Child’s Play: 1960s

When I look back on my childhood I realize that I had some interesting friends when I was little.

Betty c 1966

Me in a party dress c 1966

I went to PS 8 elementary school located in Armour Villa Park in Yonkers, New York. Many of the kids that went there were from well to do  families that lived in the area; many of their parents were high powered professionals who worked in NYC – a thirty minute commute by train. There were also a few UN ambassador’s kids too. So when I went to my friends’ houses they were invariably bigger and fancier than my own little home, but it never occurred to me that they were privileged or any different from me.

PS 8 in Armour Villa Park

I can’t believe I found a picture of my old elementary school and the original square building looks exactly the same as when I went there. In the mid 1960s they built a small addition to the school while I was there – but now the school looks enormous with big additions on all sides. Those three windows above the main door were the principle’s office – I only had to go there once and I was so scared – so scared I don’t even remember why I had to go there – probably for talking too much… the usual reason I had to stay after school.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, by grade 6 many of my friends were out of my life completely – even at school. They had either moved away, had been sent to exclusive private schools, or I wasn’t allowed to play with them due to my father’s intense paranoia of everyone..

One girl, Anna, was the only kid I knew who went on to Burrough’s Junior High when I did. She amazed me by showing up there in Grade 7 with bright turquoise eye shadow – the only external change from her usual small, plump, innocent appearance. She had long dark braids (like me), and she dressed much the same in kilts and shirts, sweaters and thick woolen stockings.

One of her claims to fame was that she lived for a while in Ava Gabor’s Bronxville home (I guess her family rented it). We weren’t allowed to go into the main part of the house – especially the living room – I remember it as pale green with very fancy silk upholstered furniture and every surface, including the floor, seemed to be covered in plastic. The other memorable thing about that house was that it had a beautiful outdoor swimming pool surrounded by a wrought iron fence and masses of roses. I was very jealous of this – especially when I arrived one time and Anna was just leaving the pool for the day like some Shirley Temple kind of kid movie star in a one piece bathing suit…

Newfoundland Dog

This is a giant male Newfoundland dog – and its one of the few pictures that features the ever present drool – that’s why I chose this image. You also get a good idea of how big the mouth of a Newfoundland is especially to a little kid.

I only saw her father once – he was very tall and he looked a bit like Boris Karloff to me – her mother looked a lot like Anna to me – short, plump and sweet and she had a British accent I think. My mother told me once that her father was in oil which mystified me: how is one in oil and what kind of oil? and what did you do with oil anyway?

Anna soon moved to another elegant house and at the same time acquired an enormous Newfoundland dog named Emma. The first time I met the dog she gently swallowed my arm up to my elbow – I remember my shock at this, and how I slowly pulled my arm all dripping with saliva, out from her mouth. Emma was young and rambunctious and loved to bounce around us when we played in the children’s big play room.

Another friend, Cory (short for Cornelia) had “help”, and when I was over we’d be fed in the kitchen at a little table by a lady who worked there (a cook, a housekeeper??). Like many of the homes I went to, we were only allowed to play outside in the yard or in my friend’s room. We usually went up the back staircase from the kitchen to her room – avoiding the main house. The downstairs of the elegant house was pristine, but my friend’s room was a total disaster – a real comfortable mess (as most of the upstairs of these elegant houses were).

On one occasion I was invited to stay for dinner and it was a terrifying experience. The dining table was very long, dark and shiny, and big as I remember – so it seemed like I was a mile away from the safety of my friend. And both of her parents (her dad in a three piece suit on one end, and her mother dressed for dinner and in heels at the other end) were there and they asked me polite conversational questions – which at that young age was a nerve wracking task to get through. Also, they served artichokes which I’d never seen before and it was very scary and humiliating to have to admit I didn’t know how to peel the bits off, dip them into the sauce, and then politely nibble the ends off.The Russians Are Coming

This friend of mine, Cory, had a fabulous birthday party one year out in her big yard. At some point we were all ushered into a room to watch a private screening of the movie The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming – (I think it was before the film was released to the public). All of us kids sat in a couple of rows of chairs in front of the big screen, and a bunch of men in suits sat and chain smoked off to the side.

