Posing Old Testament Style 1961-1965

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, my Dad was doing cover portraits for Time Magazine in the early 1960s (to see some of his Time portraits from 1957 –1966 go to http://www.safran-arts.com/gallery-time-1.html). And while he was working for Time, my father was also painting other works on his own time for himself. Many of these depicted Old Testament stories. So for the first few years of my life I saw friends, family and neighbors posing in my father’s studio and coming to Biblical life on his easel.

Betty Safran, 1964, for religious work

Trying to pose c. 1964

From what I can gather from his records, Dad probably started working on the series in 1961. These paintings went into his first solo show held at the Fitzgerald Gallery, located on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, in 1965. (I’ll be writing more in another post about the show of ’65.)

Here I am trying my hardest to pose seriously for some dramatic scene, and typically I am controlling myself yet typically cannot pull it off – note the way my sweater is sort of tucked in, my fly is open and I am wearing fuzzy socks. At least I have a noble (if not long suffering) expression on my face…

There is a series of photographs from this session – I offer two more of the shots here – so you can see how this photo shoot progressed to the final impressive image of my sister, mother and I looking in awe at some miracle…

…In the second shot my back is turned to the viewer and my dignified sister has joined me…

…In the third and last image from the series my mother is included, and I am reduced to a blob of hair in the back – no embarrassing open fly; no goofy expression…

Bernard Safran religious work reference material Betty

Bernard Safran reference photo for religious work c 1964The final painting that went in the Fitzgerald Gallery show, uses this last image with my head blob – I guess I just didn’t command enough presence to make the cut.

My paternal Grandfather posing as King Saul was one of the earliest paintings completed in this series.

Pop (as my father called his father), posed with a broom handle that in the painting serves as his mighty staff, and with a satin turban on his head that my paternal Grandmother made when turbans were a fashionable item in the 1940s or 1950s. Tiny Mama (which is what we called my paternal Grandmother on account of her being tiny) knew how to make fancy hats – she’d been a milliner in the early 20th century when she was a young girl and teenager. (It looks too, like Pop’s wearing my maternal Grandmother’s fur collared coat.)

King Saul 1961

King Saul by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite, 1961, 18″ x 28″

Despite my joking about the painting, if you really take time to look at – it is magnificent – beautifully and sensitively painted; a striking portrait of my Grandfather (and possibly King Saul).

Using props was just what the Old Masters did too – in fact most realist artists use 3D references when constructing a complex painting, and many have used photography or similar technologies* to establish composition and reference material.

The Angel and Mom034

My mother Adele assisting an angel

Bernard Safran reference photo c1964, Jacob and bloodied coat of many colors

Sinister Bernie Safran has just given Jacob the bloodied coat of many colors

Lastly, I’ve included a couple of shots of neighbors (and my father) posing in the studio of our house.  I especially like the picture of my mother and the angel.

*Note: My father used photographs as a tool – not as a crutch. His technique was very slow and time consuming and no one was prepared to pose in his studio for weeks or months while a painting was being created. For those of you interested in the more technical aspects of his work – I will be writing about all these things in the future.



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