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