Friday, November 8, 2013

Day of the Dead and Ocumichu Sculptures in Mexico

Greetings from Patzcuaro, Mexico. I've so enjoyed being here for my exhibit and then the annual celebration for the Night and Day of the Dead here.
This is an occasion when families decorate graves and then spend a night communing with the dead.
The best thing is a huge craft concurso (competition) in which artisans from all of the surrounding towns and villages bring their work to be judged and sold.
The work is absolutely outstanding. I particularly like the low fired ceramic sculpture from Ocumichu, a town about three hours away.

I bought a great airplane.

I am so inspired by the imagination and skillful execution of the sculpture done in this town. 

Here is the documentary film created about my collaboration with the Mexican weavers. I hope you enjoy!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fruits of the World Exhibit in Mexico

I'm very excited to announce a new exhibit opening tomorrow (October 25th) at the Centro Cultural Antiquo Colegio de Jesuita in Patzcuaro, Mexico. The show, called Fruits of the World, includes woodcut prints, drypoint etchings, watercolor and other mixed media pieces as well as a selection of tapestries created through a collaboration with Mexican weavers.

I currently have a studio in Patzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico but I first visited the area on vacation in 2009. I returned to the Jesuit Cultural Center through a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission to hold a printmaking workshop.

The new exhibit will include many of the prints created at the workshop, including "La Frontera," a work whose title means the border and explores the cultural, social, and political issues surrounding the border between Mexico and the United States.

The Fruits of the World exhibit also includes a series of hand-woven, custom-dyed woolen tapestries. The imagery depicted in the weavings is mine, but the execution of the designs has been undertaken by local area master weavers.

As an artist and inventor of images created in diverse mediums, I constantly seek collaborators and defer to other's skills and different levels of interpretation of my images. I encouraged the weavers to take liberties with aspects of the imagery and color, so this process became a collaboration between us.

It is not merely a reproduction of the images I drew, but an interpretation of them in wool; grown, dyed and woven in Michoacán, Mexico.

I requested that the weavers sign their creations alongside my own signature, something they had never been given the opportunity to do. I plan to honor their contribution at the exhibit when the tapestries are on display for the first time.

To see the brochure for this exhibit, please click here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Supporting the Jaago Foundation School

In October of 2010, my colleague and fellow artist Whitney Baker and I were invited to Bangladesh to spend the month through a U.S. Embassy Visual Arts Initiative project titled "Janmasthaan/Native Land."

During my time in Bangladesh, I held art workshops with some leading Bangladeshi artists as well as students and community members. The workshops were centered around exploring the concept of where we all come from, what we have in common and our connection to the land. We also dug deep into the topic of how art can bring up issues about these things.

After working with artists and university students, we were invited to visit the Jaago School to work with children on an art project. I learned of the Jaago Foundation School from Garrett Wilkerson, a U.S. Embassy cultural affairs officer. I was looking for a worthwhile cause to support and Garrett suggested the Jaago as one to explore. After I inquired, I learned the school was interested in having me come and do an art workshop.

The workshop would culminate in assisting the children in painting a large mural at the school. From the moment I arrived at the school, after seeing the harsh reality of life in the streets of the neighborhood, I was overwhelmed by the joy and pride that the children expressed. My first impression was that the school was an oasis for the children in the midst of a life of struggle and extremely limited opportunities.

The school was very organized, with rules of conduct and behavior and a nurturing environment in which the students thrived. The staff, made up of a diverse group of young volunteers, was very courteous, professional and warmly caring. After a brief tour of the building, which was neat and clean, we entered a rear courtyard that had been transformed (with very little notice) in to an outdoor classroom/ studio, complete with awning and carpet for our workshop.

I was almost moved to tears when the one hundred children, dressed in clean uniforms, well –fed and with art supplies in hand, marched in, in orderly rows and took their places with us. Korvi Rackshand appeared and led the students through greetings and songs. I was particularly moved when they sang, "We shall overcome" in English and Bangla. After several songs, which they sang in a heartfelt manner, Korvi and the volunteers directed the students, aged from about 6-12, to assemble around the perimeter of the carpet for instructions. They were very well behaved and obedient. It seemed to me that they were well aware of the fact that being in the school was a tremendous opportunity for them.

