Monday, December 18, 2017

Anchor & Oar Commission for Hyatt Place Hotel

Andrew Saftel, Anchor and Oar, 2017
Acrylic and collage on birch panel, 72x96 inches

This painting, commissioned for the Hyatt Place Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee, is loosely based on the life of David Farragut, for whom the original hotel was named. However, it is more generally about all people and how we move through time together and share a common history.

The anchor represents settling down and staying put and the oar pushes us on our way through our lives. Guests in the hotel will be dropping anchor for the night and then employing the oar as they move forward in their lives.

Farragut, born in Knoxville, was a career naval officer, a Union  Navy commander during the Civil War and the first Secretary of the Navy. I used his signature on the top of the painting and included two views of his ship, the USS Hartford, which he commanded in the battle of Mobile Bay, where he famously said “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

Half way down the left side of the painting are the words from a letter Farragut dictated and signed in July 1862, which said, “Sir, The Department informs me that no reports of firing have been received
from the vessel under your command since the first of January last, and requests me to call your attention to Art. 14 Page 5, Ordnance Instructions.” I like the sense of humor Farragut employs here.

The Knoxville postmark and the words “Got Here O.K.” were from a postcard in 1937 written by my wife’s grandfather, who served in the Tennessee General Assembly, to his wife in Clarksville, letting her know he had arrived in Knoxville safely. I changed the date on the postmark to bring the painting into the present.

Below the postmark are the words “East Tennessee Marble” where written by William Strickland, the architect of the Tennessee state Capitol. The marble industry in East Tennessee from the 1850s to
the 1930s, produced marble that was used all over the country, especially in Washington, D.C. There is still marble being quarried south of Knoxville today.

I often have references to time in my work and the words, “High Tide, Sunrise, Sunset, Days Full and April has Thirty Days,” refer to our shared time together on this planet. Time passing is what we all have in common. The musical staff is also a reference to time.

The horseshoe I found hiking in the Smokies. It is a symbol for good luck and also a part of the Farragut family crest. “Arrival” and “Departure” on the top of the painting come from my passport and symbolize how our lives (and hotel stays) have a beginning and an end.

The small man on top of the little book on the bottom left of the painting is taken from an East Tennessee folk art carving of a miner. The piece of wood and stone on the top of the painting I found on the beach in California. The two pieces of marble on the bottom center of the painting were from the original floor of the Farragut hotel. The raft of refugees represents all families who came to this country as immigrants including my family and David Farragut’s.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Our Story

Our Story -  (Acrylic and pencil on canvas, found objects on panel) 2016, 60x48”

While in Mexico last January I began working on canvas for the first time. A friend had given me a large piece of canvas and I wanted to make something that I could begin there and then bring back to Tennessee to finish. I tore three pieces from the large canvas, sealed them with gesso, stapled them to the table and began drawing with pencil on them.

On a walk the previous week I found a street that had concrete puzzle pieces for the roadbed and there was a pile of discarded pieces from which I took two that fit together. To me they were male/female, yin and yang and a symbol of how things fit together (or don’t) in life. I traced the puzzle pieces all over the canvases in different configurations and off I went. Once I had the overall patterns from the puzzle pieces for a background, I began freely drawing images on the canvases. 

Then, with acrylics, I spent a couple of weeks staining and painting them. I rolled them up and carried them back to Tennessee. Once back in my studio I glued the canvases to birch panels and continued to paint using thicker acrylic paint. The canvases are smaller than the panels so there is a border of exposed wood around the canvas edge. I then carried the image from the canvas out to the wood border to integrate the canvas with the panel. This is very exciting for me as the initial pencil drawing and original stains are visible in the completed work. Also I was able to draw with pencil at any time during the process. This is very different and somewhat liberating from the carved and thickly textured paintings I have been making for years. I really enjoy the freedom that this process gives me although I will continue to do the carved paintings.

The painting “Our Story” is about our collective immigrant stories but also about my family history in particular. We found a census from 1900 in Boston that has my great grandfather’s family listed. He came first to the U.S. in 1890 from Russian Galicia and the rest of his family came later. My great grandfather is classified as a “coat tailor” and his five children “in school.” I projected the census list onto the top left of the painting and “Coat Tailor” in the middle. I then collaged a small coat, which was on a little puppet that I had in the studio, under the words “coat tailor.” In this way I brought my great grandfather and his story to life over a hundred years later. In light of the current immigration crisis in Europe, I feel it is important for Americans to be sympathetic as the vast majority of us are immigrants here. This story is Our Story.

