstract painting in 1971. I know he still has it hanging in his house.”

WHAT: “Raymond Elman: The Portraits”

 WHERE: Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, 301 Washington Ave., Miami Beach

 WHEN:  10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, through March 2

 COST: $12, $10 seniors and students, JMOF members, FIU faculty, staff and students, children under 6, free

 INFORMATION:  305-672-5044 or is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at

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