With the help of an interpreter we introduced the idea of Native Land and asked them to begin drawings using their own supplies and some we had brought. As they quietly began drawing, Whitney and I painted a fifty foot long land and seascape line image on the white wall with small brushes. The idea was to do the outline and then use images that the children drew to populate the landscape. They all continued to concentrate and create images, calmly going in to their imaginations and pulling out everything from country scenes with trees, animals and people to scenes of the city where they live.

The art that they made was tremendous and every student’s was different. As some of the drawings neared completion we began to make selections of the images for the mural and asked the student to accompany us and hold up the drawing while we copied it larger to the mural in outline form. They then painted their name below the image. As we painted their images on the wall the mural began to take shape and to tell a story that became a mixture of fact and fantasy.

The students became very excited and all began milling around and pressing their drawings on us to copy, which was to be expected. We tried to get a little of each students work onto the mural. This whole process seemed to transport them to a world of ideas, images, colors and stories. After the line images were drawn the students were organized in to groups of ten or so and patiently waited in line to eventually be overseen by a volunteer while they painted colors with the oil –based enamel paint onto the wall. They loved the act of painting and were respectful of each other as they took turns.

When things got a little hectic Korvi would simply speak up with instructions and they would settle down. The volunteers were so helpful and supportive of the activity and so happy to see the kids so happy. The smiles and proud looks on their faces were unforgettable. In the end, the volunteers, as well as some of the students, had paint-covered hands. As the mural neared completion, the paint began to run out and the students calmed down, we were given a rousing “Thank You” from the students who then broke up into circles, each led by a volunteer. They recited the alphabet in English, went through numbers and sang songs. I sat in one of the circles and drew pictures of images that the kids called out and then they would spell the word describing the image in English.

After two hours or so of this magical time the students filed out in line as they had come in and the mural was nearly complete. I hope that the students are filled with pride when they see the mural and it reminds them of our time together. In one morning at the Jaago school I learned that faith in humanity and the effect that education can have on a local population is tremendous. I saw for myself the difference between the barefoot, tattered and hungry kids on the street and the students at the school.

Something as simple as a building, a uniform, a bite to eat, a little health care and some loving and caring teachers, can transform the lives of thousands, contribute to positive change and, in the long run, turn the tides in Bangladesh . Each and every student in the Jaago school will absolutely have a better life with a chance for advancement than those outside it’s doors, especially after learning English. What Korvi and his volunteers have and will continue to do at the Jaago school(s), with, so far, minimal funding, is more than a miracle for so many children.

The beautiful, magical and tragic country of Bangladesh needs a lot of help and this school is a beginning. I am now back at home in the U.S. and in retrospect, the morning at the Jaago School is one of the most remarkable experiences that I had in Bangladesh and, for that matter, in my life. Rafu, one of the students, did a drawing that was included in the American Center’s final exhibit at the Dhaka Art Center and I will never forget his face when he saw it framed and hanging at the opening.

I encourage anyone who can to support the school and/or sponsor a student and I hope to return to paint a bigger mural on the next Jaago school wall. For just $20/month, you can invest into the life of a child. I am thankful to Lauren Lovelace and the American Center of the U.S. embassy for making this experience possible and to Korvi Rackshand for seeing a need and finding a way to fulfill it.

[text & photos originally published at]

Thursday, September 26, 2013

First Flight Out Nashville Airport Art Exhibit

I'm excited to be included in this show, which has an opening reception Saturday, September 28th from 2-4 p.m. The Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority has a wonderful collection of art and for the first time in its history, the collection is going to be on display somewhere other than the airport.
I hope you'll plan to attend the reception or at least view the show during its exhibit (through January 5, 2014) at the Nashville Public Library.

Arts at the Airport receives funding for the visual arts from the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority (MNAA) and the Tennessee Arts Commission (TAC). The Flying Solo Exhibition Series is funded under an agreement with TAC. For more information about Arts at the Airport, please call (615) 275-1614 or email

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A World of Wonder

the "Hickory Horned Devil"
The other day while walking from my house down to my studio, I was shocked to stumble upon this insect. Living in a rural area of Tennessee, I often encounter nature and its creatures in interesting ways, but I had never in my life seen anything like this.

What you're looking at is the Hickory Horned Devil. It was 6 inches long and fatter than my thumb. The critter reminds me of what I used to see as a child when I'd visit my grandparents in the Caribbean and snorkel around coral reefs.

Not only is the larva stage of this insect amazing to look at, it turns into the Regal Moth, which has a 6" wingspan.