I was invited out with Cory and her mother on a couple of occasions to go into the city: once to go to the ballet at Lincoln Center, and sometime around 1970, to go to a zoological show there. I remember holding a snake and feeling its smooth dry skin. But the most remarkable experience was going into the giant theater and having the lights go down and listening in the dark cavernous room to the first recordings of whales singing – it was mesmerizing, and made a huge impact on me… (to see beautiful video of humpback whales and hear them singing go to:

I didn’t know (until researching this post) that my childhood friend Cory grew up to be a very important and influential person like her parents… If I could only remember all the names of my childhood friends I’d probably find that a number of my old school chums also went to the finest schools and became significant people – it was that kind of community.

My little friend Ya Ling was apparently a member of China’s Imperial Family...  her mother was a very distinguished woman and she proudly told my mother this fact once over a cup of tea.

david cassidy

David Cassidy

Bobby Sherman

Ya Ling was my only friend at that age who was a big fan of pop stars; she had posters of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy and the Partridge Family up in her room. And she was also my first friend with a skateboard which we unsuccessfully attempted to ride in front of her house on her quiet street, and on the uneven stones of her back patio.

The Partridge Family

The Partridge Family

Ya Ling and her parents once took me into the city to Chinatown where we had a big feast of roast duck (my first time seeing a whole roasted animal and my first time trying hot curried bean curd) – they also bought a giant bag of fortune cookies that my friend and I ate in the back seat of their car all the way home – I remember it was raining because I can still see in my mind the shiny black streets and the bright glowing lights of Manhattan reflected in them.

One of my happiest memories was from when I was over for her birthday party and we were playing a dare game – it was my turn and and I had to go kiss one of her uncles. The men were downstairs playing some game at a table in the living room – they all seemed terribly old to me. So I ran downstairs with my friends giggling behind me, ran through the kitchen to the living room and kissed the lucky uncle who sat closest to the door on the cheek. Everyone laughed – it is one of those crystal clear memories for me, no doubt because of the heightened emotion of the moment and the intense feeling that I was suddenly part of a warm loving, happy family.


Can you see the difference? Fine Art Painting

PART 2: Paintings by a fine artist – my Dad Bernard Safran

First I’d like to say – illustrators are artists….(and humans)

In my last post I showed you several examples of my father’s illustration work done between 1947 and 1957. What I hope I got across is that when he did commercial illustration in the 1950s he had to implement other people’s ideas and styles to please his clients.

When he quit doing illustration work in 1957, he started to paint to satisfy only himself.

He employed time honored techniques to express his own unique point of view. Across his ouevre you can see changes in content and a freeing up of brushstroke through time – but the essence of his work remains his consistently.

Home From the Marsh by Bernard Safran, detail, 1978

If you click on this image you can see up close how my father painted. It is an almost impressionistic use of rich color – daubs, dots, lines – painted thick and thin, light and dark: the whole working to move across the form of each figure and to give defined textures to surfaces. There is no uniformity of brush stroke and no period style imposed on the figures – it is timeless.
The horse is alive with movement and light – you can almost hear it snorting, and see it swinging its head up and down while the girl’s calm demeanor is punctuated by the smooth surfaces of the clothing and skin.
Home From the Marsh by Bernard Safran, detail, 1978

I’ve intentionally loaded really large image files so you can see up close how my father laid down the paint (click on the image to see close up, then back arrow to return to post).

The paintings I’ve chosen very clearly demonstrate how he used color to build depth and to reinforce an emotional response. The paintings are a reflection of how my father felt – the paint directly expresses him. He is the master of the image, the composition, the colors, the textures, the light, the mood… the works are entirely his creations and not dictated to by anyone or anything but his inner artistic sensibility.

He, as the artist, was free to paint whatever he wanted however he wanted.

My father chose to paint realistically because he felt it was the most direct way to communicate his art to people. The paintings may make you think about the people in them, but he did not impose a story line or try to steer the viewer towards an opinion. He tried to show what he saw as honestly and openly as he could and hoped the paintings would evoke an emotional response in the viewer.

I’ve tried to show you work from both periods of his life to help you see that his fine art is representational – but it is not illustration.