Andrew Saftel June 2016

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Samuel E Beall IV

My friend Sam Beall passed away last week in a skiing accident. It is difficult to express what a huge loss this is to me, the East Tennessee community, and the world, not to mention his beautiful wife and young family and his close-knit circle of  friends.  Sam was thirty-nine years old and had the energy and life force of fifty people. He was the kindest and most generous person I knew.

Susan and I were the beneficiaries of his generosity many times, and the experiences we shared with Sam are some of our most treasured.  I have never met a more driven, confident, and positive individual.

Sam was the proprietor of his family’s Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee. He was an immensely successful and visionary leader of that enterprise.  I was fortunate to be invited by Sam to Blackberry on six occasions to lead art workshops, give talks, and share my story as an artist with the guests. Sam always made eloquent introductions at these events and enthusiastically introduced the food and wine that we all shared.  Once when I tried to express my thanks for his support of my work he said, “My family loves your work, we know your story and we tell it big.”

Sam wanted all the people around him to be successful and to live a rich life.  As he and Blackberry grew and prospered he wanted those he knew to also grow and prosper and he did what ever he could to help make that happen. His parents Kreis and Sandy are the same way.

We will miss Sam terribly. I will think of him whenever I am cooking a nice meal, raising a glass of wine, walking in the woods, planting my garden, or working in my studio. He will always be there for me when I’m feeling lazy or filled with self-doubt.  He will be there saying “get up, get to work, it’s a beautiful world, here for you to enjoy and make the best of, time is short.”

Here’s to you Sam, with love and deep appreciation.

Andrew Saftel

March 2, 2016

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Summer 2015

The summer of 2015 has been an eventful, fulfilling and deeply rewarding season. The earlier part of the year was a pressure- cooker as I produced work for three solo gallery exhibitions beginning with Timothy Tew in Atlanta and then following with exhibits at Cumberland Gallery in Nashville and then Bennett Galleries in Knoxville.

I love to create work for exhibitions and will always work with galleries. There is something about picturing a space or an environment and then working for months with that space in mind. I enjoy collaborating with the gallery staff on how best to place the work so works in different media create a conversation with each other. For me, one of the greatest benefits to working as an artist is to live through cycles with the work. 

Starting a body of work is like pushing a train uphill. Then one gets the momentum going and the work begins to present itself and the ideas, images and concepts begin to pour out through the raw insistence of working every day. There is always a point in the process where I am certain that there will never be enough time to make as much work as I need for the space. Terror! Usually in the middle-of–the-night. Then, slowly, day after day of what seem to be small things in the studio, add up to more than I ever could have pre-conceived.

There always magically seems to be the perfect amount of work when the deadline arrives. To photograph the work is the deadline for inventing titles for everything. It is also when I can finally start to see everything I’ve created as a whole. To deliver the work is always nerve-wracking but heroic when accomplished. Then it is celebration time, which, I think, is really important. 

I try to take some time off after an exhibit or at least just begin to play with some new ideas and materials. Hopefully travel, which is the most important thing for life and work; cook great meals, visit museums, go out in to the mountains somewhere, walk on a beach. Just sit around reading and watching the goldfinches eat the sunflower seeds. Be with friends. The studio is an isolated place.

And then the process starts all over again, sometimes with another goal in mind and other times I may work for months on end with no exhibitions in mind.

This past summer was especially meaningful in many ways. The exhibits did well, which is always exciting and meaningful to the whole process of living this way. It has always been a prime motivator that people get the work, are inspired by the content and stories underlying the art and luckily, want to live with it. I can see it in peoples faces at openings when they engage with the work, are excited and come away different and inspired about their lives in a new way. It sounds corny but I’ve seen it and it propels me to begin to push the train up the mountain again.

The pace of life and working in the studio has been more relaxed this summer and I hope, will continue. My goals as an artist and the pacing of work have changed as I get older. Life outside of the studio is as important as the achievements with the work.

My wife and I have always loved growing our garden of vegetables and flowers. This years gardening was just what I needed after a busy spring. The process of getting the soil ready, starting plants from seed and tending the plants until harvest is the perfect antidote, for me, to the hard work and thinking that goes on in the studio. We also love to cook using our fresh garden delights.

The first highlight of the summer was to teach a two-week printmaking workshop at Arrowmont School of Crafts, where I have taught many times before. I began teaching workshops for kids there when I was in my twenties and then moved on to the adult summer workshops. 