Things like this are what inspire me and give me hope. We live in a world full of fun and wonder, but it's only when we take time to really look for it.

Monday, August 5, 2013

How to Make a Living as an Artist

Recently, I read an article in the Washington Post about professional artists working in the United States. As a full-time artist myself, this gave me something to think about and I wanted to share some of my thoughts here on the blog.

Except for the blue chip artists at the top (who also started at the bottom), making a living as a full time artist over a long period of time is incredibly difficult in many ways. Keeping the work relevant, fresh, honest and true for decades is the main challenge that professional artists face. And this doesn't even begin to address the issue of making money as a full-time artist.

It takes an odd combination of business skills and personality traits to develop and maintain relationships with galleries while also building a market and following for the work. The right attitude is sometimes difficult to maintain. The "art world" can be brutal in terms of its fickle way of treating artists, which is also a challenge.

Finding a balance between working in the studio, other life interests and staying connected to the world as well as people is important and different for every artist. It takes a deep commitment to the work, discipline and a constant curiosity about the world around us to maintain a consistent studio practice over many years.

 This is a serious endeavor. Art is work...that's why it is called an artwork. For all artists there are times when interest in the work wanes and one must continue working. There is really very little support for artists in this country except for the commercial marketplace. Because of this, making a living as an artist for an entire career is extremely difficult. That is why the percentages in the article are so low.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to continue to make a living working in my studio. It is a hard won dream come true that could not happen without a few things. First are the galleries that I have worked with. Carol Stein at Cumberland Gallery in Nashville has believed in my work, exhibited and sold it for twenty five years.

Then there are the collectors who have supported my work over the years. I appreciate them immensely. There have been a handful who have continued to build significant holdings of my work, for which I am very thankful. These are relationships that are very special and an integral part of continuing to work in the studio and support myself.

Life as a professional artist has a certain ebb and flow. I would never want to discourage anyone who is considering pursuing the artist's life...but it's important to know going in what to expect.

I'd like to close with a quote from Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art.


"Creative work is a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of our contribution. Give us what you've got."

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tapestries Featured on ArtStormer Blog

I was honored to learn that I was recently featured by Betsy Wills on her blog, ArtStormer. Wills created her blog as a way to chronicle her interest in the visual arts. And while she claims to be ignorant of art curation or selection, she has a keen eye and a way with words.

There are so many talented artists in the world and as someone who makes my living solely from my art, I appreciate people like Betsy who are passionate about helping to showcase artists and their work.

You can read the full post by Betsy Wills on her ArtStormer blog here.

Betsy: Thanks for the kind words!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Shakerag Workshops 2013

I just finished teaching a weeklong printmaking workshop at Shakerag Workshops in Sewanee Tennessee.

Sewanee is the home of the University of the South and St. Andrews Sewanee high school, where the workshops take place. It is set on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau in rural Tennessee just north of Chattanooga.

Shakerag was started ten years ago by Claire Reishman who is a ceramic artist and English teacher at St. Andrews. I first met Claire many years ago while I was teaching at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle .  She is a wonderful woman and  has made a huge contribution to the arts by creating  Shakerag.

The workshop I taught had twelve delightful and hardworking participants. We focused on collagraph  prints which simply means that one creates a textured collaged surface on wood panels which is then inked with oils paints applied with brushes and rollers and then run through  an etching press.

Each print is unique. The heavy paper is moistened which helps to create an embossed surface on the paper.
The class was so much fun and I feel inspired by the interactions and all that I learned from students and other instructors during the week.
There is such a feeling of camaraderie and deep bonding through the common interest in making things by hand at these workshops. All of the instructors give short presentations about their work and lives which I always find inspiring and eye opening.
I learn so much about craft and processes about which I was previously unfamiliar.
I began teaching these workshops when I was in my early thirties at Arrowmont School of Crafts in Gatlinburg Tennessee and have taught at Penland School of Crafts as well many times. Being involved with these schools has enhanced my life and work greatly in so many ways and I don’t think it all would have happened if I hadn’t moved to Tennessee in the mid-eighties.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Forest Unseen: Looking at the land with eyes of an artist and a scientist

I've been connected with the folks at the St. Andrew's Sewannee School for some time. This is where I'll be teaching my upcoming summer collograph workshop, at the annual Shakerag Workshop.

As an artist living and working in rural Tennessee, thinking about how I connect with nature is a big part of what I do. I've written about my experiences gardening, spending time with the earth and just taking it all in.