Betty (with gold leaf) by Bernard Safran, oil on wood panel 1969/revised 1987

My father painted a series of family portraits every few years. In this period he was inspired by the beautiful gold leaf work of the Renaissance. The background is indeed gold leaf that he applied and worked the design into.
To see the head and how he defined the features through paint click on the image (and back arrow to return to page)… again, its very clearly his work as you can see from the way he applied the many colors of paint to create form and texture.
Betty (with gold leaf) by Bernard Safran, oil on wood panel 1969/revised 1987

As I mentioned in an earlier post – he was swimming upstream for his entire career – by choosing to paint realistically during a period when contemporary realism was at best considered a dirty word.

Its not an overstatement to say that he really painted for himself. By mid life he didn’t care if his paintings sold or not. And, later in his life he refused to sell any of his paintings – turning down shows and sales: the paintings were part of him, and by that point he didn’t give a damn what anyone thought of his art.

He carried on the traditional methods of painters and married them to modern imagery, bringing his own personal perspective of life to life. His work is not sentimental, slick or about beauty: it is not like the sentimental Victorian work of William-Adolphe Bouguereau that is often held up as the supreme of realism; or the sharp, slick images of Richard Estes who paints in the photorealist style.

Bernard Safran’s work is direct, honest, nuanced and painted with a masterful brush.

I truly believe that my father’s work stands alone in the 20th century – he left an incredible gift to the world of his art.

Bernard Safran, Sleeping It Off, oil on masonite 1986, 16" x 32.75"

This painting is from the New York series by Bernard Safran. In the series my father depicted people on the streets of New York City who are often overlooked by society – in his work he brings the viewer up close to the point that the viewer is forced to see the individual and his circumstances. The colors are applied in the same way as his other works: painted to give texture and form, and evoke an emotional response. The paintings of the homeless are particularly emotive… Click on the image to see the brushstrokes.
Bernard Safran, Sleeping It Off, oil on masonite 1986, 16″ x 32.75″

Can you see the difference? how my father’s work changed: illustration vs fine art

PART 1 – My Dad’s Illustrations from the 1950s

In this post I want to point out how my father’s illustrations are so different from his later works because sometimes I think people don’t recognize that he went from being a commercial illustrator to being a fine artist… both forms are representational you may say, so what’s the difference?  – well I’d like you to look more closely at the work and I’ll try to show you if I may…

In this post I’m going to concentrate on the commercial work that he did after graduating from Pratt Institute during the years 1947 to 1957. During this time he did a broad range of works from illustrating a children’s bible to making a giant billboard for beer.

Bernard Safran accounts ledger for illustration work

This shows some of the entries in my Dad’s accounts ledger for illustration work from 1953 – note how many jobs he had and how little he made for each (this just shows 2 publishing companies, there are many many more for the year).

I’ve already written about his disillusionment with the industry and his desire to do more fulfilling work – leading him to take 6 months off in 1956 to study the Old Masters and refine his eye and technique.

One of the things he found so difficult to accept was the fact that he had to work within a very limited range of artistic interpretation – meeting the publishers demands for content, colors and often the layouts. So the desired final work had to satisfy the publisher not the artist.

1950s bra ad borrowed from -

Ah – the 1950s when men were men and women had really tiny waists and pointy boobs.
This is NOT by my Dad – I’ve included it because I want you to think about the 1950s and how there is a very definite look to the time period. And if you look at this art you’ll notice some very clear stylistic points (no pun intended) that resonate in my father’s work from the 1950s – have a look specifically at the sylization, the limited color palette, and the weirdly fake loving couple and notice its not at all “painterly“.
1950s bra ad

The illustrations had to be current and meet the style of the day – 1950s all the way. Even the brushstrokes had to fit into the current trends with a certain coarseness – the whole piece had to be marketable to the 1950s audience… representing a certain idealized plastic quality to life.

Further limitations were placed on him, especially when he was doing Pulp Fiction covers (see my earlier post) – he had to be careful of the moral codes restricting certain sexy depictions but at the same time make the paintings as trashy as possible – so tree branches had to be covering just the right areas of a naked woman; shirts could only be open on certain parts of the torso; no nipples could be showing, and so on. The Pulp publishers pushed him to work to the limit of the prohibitions and in many cases made him re do layouts and compositions repeatedly to meet their demands.