I was joined by my former studio assistant and dear friend, Shane Darwent, who team taught with me adding digital inkjet printing techniques which we combined with traditional printmaking. Shane was a great addition to the class and an excellent teacher. He is now in an MFA program at U of M in Ann Arbor and will do great things there. We worked together in the studio for five years and I will miss him dearly. We had a great group of students in the workshop, most of whom were repeat participants. 

I love teaching these workshops for the community of the classroom and the joy of seeing people take the techniques and excitedly run with them, producing a lot of great work. We also have a ball together with a large amount of humor and laughing amidst the serious discussions. Arrowmont is at the best it has ever been in my twenty five years of involvement there. There is strong leadership and a youthful feel of excitement on the campus.

After Arrowmont, I had three days to prepare a talk for the Tennessee Summer Arts Academy yearly gathering at Belmont University in Nashville. This is a chance for high school art, music, dance and theater teachers from across the state to convene for workshops, lectures and inspiration. They asked me to be a “muser” and speak about my life as an artist. I was thankful for this opportunity as it allowed me to pause and reflect on my life; the evolution of my work, teaching experience, mentors and the miracle of how one is given the gift of a life in art. I spoke to a group of three hundred and fifty very enthusiastic folks. I enjoy public speaking and this was no exception.

Before I left for Arrowmont I received a commission to create an eight by four foot painting about music for the new Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville. I got a start on it before Arrowmont and after the lecture in Nashville I only had two weeks to finish it. I love deadlines. I worked like mad and created what I think is a great piece. I love music and it is a huge part of my working process in the studio. My father was a jazz lover and I grew up with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington on his turntable. I used some of Duke Ellington’s had written notation for Satin Doll on the painting.

Once the commission, titled “Musical Fruit,” was completed and installed I could really begin what I envisioned would be a real, relaxing summer. I worked on a 24 x 64 inch collagraph print that I used as a demonstration piece at Arrowmont. It was physically demanding to ink up and print the two blocks over each other on one sheet of Rives BFK paper but I managed to print six good ones, each inked differently. It is entitled” Fruit in Hand.”

I finished the summer in California where I did some work, thinking, reading and writing ( I have begun to write a memoir of sorts). I am feeling like my life and work are going into a new phase. I am more relaxed about it all and am very excited to make work in an experimental direction for no perceived market. I plan on doing a lot of drawing and sculpture so we’ll see where it all goes.

The world seems to be at a very dynamic moment. The flood of immigrants into Europe has been heartbreaking but inspirational and we should all appreciate our lattes and comfortable beds, as well as try to find a way to help. I could care less about the circus of blowhards in the political campaign in the US. Instead I am looking for ways to use my time to help people, mentor younger artists and contribute to our vibrant Tennessee art community.

Andrew Saftel

September 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Andrew Saftel Exhibit at Tew Galleries - Atlanta, Georgia January 2015

I first met Timothy Tew when I was in my early thirties and showing my work in an Atlanta gallery next to Timothy’s gallery. I would arrive to deliver a pick- up truck loaded with paintings wrapped in a plastic tarp and Timothy would pull up in a yellow convertible, top down, always cheerful and would greet me.

In those days he was always enthusiastic about my work and wished me well with the upcoming exhibitions in Atlanta and elsewhere. I have not shown in Atlanta for the past six years and was thrilled when Timothy contacted me about the possibility of showing in his gallery. He came to visit me in rural Tennessee last summer and looked over the work in the studio at that time.

My work has evolved and has a different feel than the earlier work, so I felt it was important for him to see the art in person and also to see where I live and work to get a context for my life and where the work is headed.  He took time to look at everything in the studio with a discerning eye and probing mind, which I greatly appreciated. He spent the night at our house and I thoroughly enjoyed his company and the diverse conversation.

His gallery director Jules Bekker and I worked together in those early years so I was quite pleased to know that I would be working together with her again.

So my new exhibition entitled ”Green Light Go” opens Friday January 23rd at Tew Galleries, Atlanta. I am pleased with the selection of work that they chose, which includes works on paper, paintings on panel, tapestries and sculpture.

Andrew Saftel - January 2015

A visit to the Servins in Santa Clara, Michoacan, Mexico - January 2015

Members of the Servin family have been weaving for decades in rural Michoacan, Mexico. One of the elders, Jose Servin said he has been weaving for thirty- five years. I’m not sure if his was the first generation to weave wool rugs and serapes in a traditional style or if earlier generations had been involved in the craft. Jose is a warm, receptive and generous man and welcomed us with open arms.

Ricardo, Juan, Andy, & Jose 

This was perhaps my fifth or sixth visit to the Servin compound, where many looms are in use. Jose’s brother Victoriano was the first in the family to begin producing amazing tapestries of my images in 2011.

