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

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Haystack Mountain School of Crafts 2014

I just finished teaching a two-week printmaking workshop at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine. This was my third time teaching there, the first of which was in 1994.

Haystack is a very special place for several reasons. It is located on the tip of a granite island on Penobscot Bay and was designed by Edward Larabee Barnes to be integrated into the landscape and have a low impact on the delicate ecosystem.

The director, Stuart Kestenbaum, a poet and all-around special human being, is caring, nurturing, funny and very interested in the studios on a daily basis. This is a place where people come to learn techniques in their respective disciplines but almost more importantly to experience time together in a way that day-to-day life does not provide.

In this workshop I covered several direct, non-technical, painterly ways to make prints. I feel that it is important to show ways for all artists to engage with printmaking in a way that is not restrictive, caustic or limited to age-old techniques and above all, lots of fun.

The eleven participants were all open-minded, hard- working, mutually supportive, engaged, excited and all made great work. People hit their strides at different times in the workshop but all did extremely well and will take new ideas and approaches to artmaking back to their studios.

I have been teaching one or two-week workshops at schools similar to Haystack for many years and feel very strongly that these institutions provide an environment in which people can achieve things they never knew they were capable of on many levels.

The world needs these places--and more of them. I saw things happen between people every day that were what we were put on the planet for: kindness, generosity, nurturing, understanding, patience, exploration, risk-taking, sharing, speaking the truth, crying, loving, caring and creating.

It is my hope that the 90 or so people that were there take these things back in to their lives and spread them out to others and keep them alive in the world.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Constant Moving Forward

"Obstacle", 21x93x10" carved walnut, maple and cherry, oil paint, varnish- 2014

The life of an artist is a roller coaster with unpredictable peaks and valleys. The last couple of years for me have been challenging—not in terms of making work but as relates to the burden of the marketplace.

I love making and working with my hands to produce things that are my response to what I experience and discover in the world I inhabit. I can do this night and day. It is a practice. It never gets easier but continually changes and evolves like a living breathing thing.

The great challenge in all of this is to separate the making from the selling, and to never repeat oneself. All of what I have done before has to be eliminated from what I will now do.

The market tends to want what has already been done and proven but I have always been one
who goes against what I am told to do.

To keep vital as a person and an artist I keep moving into new territory. I love to work on sculptures when inventing new work as the act of working with my hands in this way releases my brain, allowing new thoughts and images to arise.

Ceramic sculpture is what I started with in high school. I rarely sell sculpture so making it allows me a certain level of freedom. I get a form or image in my mind, do drawings, make parts, and then assemble them until the image becomes a three-dimensional reality.

"Fruit Boat", 78x82x11",carved cherry, maple and poplar, bronze, acrylic, colored pencil, varnish,

It is a constant moving forward towards the finished piece. I love this process and will spend countless hours obsessively working away, allowing my brain a rest that painting does not give me. I sometimes paint for days and then cover it all up and start again. Painting is a constant thought process for me as far as creating forms, images, color combinations and surface treatments.

Throughout my career I have taken breaks from painting and turned to sculpture as way to continue
working through ideas, many of which cannot be expressed in two dimensions. I have been working on two sculptures for the last six weeks that have been a joy and make me happy to be engaged with.

I once again have the feeling of being an eight-year old boy heading up to the baseball field with my glove and ball on a spring Saturday morning; a feeling I constantly strive towards in the studio.

These are transportation images, a car on a road and a boat on a bronze dock.

The long, stretched out car is made of cherry, as is the road it is on. (photo above)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Printmaking Workshops in Bangladesh: As the Trip Comes to an End

I conducted three printmaking workshops in Bangladesh in June 2014. Two were in the capital city of Dhaka and one took place at  Rasjshashi, which was a six hour train ride from the city.
The techniques I taught were monoprint, a one of a kind print, and chine-colle, a way to collage other materials on to the prints.
We were given the theme of "The Urban Experience" as a topic by our sponsors, The American Center of the U.S. Embassy Dhaka and the Bengal Foundation.

These workshops were very challenging for me as a teacher for several reasons but the students in all three workshops were extremely energetic, ambitious, cheerful, hopeful and hard -working. They came from various backgrounds, classes and geographic locations within Bangladesh.
Some spoke some English but we managed to communicate with the common-denominator of creating art together.
As I prepare to depart for home tomorrow I am filled with a mix of emotions about my time here. I love this country and its people, however it faces all of the issues of a densely populated country with limited resources and capacity to support its population in the long run.