Far Flies the Eagle, detail of book jacket by Bernard Safran

Let’s be honest here: this is a pretty awful illustration. Because I’m familiar with my Dad’s work I can tell that he was working to somebody’s specifications here regarding the composition and the look of the two main figures. He obviously had to make the chick look like some sexy 1950s B actress (not at all like an historical representation of a real Russian countess), and the guy also looks like some 1950s ideal white guy (and a stuffed dummy too). Notice that even though she is pretty much showing off her goods full on, the guy is stoically looking into the distance – there is no eye contact – it wouldn’t do to make it too overtly sexy… The landscape in the back is very nice however, and he added what looks like Napoleon on his horse in the background (my Dad was fascinated by Napoleon and read all about him frequently). It also looks like he cut his losses and put a lot of effort into the crest – he had to have something in this that he could be proud of!
Far Flies the Eagle, detail of book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc 1954 

With many of the publishing jobs, he was given limited color palettes with which to work – depending on the budget for printing – sometimes only using black and white, or a minimal three colors for example.

And there were obvious creative restrictions on layouts too – he had to work around the type, titles, and with novels – the spine of books when creating art for covers.

The business was all about the sale: illustrations  had to be compelling to the consumer so they’d buy the publication – he had to make it eye catching, and make it communicate the story or product in a quick glance.

There was little or no consideration of the artist’s vision or his personal point of view. With many jobs the artist was treated primarily as a technician who could create the publisher’s vision.

This isn’t the illustration of NC Wyeth or Arthur Rackham – this is the stuff that 1950s publishers were looking for and the only work my father could get during that time. Photography was already dominating and replacing the illustration business in most fields.

Its very difficult to make a living with art as your primary source of income – and my father was at least able to say that he did support his wife and his first child with that income solely. Each job was a little bit of money – he had to do multiple jobs at the same time, and quickly, in order to get enough to live on.

Sample illustration from portfolio by Bernard Safran, guache on illustration board, 1949

This is a sample my Dad made up to show to publishers. Its very skillfully done and meets all the same criteria as the illustrations above: limited color range (black and white is the cheapest to reproduce); models that look like 1950s starlets and stars; its simplified and stylized; and its easy to “read” from a distance – it broadcasts what the story is about – you see a guillotine; beautiful aristocrats in love; France in the 18th century – adventure, drama, intrigue, death, sex….
Sample illustration from portfolio by Bernard Safran, guache on illustration board, 1949

There are many other examples of artists who did commercial work before they went on in their careers to be recognized as fine artists – Winslow Homer is perhaps the most well known.

I’m not meaning to be apologetic about my Dad’s illustration work – I only want people to see how its different from his later work… which I’ll be writing about next for your comparison…

Time and the Wind, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Macmillan Publishing 1951

This is an example of my Dad’s illustration work from 1951: Please take note of how stylized it is, and note the limited palette (3 colors) that was used to reduce printing costs. In this case the editor probably insisted on what characters had to be shown and might have even demanded he adhere to the company’s layout suggestions. The woman has that definite 1950s style face and hair (Audrey Hepburn? Ava Gardner?).
You can see there is very little in the way of artistic interpretation happening here; my Dad is doing the minimum to please the publisher and still make it professional – the drive behind this is to sell the book. (and the monk is my Dad by the way)
Time and the Wind, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Macmillan Publishing 1951

Jeb Stuart the Last Cavalier, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc 1957

This is one of the few illustrations that my Dad did that he really liked. It was one of the last commercial jobs he took in 1957 just before he got work with Time Magazine. He was a huge reader of Civil War history and so this assignment was a special treat to him. He also enjoyed and excelled at painting horses – many people just don’t get the muscular anatomy right when doing horses – but he was great at it.
Jeb Stuart the Last Cavalier, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc 1957

1950s: Other Illustrations by my Dad, Bernard Safran

Bernie, my Dad, worked as a commercial illustrator for 10 years – from 1947 to 1957. Ultimately he found the work unrewarding and was disappointed to find that the business was dying and there was little if no demand for work like the great illustrations of his childhood. The work was strictly commercial and had to fit into the slick 50s looks that were fashionable at the time regardless of his preferences. And he had to work within the limitations of the printing industry – the moral codes, the color restrictions (for cost), the layout with type, its readability and saleability from a bookshelf, and so on.