This is why I wanted to share a wonderful book with you, written by a Botany professor at Sewannee by the name of David Haskell. Over the course of one year, Haskell observed the activity of 1 square meter of land on a wooded slope in Shakerag Hollow, Sewannee, Tennessee. His book, The Forest Unseen, chronicles just what he observed and witnessed during the 12-month period.

By taking time to stop and really observe the land, Haskell saw many things that others most definitely would miss.

As an artist, I rely very heavily on the powers of observation. All artists are individuals looking at the world, trying to glean something from what we see. That's what I experience when creating a new piece of work.

I often feel that as a society, we need more hope. And nature is a great place to look and find that such a hope does exist...if we simply stop and look for it.

Here's a short video about the book and Haskell's experience. I think you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Growing Season for Blackberry Farm Hospice du Rhone

When asked to create a piece of art to be used for the Hospice du Rhone event at Blackberry Farm, I immediately knew that some of the imagery I have been recently developing would be perfect.

Growing Season, 2013 watercolor, pencil, colored pencil & collage on watercolor board 25x36"

For the last couple of years my work has become more narrative and figurative and two of the figures I've created appear in this work. {Here are other examples of recent work with figures: La Frontera, La Frontera Fly, and Troubadour}

Located at the bottom right of Growing Season is a character I call The King of Falling Fruit and on the left Reaching Man. They both represent an attitude towards life, which is that one needs to constantly reach and stretch in order to find things in life.

As artists we need to constantly reach and search for ideas and images for our work; to experience as much as possible in order to speak about what we find.

To me, fruit is a metaphor for good things in life. There is fruit everywhere in this piece, like rain from the sky. In this case the fruit is grapes and the King has his hands out to get him some.

The title of this work, Growing Season, is derived from handwriting by John Coykendal, the master gardener at Blackberry Farm. This could be a straightforward reference to a growing season in a garden or vineyard but also serves as a reference to the growing season of our lives from birth to death.

-- Andrew Saftel

Friday, April 19, 2013

Pictures, Not Words

I was recently invited to speak at the Frist Visual Arts Center because my woodcut and the block it was printed on are in the Martin Artquest Gallery. I shared some of my experiences with art education and I wanted to share them here with you on my blog.

"Lesson" acrylic, collage & found objects on panel
As a child, I went to public schools and we always had art class. I wasn’t a great student in general and being left handed made the writing messy. One of my earliest memories of doing art was with Mrs. Damico in second grade. She had us reach in to a paper bag and grasp an object and draw what it made us think of. I felt something furry (a rabbits foot keychain) and drew a squirrel with a gigantic tail. It won a prize in a local kids' art show but I remember loving the feeling of making something up on paper stemming from a real experience.

In high school I had Mrs. Hall for art, who was very supportive of my art interest and made up a job for me as art room monitor and gave me a key to the room. This was my first studio and the beginning of my identity as the artist.

My father told me once that as a child on my first visit to the library I told him “Daddy, pictures not words.” I had trouble reading but I drew constantly, making things up, copying comic books, and photographs- I loved the private space and the different sense of time that drawing and making things afforded me.

Museums played a big role too. I remember my father taking me to the Boston museum of Fine Arts when I was around 10 years old and seeing a Monet painting I had coveted in a book and was shocked that it existed in real life. I was mesmerized by the texture of the painted surface.

And so I have had a life in art that I never could have imagined as a never relinquishing the private space of artmaking to the world. When I came to TN in the mid –eighties I worked for two years for the TN Arts Commission’s Artists in the Schools program for KMA. I went to schools all over East Tennessee and worked with mostly elementary school age kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds.I was inspired by the kids and saw that in first and second grade all 30 kids in the class made great, honest art.

I want to share a few excerpts of letters I received from the students.

Thank you for teaching me how to put light in my pictures

I never knew such artwork could exist. Before you came I could not draw at all. Now I am very ,very good

I like drawing because it was fun and we didn’t have to work

I wish in the future there would be more shapes

Thank you so much for the art project and for using up some of our time

I liked the lesson

I used the words from the last student note in a painting called Lesson that I did a few years ago (seen above). To me, using handwritten words and text adds meaning to a work.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Scenic Road

In 2010, I was commissioned, by Chris Hehmeyer, a Memphis native, to create a large painting about Tennessee for his residence in Chicago. For this commission I did research at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, from which I copied many old documents, photographs, and postcards pertaining to the state's history, commerce, agriculture, and culture. The painting is called "Postcard from Tennessee."