This is my second time here teaching and probably my last. I wish my dear friends here all of the goodness and hope for the future and am thankful for all of the warmth and kindness that they have shown me.
We will have an opening this evening at the Bengal Art Lounge of over fifty prints made in the workshops, of which I am very proud.
A.S. June 25 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Printmaking in Bangladesh 2014

[photo via a previous trip, printmaking in Mexico]
This blog post comes to you from Bangladesh where I'm conducting printmaking workshops. Yesterday was the last day of the first workshop and although it is work, this project is so fulfilling. The artists are so good, hardworking and genuine, gentle people. Great work is being made.

I am so glad I came back to this part of the world and I am really paying attention.

I am not taking photographs yet.

Just taking in this crowded, HOT, sad, graceful, colorful, gentle, chaotic and beautiful place.

We stay in Dhaka for another three day workshop and leave on a six hour train trip to Rajshahi for the last workshop. It is supposed to be even hotter but it is Mango season there. You can read an excerpt from a news piece about this project below. There's also a link to the full story. Thanks for visiting the blog and thanks for sending good wishes during this project!

Via The Daily Star - Bengal Foundation and the American Center of the US Embassy in Dhaka have jointly been organising a series of three workshops on printmaking and poetry. Calvin Hayes, Cultural Affairs Officer of the American Center in Dhaka, inaugurated the first workshop at the Bengal Centre Khilkhet in the capital on June 9. The organisors thanked Andrew Saftel (master printmaker) and Whitney Baker (litterateur) who conducted the workshops, for their commitment to the development of arts in Bangladesh. Both visiting from the United States, Andrew Saftel and Whitney Baker are leading these workshops, of which two will take place in Dhaka and one in Rajshahi. 

Click Here to Read the Rest of the Article

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Another Time Around the Sun

What was and is to come

The beginning of a new year is always a time of reflection, contemplation and hope for what is to come as well as a chance to see the past year in a different light.

2013 was a busy and productive year in which my work took me to a lot of interesting places.

The year started with Where Water Meets Land, an exhibition at The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, of fourteen large-scale photographs and two large collages based on my experience in Bangladesh in 2010. I gave a gallery talk and a hands-on workshop at the museum. We also produced a brochure for the exhibit. It was very meaningful for me to share the imagery from such a beautiful country and talk about my experiences there, especially since Bangladesh is ground zero for important global trade and environmental issues.

I showed the same photographs and collages at Cumberland Gallery in Nashville, where I have been represented for over twenty years. The owner, Carol Stein, an early supporter of my work, organized an evening lecture in the gallery in which she asked me questions about the work and the experience in Bangladesh. I thought it was a very stimulating conversation and the large audience seemed very interested and moved by both the work and words.

Later in the summer I showed the Bangladesh body of photographs at Bennett Gallery in Knoxville, where I have also been exhibiting for over twenty years. They held a Saturday afternoon talk in the gallery there, which was very enjoyable. It was inspiring to connect with interested people about the work and to visit with old friends. People seem to really respond to this work. I don’t consider myself a photographer, but this body of work in photography possesses some of the same sensibilities of light, surface, and image as do the paintings. At Bennett Galleries, I showed nine new paintings with the photographs.  The photographs and paintings remain for sale at Bennett Galleries, Knoxville.

In the Spring I juried an exhibition of regional high school art for an exhibit at the Gallery at St. Andrews Sewanee High School. I also gave a lecture on my current work and attended the opening for the exhibit. I cannot fully express how meaningful it was to interact with the students and be supportive of their art endeavors. I have been involved with this school for many years. They have a really committed studio art faculty, great facilities, and an emphasis on the arts. I am a deep believer in the importance of arts education for all grade levels. This is another conversation.

I returned to Sewanee in June to teach a one-week printmaking workshop at Shakerag Workshops, which had its ten-year anniversary last year. Shakerag was started by several art faculty members at St. Andrews to provide two weeks of craft workshops with leading artists and craftspeople. This was my third time teaching there. I just love being there with inspiring people in such a beautiful setting, focused on what we all love. Studios are open twenty fours hours and it is an all out, high–energy mix of work, food, play, lectures and connecting with other artists.

I was invited to give a short talk on my work at the Frist Center for the Arts in Nashville along with two other artists as we all had work on exhibit in the Martin Artquest Gallery. This is an excellent hands-on experiential gallery for people of all ages. I spoke about my experiences with art education as an artist and a teacher. They hung my large woodcut, La Frontera (2010), a large 33-color woodcut printed in Patzcuaro, Mexico, and also two of the blocks used for printing.  People are allowed to do rubbings from the blocks. The Frist has been a monumental addition to the cultural world in our region, originating and hanging many important exhibitions. I stop in every time I go to Nashville and there is always something worth stopping in for.