Passion In The Pines, Pulp Fiction cover by Bernard Safran, Beacon Books 1956

Pulp cover by Bernard Safran

I didn’t want to give the impression in my last post that my father mostly did Pulp Fiction covers in the 1950s – its just that those covers are hot auction items at the moment with a lot of collectors of Pulp Fiction art out there… so you can Google my Dad’s name along with Pulp Fiction and see quite an assortment of his covers if you’re interested.

Its harder to find his other illustration work online, but he did illustrations for a wide range of publishers including Popular Science, Random House, Macmillan Publishing, Doubleday and Co., Woman’s Day, Henry Holt and Company, Signet Books, Magazine Digest, and many more.

By 1957 my Dad was burned out and feeling down about the work he’d produced in his ten years since art school. He was proud of some of the illustrations – but the majority of his work was done quickly and to the specifications of other people – not driven by his own vision.

So I thought I’d share a few examples of his other illustration work for those of you who might be interested… some of the books were by very famous authors at the time believe it or not (like Philip Wylie who wrote When Worlds Collide).

Lion by Bernard Safran, pen and ink , published in Outdoor Life 1951

Lion by Bernard Safran, pen and ink , published in Outdoor Life 1951

Gray Fox, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc. 1955

My Dad was a big Civil War enthusiast and read everything he could about it – we even did a tour of battlefields when I was about 10. He especially enjoyed illustrating books on this subject.
Gray Fox, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc. 1955

The Dice of God, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc 1956

The Dice of God, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc 1956

Pleasure Cruise, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Rinehart & Company 1956

Pleasure Cruise, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Rinehart & Company 1956

Time and the Wind, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Macmillan Publishing 1951

Time and the Wind, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Macmillan Publishing 1951

The Fabulous Train, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc. 1955

The Fabulous Train, book jacket by Bernard Safran, Ben Feder Inc. 1955

A Land to Tame, book jacket by Bernard Safran 1956

A Land to Tame, book jacket by Bernard Safran 1956

Sample illustration from portfolio by Bernard Safran, oil on illustration board 1951

Sample illustration from portfolio by Bernard Safran, oil on illustration board 1951

1950s Pulp Fiction Covers

Paul Revere by NC Wyeth 1922

Paul Revere by NC Wyeth 1922

My Dad had high hopes when he was in school. He was inspired to be an illustrator by the works of NC Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Arthur Rackham and other artists who were at the time considered great illustrators and great artists in their own rights.

When he graduated from Pratt after serving in WWII (see earlier posts pre 1960) he was excited to join the ranks of the great illustrators. He was determined to only take work that was painting or drawing.

After pounding the pavement for months trying to find work in New York City, he realized that he didn’t know anything practical about the illustration business. So to learn how to survive in NYC as an illustrator, he joined the Gail Phillips Illustration Studio in November 1947 (he’d apprenticed at another studio earlier that year but quit after three months when he’d learned all he could there).

At Gail Phillips he rented space and worked for commission on jobs that came through the owning business. It was tough to make any money there, but he put in the hours and learned everything he needed.

He went on to work at two more studios – the last one run by an agent where he could work independently but still use the facilities, including the photo studio where he hired models and did his own reference photographs. He had several models that he worked with over the years – women with the contemporary look that was in demand at the time.

Outdoor Life Magazine cover 1951 by Bernard Safran

This is my handsome Uncle Charlie posing for my Dad for the cover of Outdoor Life.

He eventually gave up the commercial studio space to work from home in order to save money.

He also needed a full time agent devoted to getting him paying work. So my mother managed to get fired from her illustration job at a publishing company, and became his agent, (figuring they’d make more money selling his art).

She went out 5 days a week to all the publishers in NYC with my Dad’s portfolio and smiled and chatted her way into getting him work.

Because she was friendly and didn’t take offense at rude behavior it was an easier job for her than it would be for my father – and since it wasn’t her work she was less inclined to take editor’s changes and criticisms personally; she could bring these comments back to my father and smooth the waters. She got him all sorts of illustration jobs including an entire children’s bible, full page work for magazines like Boy’s Life, and covers and interiors for literary books.

Bernie Safran in reference photo of cowboy

Bernie Safran in reference photo of cowboy. Here he’s using his childhood cap gun that was a beautiful replica of Tom Mix’s ivory handled silver gun.

But what he is perhaps best known for today by collectors are his pulp fiction covers.