Victoriano has since stopped making these tapestries for health reasons but his son, twenty-seven-year-old Ricardo, and Jose’s son, Juan, also in his late twenties, continue to produce these stunning weavings.

Juan Servin at work on a tapestry

Both Ricardo and Juan first became involved in the process at less than ten years old.  We have developed friendships based on this collaboration, in which we are thankful for each other in the mutual production of images and the weavings made from them.

This visit was particularly meaningful for me as this was the first time I met Juan, a really warm and friendly man, who has produced a number of world class tapestries of my images, and also the first time my wife Susan was able to visit the Servins.

Ricardo Servin working on "Entwined" tapestry
Both Juan and Ricardo had four-to-five-foot-wide pieces on the loom in progress and were more than happy to demonstrate the mysterious (to me) process in which they weave the images without the aid of diagrams, computers, or images behind the loom.

Sometimes Juan draws on the warp. They work from 8½ x11 inch print-outs of the images I send, starting at the bottom and working up, rolling the weaving up under the loom as they go, never seeing the whole until they are finished.  It is really quite something to witness.

Ricardo showing the printout of Entwined that he works from

The process is very physical, done standing, and takes a tremendous amount of concentration. From the beginning I have stressed to the weavers to interpret the images and colors to adapt to their process so that it is more than just work for them. On this visit Ricardo said he has been honored to be making these tapestries.

A detail of the tapestry 

I fully intend for these pieces to hang on the wall like paintings. I am also honored to work with such dedicated and highly talented artisans. My bond with these amazing craftsmen was further deepened during this visit. Their family compound is located on the outskirts of Santa Clara del Cobre, an important town in the mountains of Michoacan, highly regarded for the production of copper ware.

This collaboration would not exist without a third partner, Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar, who lives in nearby Patzcuaro and has worked with the Servins for years procuring the wool for them and doing a fantastic job of dyeing all of the wool (some of these tapestries have over thirty colors). She and her husband Sabino also built the looms used by the Servin family.

It is my hope that we can continue to work together far into the future. The images I have created for the tapestries have influenced and become part of all of my artmaking in other media. I am indebted to Ricardo, Juan, and Ruth for being willing to continue working with me on this creative journey.

Andrew Saftel, Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico, January 2015

Monday, December 8, 2014

Around We Go

“Around We Go” is a 60x82 inch acrylic and collage painting on wood panel.  The general idea behind all of my work is a combination of looking back at history in an attempt to understand how we got here and a comment on how we are collectively moving through time together in the present.

This painting is no exception.  In it I use circular forms, wheels, and plants growing, among other images, to represent time passing, like clocks ticking.  In the top right of the painting it reads “First, Full, Last, New,” referring to phases of the moon.

The large, clock–like circle on the top left, over the car, was taken from a textile from India. The line drawing of the horse on top comes from a drawing I did of a Sioux Indian wooden effigy that I saw in a museum. The long stretched-out car is my design, from which I have made several sculptures in wood and metal.

I grew up on Narragansett Bay in RI, so the water and boat metaphor is a consistent theme, hence the two people in the boat on the left, going into their futures.

I love to read about history and use references to what I’m reading. I was reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, about the Lewis and Clark expedition, so I used William Clark’s handwriting from his diaries, “We Proceed On,” on the bottom of the painting. This phrase represents how we all just keep on through challenges in life to get to where we are going.

After high school I went to California and ended up working in the carnival for several summers while in art school in San Francisco (I graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute), so the ferris wheel is a metaphoric image I use as a reference to time, fun in life, and getting the proper prospective on life from a higher viewpoint.

The little white house on the bottom is a nearby abandoned country house. We live in rural Tennessee and these ”ghost houses,” as I call them, are all around us. I see them as monuments to days gone by
and country ways that are fast disappearing. “Around We Go” has many references and metaphors. I use the term “we” when talking about my work because I feel like I am making my work for all people and referencing things that we all experience.

“Around We Go,” circling the sun, rotating on our axis, riding the ferris wheel of life together.When making these paintings I don’t begin with a plan or sketch. I gather images and materials, begin with one element, respond to that, and then keep adding things until a story or title presents itself. It is an open, organic process where I am only in control some of the time. I start with a wood panel (¼ inch birch with a grid frame on the back), do some carving and embedding of objects and then begin to paint with acrylic paint. I probably worked on this painting for a month or six-weeks, building up layers of color and texture, adding and subtracting until it filled itself up.

The colors refer to the hopeful colors of Spring.

Andrew Saftel
Pikeville, TN
November 2014