"Scenic Road" and other paintings from that time were offshoots of the commission and the research I did for it. For this painting I used a postcard that someone wrote from Tennessee describing a trip to the Smoky Mountains. The postmark in the middle of the painting connotes an exact moment: May 16th 1951 at 9 a.m. On the top left of the painting it says Newfound Gap, below that it says "Scenic Road," and "Mama said lets go home" -- all taken from projected images of the actual postcard. On the top right corner of the painting is the Two Cent postage stamp. The old house in the painting is a house on the property adjacent to ours in the Sequatchie valley.

The painting references an exact moment in time that is long lost and the words and feelings that someone had when visiting Tennessee. It also references a method of communication, real and handwritten, that is quickly disappearing. The little house lay dormant and decaying for years but has recently been lovingly restored by new owners, which is a symbol of hope.

This painting encompasses themes that I have been interested in for many years: how people move through time together; how they interact and communicate with each other; how important the hand written word is; how handwriting communicates more than what is being said; what is lost between humans as time moves on; what replaces older methods and materials in our modern world; and how people find hope in different ways in the face of a complicated world.

As an artist I am interested in conveying, through the work I do, my observations and feelings about what I see around me. I am interested in how and what other people are communicating to each other.

Friday, April 5, 2013


Footsteps, 2009 (Acrylic, collage and found objects on panel) 96 x 72 inches
As an artist my intention is to distill as much of what I see and feel about the world into visual assemblages through which I can share my experiences with others.
Sometimes I add found objects, which make me reflect on the experiences of those who might have used them. The large acrylic on panel painting entitled “Footsteps” began when I brought back to the studio, from an afternoon walk, an old brown leather woman’s farm-type shoe. Small and sturdy, with a chunky elevated heel, it was dignified but worn out, ready to rest.
It was a story almost left untold. I found it in the hay residue in a neighbor’s old barn and plucked it from the decay like a clam from a low –tide beach. It’s aged, tooled brown leather--holes in the toes, patches attached with bent-nails to cover up the broken-down layers--smelled like work and smoke and the river of days.
I puzzled over who might have been its former occupant--the shoe being that person’s connection to the earth for part of a life.
It symbolized her path through time and place in a long-gone world.
I embedded the shoe into the empty panel as a starting point and began to think about the finite amount of days we have and the places our shoes will take us.
Where have your shoes taken you lately? I've been traveling but I look forward to sharing some stories of my trip with you all here on my blog. Thanks for reading and thanks for your support! 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Shakerag Workshop: Color Collograph & Relief Printmaking

I'm very excited about an upcoming workshop I'll be teaching at the Shakerag Workshops on the campus of St. Andrew's - Sewannee School this summer. Below is a short description of the course and a link to the website where you can register. It's going to be a great time of learning and growing and I hope you'll consider taking part!
Impressions: Color Collagraph and Relief Printmaking 
June 16-22,2013

Course Description
A collagraph print is made from a surface on which collage elements and texture have been applied. Using oil-based paints and inks applied with brushes and rollers, we will create colorful, textured, one-of-a-kind prints. This is a very direct, painterly, and fun way to make a print on paper with an embossed surface. Both the making of the blocks and the inking process allow for endless possibilities. This low–tech approach to printmaking will produce stunning qualities and rich color combinations. Using multiple blocks printed over each other with transparent inks on one sheet of paper will yield exciting and surprising results.

For more about this class or to register, click here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Art of Community: Janet and Jim Ayers' Collection of Tennessee Art

I'm very honored to have been included in a recent publication called The Art of Community: Janet & Jim Ayers' Collection of Tennessee Art. The Ayers, who own FirstBank, are art supporters, art lovers and art collectors. They decided to create a major corporate art collection to appoint FirstBank's new headquarters in Nashville.

The collection is documented in a wonderful publication, which features the more than 200 works of art in various mediums representing more than 60 artists from Memphis to Mountain City, Tennessee. The Ayers wanted to choose pieces that honor the spirit and character of Tennessee and I'm so thrilled to have been included and have my work featured on the book's cover.

Not only that, my wife Susan, along with Celia Walker, wrote the catalogue for the The Art of Community. You can read some of her thoughts about the project in this article, featured in Nashville Arts Magazine.

The book is available at Parnassus Books and The Arts Company.