For financial reasons, my mother became his model for many of the source photos he needed. He had already been using himself for most of the male figures he painted – occasionally calling on his handsome brother in law for a modelling job now and then.

My mother was also the set dresser and photographer’s assistant during these sessions. Props were bought when necessary like my Dad’s cowboy hat, but usually my parents used scarves of my mother’s and brooms or whatever they had at hand to represent the size and weight of whatever object had to be painted.

Bernie Safran with professional model in reference photo for Pulp Fiction cover

Bernie Safran with professional model in reference photo for Pulp Fiction cover

My Dad also kept a large image file on hand – clippings on all sorts of topics that he could use as reference material. I loved going through all those files when I was a kid – especially the one on horses that he kept for doing Westerns. (The files had to be trashed in the 80s due to mildew damage.)

He painted more than 40 pulp fiction covers during this time. It was relatively easy money – and he was good at it.

Croyden Publishing gave him the most jobs. He was able to capture just the right amount of sleeze but still keep it in the parameters of the current laws. For example, when he had to paint a woman with her shirt being ripped off, there were absolute limits to what could show and how it could be shown.

Indiscretions of A French Model by Bernard Safran, Croyden Publishing Co. oil on canvas board, 1953

My Dad was only paid $100.00 for this cover. You can see him in the foreground – the other guys were probably also himself, painted with different faces.
Indiscretions of A French Model by Bernard Safran, Croyden Publishing Co. oil on canvas board, 1953.

The publishing companies tried their best to work around these prohibitions and made my father revise some of the covers multiple times. They regularly demanded other changes too – in gestures (again circumventing the codes), in colors (fuschia is the most eye catching color on book stands) and in content.

Dealing with these myriad problems and changes gave my father an invaluable base of knowledge and self confidence to go forward – though the endless revisions drove him mad at the time.

He only made between $100 to $250 a cover. He knew the covers were trashy and not his best work, but he needed the money.

There are some covers where you can see he put a lot of effort in, and others that he obviously didn’t give a damn.

Backroad Motel, cover by Bernard Safran

My father is very clearly the guy in the green jacket (clearly to me) and probably the guy in the back too with some imaginative adjustments. The woman very likely was my mother foxed up.

But interestingly enough, his pulp covers of the 1950s are currently his hottest sellers at auction today…

…which I do find kind of sad given that his later works are so magnificent…

However, I say its all good. The more people who know the name Bernard Safran the better.

Ain’t Life a Bitch?

In an earlier post (A Painful State of Mind) I wrote about the early influences in my father’s life that might have had some bearing on his mental health. Now I’m going to write about things that happened in the 1960s that seemed to reinforce his misery and paranoid beliefs…

Bernie with beard, c 1960

My father Bernard Safran – the only time he ever grew a beard – it didn’t last long, c 1960

In 1965 my father Bernard Safran, was deep in the throes of depression and paranoia. Everyone and life in general, just seemed to conspire against him.

The last cover portrait my father painted for Time Magazine was of Fidel Castro in August 1965 – it ran in October of that year and was featured on a double page spread in the New York Times.

The only other commercial job he did during this period (1967) was a cover portrait of Jackie Kennedy for The Ladies Home Journal: a very high profile person on a very successful magazine. (my father had already done a number of portraits of the Kennedy’s for Time)

But when it was published, the editors decided to put the portrait inside the magazine instead of on the cover, and they reversed the image. This was unforgivable to him – everything looks ‘not right’ when a face is printed backwards – there are subtle differences between the features that we recognize unconsciously as normal but when they are reversed look wrong – a lower lid on one side, a difference in a nostril, and so on. Its also looks wrong because its not how the artist meant for the work to be seen – he’s already worked out the composition and the focal point, etc. for it to have the right visual impact.

He felt that Time had interfered and done this against him – he was convinced that he was blacklisted and he’d never work again.

When he left Time in 1965, he had no income coming in so we were living off my father’s savings. He took a chance and decided to join Portraits Inc. to try and get some “bread and butter” work.  Portraits Inc. is a large business that acts as an agent for portrait artists and provides commissions. My father was unable to get any work through them however, despite having been one of the most popular and lauded portrait artists in the country just months before. Again he believed that Time had interfered and this was just more proof to him that he’d been blacklisted.