The highlight of 2013 for me was my exhibition, Las FrutasDel Mundo, (Fruits of the World) at the Centro Cultural Antiguo Colegio Jesuita in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico. This exhibit consisted of two strains of work made in Mexico since 2009.

I have been working in the printmaking workshop at the Colegio since 2009 and have produced drypoint etchings, woodcuts, and collagraph prints, in collaboration with the printers there. Some of the imagery in the prints references the Mexico-U.S. border (la frontera), with movement indicating crossing. This imagery became the basis for another ongoing project with local weavers.

Beginning in 2011 with a chance visit to a local store, looking for rugs, I asked about the possibility of using some of my own imagery for a rug. Thus began a collaboration between myself, a family of weavers, and the talented and knowledgeable Ruth Mitchell de Aguilar who procures and dyes the wool. A father, Victoriano Servin, and his son, Ricardo, and nephew, Juan, have been weaving spectacular tapestries based on my images. They are all enormously talented.

For me it is a welcome challenge to create images for the weavers to interpret in woven wool. It forces me to simplify and consider the images more carefully. It is very exciting to see what they will do with the image using the spectacular dyed colors. I can’t wait to see the next one! These are one of a kind, non-computer aided, hand dyed, hand-made tapestries for wall or floor. Inquiries welcome (

So, back to the exhibition, which consisted of eleven of the tapestries hung on the walls, eight small, framed tapestry designs, eight prints, four large watercolors, two panel paintings and a collage on panel. Some of the tapestries are quite large so it was an impressive exhibit in a grand space in an old stone building with tile floors and large windows along one wall. There is an evident evolution in the imagery from the earlier prints to the tapestries so that all of the other works are visible in the tapestries.

People loved the work and really praised the weavers for their impressive skills. I’d like for them to receive even more recognition. We have all formed friendships through this project, which will continue and will nurture our cross-border, cross-cultural endeavor. We produced a brochure for this exhibit as well and also a documentary film by Nemesis Films: Eduardo Bautista, filmmaker. You can see the complete film Las Frutas del Mundo on You Tube. I think he did a great job to tell the story of the tapestries and capture the feeling and emotion of the collaboration. I am very proud of this project, exhibition, collaborations in printmaking and tapestries and see a lot of possibilities for future work together in Mexico.

As I go through the year, sometimes it seems like things are stalled and nothing is happening with the work and I’m disconnected from the world out there. But as I look back on all of the exhibits, talks, workshops, travel and connections with people, it adds up to a deep and rich life.


                                                     What is to Come?


Always a tough question but one can speculate, reach and hope for things. I try to put ideas in motion, like a train, and then see where they go. I just keep working  everyday and know that it will add up to more than I can imagine a year from now.

I am enjoying where the imagery has been going and hope to continue to use the ideas and characters in the newer work.  I think there is a good balance between the humor and references to more serious issues in the falling fruit imagery and the idea of horizontal movement across borders. Right now I am working on some sizeable watercolors/ drawings, searching for more images for new tapestries and paintings.

I am eagerly looking forward to several upcoming projects, workshops, travel and exhibits in 2014 in addition to the studio work. First off, Cumberland Gallery in Nashville will be taking some of my work to the LA Art Fair- January 16-18. Carol Stein does several of these fairs each year, which is great exposure for my work. Her booths always look great since she has a selective, eclectic, quality eye for art.

In June I will be returning to Bangladesh to lead printmaking workshops under the direction of the Bengal Foundation. As we did on the 2010 trip to Bangladesh, my friend and poet Whitney Baker and I will travel together, he leading poetry workshops. I am a little nervous but really excited about the trip. We have a lot of friends and fellow artists there that we will be glad to reconnect with. There is an election there right now so hopefully the outcome will lead to a better situation. The details are just being outlined but I’m sure it will be a very deep experience in many ways.

 I will be teaching a two-week printmaking workshop, at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine from August 10-22. This will be my third time teaching at Haystack and I really look forward to it. I will teach multi-block collagraph and relief printmaking. The campus is in a fantasy setting on the rocks of the Maine coast. The director, Stuart Kestenbaum, has a special way of setting a great tone at this really special school.

We will see what else the year brings but I eagerly await whatever comes in the studio and out in the world of people moving through time together.

As always, thank you for stopping by my blog and please feel free to share it with anyone you think might enjoy. You can also follow along on social media (Twitter & Facebook) to keep up with the latest happenings.