Andrew Saftel’s work provokes thoughtful immersion into art
History. Nature. Literature. Travel. Those are among the influences that find their way into the bold abstract collages Andrew Saftel creates.
“I think of them as picture poems,” he says of his work. “I use text, old letters, documents…I collect all kinds of ephemera that find their way into my paintings.”
A sign painter as a young man, Saftel still relies on an opaque projector to transfer handwriting and other images to his work. Often he cuts into the wood panels on which he paints, indelibly carving the messages he wants to convey.
“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,” he says.
“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 a painting. This phrase represents how we all just keep on through challenges in life to get to where we are going.”
After earning a BFA at the San Francisco Art Institute, Saftel moved to Knoxville in the 1980s. After 10 years in the city, he and his wife, historian Susan Knowles, moved to a 32-acre property in rural Sequatchie Valley, where his 2,200-square-foot studio allows room for a wood shop and metal shop in addition to a painting space.
Though his body of work includes sculpture and photography, Saftel concentrates on painting on wood and on paper in recent years. “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.”
He’s currently assembling work for a solo exhibition at the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts near St. Louis. After three months there, it will move to Bennett’s gallery in Knoxville in December. Bennett has represented Saftel for many years.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a new work he titled “Peas Come to Table,” a four-and-a-half-foot square piece based on Thomas Jefferson’s farm log from Poplar Forest, his retirement home west of Monticello. Saftel went online to read Jefferson’s 174-page handwritten log. And on May 23, he found an entry that said “Peas come to table.”
“I found it to be really poetic,” Saftel says. “So I printed off the pages and put it in my projector.”
The pandemic gave him time to paint and to reflect. “In the previous five or six years, I was always having gallery shows and schlepping work around. Then we stayed home for two years. Where I live is really inspiring. I was able to relax and appreciate everything. I was able to think differently, and we live differently now. It was an opportunity really.”
You can view Saftel’s work at his exhibit at Bennett during December and January or online at andrewsaftel.com.