Fitzgerald Gallery with Adele and Betty 1965

Fitzgerald Gallery with Adele and Betty 1965

In 1965 he had his first solo show at the Fitzgerald Gallery located at 718 Madison Avenue in NYC from November 9th – December 4th. The day before the opening, the art critic John Canaday of the New York Times came to review the show and met with my father at the gallery. He was very genial and appreciative of my father’s painterly abilities, but his published review the next day was devastating for my father – he said that he felt that my father had not fully integrated the figures into the scenes and that many people simply would not relate to the subject matter – a criticism, by the way, that my father had to agree with. After brooding over it for a while my father destroyed most of the paintings – representing several years of work.

But there’s more…. The Fitzgerald show opened at 5pm on November 9th, at just about the same time that the Great New York Blackout started: the entire northeast coast of the US and all the way up into Canada lost electrical power for about 12 hours.

christ on cross by Bernard Safran

Christ on the Cross by Bernard Safran (destroyed by artist) oil on masonite? dimensions unknown

New York City was completely shut down – no lights, no trains, no heat. Obviously, no one came that night for the opening – so my father and Ed Fitzgerald drank warm champagne and slept on the cold floor of the gallery all night until the trains were back up and my father could come home.

In 1968 the timing for my father’s second solo show at the Capricorn Gallery in Bethesda, Maryland (a suburb of Washington D.C.) was as terrible as for his first show in New York City. The Capricorn show was scheduled to open on April 5th, but the circumstances that arose were dreadful – just the day before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. The country was in shock over the murder, and within hours Washington, D.C. erupted into one of the worst riots in US history. The National Guard, US Marines and troops of the US Army were called in to restore order. Very few people ventured out of their homes for days. (my father was a great admirer of Dr. King for the record)

My father did sell works from both shows and continued to sell works through the Capricorn Gallery well into the 1970s but he never achieved the fame and money he’d enjoyed during his Time years.

Please consider, dear reader, that this was the 1960s and realist art was empirically treated with derision and disfavor during this period. Very few artists would do realist art at this time, and even fewer galleries sold their work. The Fitzgerald Gallery and Capricorn Gallery were rare on the East Coast of the US, in that they only showed representational art during this time. (Capricorn’s roster included such 20th century painters as Manon Cleary, Andrea Way, Peggy Bacon, Adolph Dehn, Audrey Flack, and Moses Soyer.)

One and Three Chairs by Joseph Kosuth, 1963 MOMA collection

An example of Conceptual Art from the 1960s:
One and Three Chairs by Joseph Kosuth, 1963 MOMA collection

The 1960s is synonymous with the modernist movement in art – and every kind of modern art was being touted as the new big thing (Conceptual Art, Pop Art, Op Art, Color Field Painting, Performance Art, etc, etc,); this is the period that artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein made it big.

By choosing to paint realistically, my father had chosen a very difficult path to follow and though he understood that it would be an uphill battle to be accepted by the critics – I don’t think he believed that it would be such a one-sided war. And worse, my father’s humanist point of view was considered by those in the know to be old fashioned at best – his personal vision just didn’t jive with what was in favor during his entire life.

Self Portrait by Bernard Safran, December 1960, oil on masonite, 9" x 11"

Self Portrait by Bernard Safran, December 1960, oil on masonite, 9″ x 11″

Its not an easy thing to be dismissed so readily, especially when what you are putting out there is part of your heart and soul. But the thing is – he had no choice – his art was what mattered most to him and he had to do it the way he felt it – not the way that would be fashionable – it had to be meaningful to him.

to be continued…

Rockaway Days – back to the 1960s

Beach Baby Betty

Beach Baby Betty

I grew up going to the beach. It was something that our family did regularly in the hot summer months. In an earlier post I wrote about going to Rye Beach in Westchester County, NY which was relatively close to where we lived in Bronxville.

Well, we also went to Rockaway Beach a lot (located on the South Shore of Long Island) in Queens, NY. Rockaway is on the Atlantic Ocean.

The waves and currents can be big and strong there, and I spent a lot of time getting pounded by them while I jumped through them crashing over me.

Surfing at Rockaway Beach

Surfs up at Rockaway Beach – notice the giant boulder breakwater to the left

My parents were both strong swimmers and could get out beyond the surf to swim up and down the beach.

