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″


6 thoughts on “Can you see the difference? Fine Art Painting

  1. Very beautiful. And I love the way you write about your father’s work. It shares a special vantage point. Did your father work from photographs? I’m an artist and I’m always interested in how other artists work.



    • Thanks for your comments. My father did work from photos – he learned how to in art school – it isn’t so much copying a photo as using a photo as a guide when you can’t have a live model in front of you. You have to understand form to interpret the flattened effects of a photo… My father’s work is realism but not photo realism – his work doesn’t slavishly try to reproduce the crispness of a photo – again its his interpretation through paint (color, form, texture, light) that forms his imagery. He also didn’t slavishly follow his photographic compositions unless they fit within his overall idea for the final painting. If you visit you can see a selection of some of his street photography that he did (several thousand images in total) that he used to inspire his New York series of paintings.

  2. I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes it’s dangerous to rely soley on photographs for painting. But an experienced artist who has worked a lot from life, knows how to use photos in a more creative manner. I’m very inspired by your father’s paintings as well as the way you write about them. I immediately shared it with my girlfriend. I’m from Cape Town, South Africa and portrait painting is really my soul journey ahead. Sorry if I’m replying as ‘Jettadude’. It’s my wordpress blog about building my 1992 VW jetta and I haven’t written in it for over a year. I do want to start using WordPress for my art as opposed to my Blogger blog.

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