Buried Layers

This work is about the geology of time; a layering of events through history leading up to this moment. Captain Cook's letters, the U.S. Constitution, family papers, the correspondence of ordinary people, these are bits of history on which our present lives are built. Measuring devices such as a slide rule and a compass, tools, books, charts, maps, refer to once useful objects-now discarded-that were once part of daily life and work. By delving back into historical imagery I want to prompt reflection of what is lost: the passenger train, the agricultural economy, the jazz era, the primeval forest. Images of the natural world, such as plants and animals, are paired with technology, like a cell phone keypad, to symbolize two still interdependent elements seeking a balance.

The layering of the paintings is also geological, a build-up of thoughts, emotions and physical interactions buried in the layers of paint. We see only the surface, but everything underneath influences what the surface eventually becomes. I use color to represent time, the spectrum changing as the day moves on, the cycle of days creating an atmosphere of hope and reassurance.

Andrew Saftel
May 2004

Artist Statement

I have always been interested in trying to understand more about the lives, times, inventions and discoveries that have brought us to this moment. The paintings are chronicles: atmospheres of thought, filled with words, images and stories. Like a life lived, these paintings are layers of information - partly obscured, partly revealed. When I begin to work I use historic documents, personal letters, images from many sources (including my own photographs) and found objects. I arrange them on the panels as I search for connections, which will eventually reveal meaning. I want the paintings to tell the story of a search within which many strands of thought, and experience, exist.

Andrew Saftel

Andrew Saftel

by Susan Knowles

Just as his artworks are both serious and playful, Andrew Saftel is very much agrown up artist who makes art out of a childlike state of observation and feeling. He manages the duality: living as a concerned humanitarian and a joyful participant. Many who realize that the only things we really know have been experienced in the innocent and fully engaged state of wonder we knew as children, endeavor to "get back" to that place and live fully on that level as often as possible. Once the jockeying for position and status-seeking fall away, we yearn for the sort of essential experience that Saftel shows us in his works.

Andrew Saftel is a remarkable artist whose works bridge the gap between a very directed state of mind and purposeful revel in aesthetic sensuality.

Saftel, the child, has picked the prettiest colors from the crayola assortment pack and plucked small treasures from ground and wastbin. A gingko leaf, a coral fan, a horseshoe nail or a flattened section of balustrades are lain alongside areas of color. They suggest undersea caverns, the earth's atmosphere seen from outer space, urban scrawl, a bird's eye view of the planet or seaside landscapes. Saftel's paintings become environments. He paints on and carves into wood, staining and coloring more that paining; reshaping, gouging and treating the wood more than actually making something from it. He works into his panels, imbuing them soulful meaning as he endows them with quiet knowledge. Wisps of messages are present in carvings of backwards writing that remind us of school desks. Tools for living, such as keys, magnets, and spoons are attached to the panels as if they could be taken down and used at any moment.

Saftel weaves facts into feelings, and intellect into emotion, forming a poetic fabric in which there are lots of interstices. The works feel cool, hot, busy, relaxed, agitated or floating free. After he triggers our reactions, Saftel leaves us clues to find a more personal meaning. His often humorous titles play on his own words and images, referring to our common experiences in life.

The objects Saftel garners from the world around him are tangible shreds of where he has been. They function as bellwethers among the strong winds and gentle breezes of feeling and thought. Saftel, the intellectual, also knows how to deconstruct meaning. He embeds a red book in panel entitled "Read". Above it a flattened triangle of red metal forms an overall composition that denies the importance of the book as a separate object. The homonyms red and read suggest a confusion between what exists and what is learned. Perhaps until the book is part of (embedded in) our existence, we will never know how to read it.

Saftel's light touch and pleasing palette make his work easy to approach and stayaround. Once possessed, the encounter becomes prolonged, one's guard is let down and the dialogue continues. Webs of words and thoughts and visual fragments speak on different levels. They have been chosen and placed with affection and surety. The careful and gentle touch of the artist is present still. In most of Saftel's works the focal point advances and retreats, allowing one's eye and mind a choice between catching something in the foreground or background. Saftel creates atmosphere-dark towards the edges and around prominent objects floating in central space, and light and easily penetrable in the center where the sightless extend to infinity. The darkness stresses the finiteness of boundaries and encircles singular objects. One person's eye will be drawn to the framing devices, another to the openings in between. The lines become tangible, building block reality, while the airiness is ephemeral, unformed and searching. Saftel moves from one to the other, carving into the close and present wooden surface in a ritual of hope, and dreaming and musing out into the ether in a quest for inspiration.

Saftel's fondness for the discarded object, that fragment of a life that signifies the whole gone by, gives his work a nostalgic feeling that is not entirely in keeping with the enliveness of his palette. The contrast is a telling one. The colors touch us deeply because they are the colors of pink sunrises, orange sunsets, spring green grass and all the hues of ocean blue- from the Caribbean's clear aquamarine to the dark green-blue of the northern Atlantic. We have felt the stirrings of harmony and completeness with the world in those places. The leftover remnants of metal, wood, or glass that he incorporates into the works are tied to a simpler time and a simpler work ethic, the time of a predominately manufacturing society when progress was linked to product and everyone's workday ended when the shift changed. Saftel's works ride the balance between the liberated spirit and the laborer.


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