They always kept a wary eye on me – if I got too deep or too close to the piers and giant rocks of the breakers.

Some of the time I spent making sandcastles by dripping wet sand through my fingers till it built up Gaudi-esque towers and masses. betty with pail111

Other times when it wasn’t too busy I loved running into a huge group of gulls that were resting on the shore and having them fly up and around me. I also hunted for shells and other interesting finds that had washed up – like shark egg casings, different jelly fish (even Man of War jelly fish) or crabs.

And I enjoyed drawing in the sand with a found piece of driftwood and watching the tide wash my lines away.

If I was hanging out on the beach blanket with the rest of my family I was likely listening to my groovy baby blue plastic transistor radio (it had a perforated black plastic/leather-like slip case). I listened to the current hits of course.

My father would lie on the blanket and read or just rest. My mother would sit patiently piecing her patchwork quilts with tiny stitches.

1960s transistor radio

My little radio looked a lot like this except it was baby blue

We very often set up our blanket by one of the life guard stands. One summer we were near one guy in particular and he had a girlfriend with a polka dot bikini and I thought they were the greatest. His name was Larry and I cannot remember his girlfriend’s name – only the bikini.

The life guards at Rockaway were stretched all along the beach and when something terrible happened like someone drowning or drifting out to sea or sharks showed up – one after the other they’d stand up and wave and whistle to the next guy down the beach… and they spent an awful amount of time whistling and gesturing to people in the water. It was very exciting when Larry would take off into the water to rescue someone.

Rockaway lifeguard

An actual Rockaway Beach lifeguard in action

Rockaway Beach, photo by Bernard SafranOnce in a very little while, my Dad would get sentimental and go buy all of us some hot fresh knishes from some vendor – that was a real treat – they were greasy, and salty and yummy. Most of the time however, we took our lunch with us. We’d each get a can of soda – I liked grape flavor or Dr. Pepper – and usually tuna sandwiches with complimentary sand, and homemade cookies.

My father loved the beach so much I remember going to Rockaway when it was awful and cold and windy and being forced to suffer there wrapped in sweaters sitting on the blanket near the boardwalk and seeing rats scurrying underneath.

But mostly it was wonderful there, and hot and crowded. Kids were always spraying you with sand, beach balls flying around, guys doing handstands – you get the picture – wall to wall humanity and no sense of personal space. rockaway nyc parks Even if the beach was empty someone would walk miles to come and sit 4″ away.

Airplanes were always coming in and going out of the JFK airport over us and it was fun to try and identify the planes – it was like all the world was going by up there.

The drive to and from Rockaway from our house in Bronxville, was as I remember it, very long and often incredibly hot. There always seemed to be some horrific car accident on the way there or back that slowed traffic to a crawl; accidents so yucky that my parents would make us girls put our heads down in the back seat til we were well away from the deadly scene.

Bernard Safran, Boats, Broad Channel, oil on illustration board, 1957

Sometimes we’d drive through Broad Channel in Jamaica Bay to get to Rockaway Beach. I loved to go that route and see the houses on stilts and all the boats. This painting is by my Dad.
Bernard Safran – Boats, Broad Channel, oil on illustration board, 1957

It was an especially grueling drive in the heat with a sandy, pebbly, shell and seaweed filled bathing suit on. It was so itchy, I remember sliding around in the back seat to try and get comfortable (before there were seat belts).

I also remember taunting my sister a lot as I got more and more bored – putting my toe or my finger over the territorial line that divided the back seat in half. This usually led to me giggling hysterically and her getting really upset.

Since I was the youngest I got the last shower when we got home – which I thought very unfair (just one of many injustices in a long list of things I found unfair as the youngest). But by the time I was clean and dressed my mother would have dinner ready. It was a pretty great time to be a little kid.

For your listening pleasure click on this link: Rockaway Beach by the Ramones


Rockaway boardwalk hurricane damage 2012

Hurricane Sandy damage to Rockaway’s epic boardwalk 2012.
photo: Todd Maisel/New York Daily News

Hurricane Sandy destroyed Rockaway Beach and many of the coastal communities near it in 2012. It cost about $140 million to open the beach for 2013. To repair the boardwalk they estimate it could top another $200 million. Before Hurricane Sandy, Rockaway Beach had approximately 7.8 million visitors a summer.