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″


Paintings of Life on the Streets of New York City: 1960s and 1970s

As promised I am posting a few of my late father’s paintings of New York City. He chose the subject of life on the streets of New York because it was his home, and he knew it, and loved it.

The paintings give a humanist perspective onto the often overlooked people of the street. I will be writing more about this series of magnificent paintings in the future, but for now a small selection for your viewing pleasure – and Yes, they are paintings.

To see more paintings by Bernard Safran visit

PS the color of the reproduced images of the paintings below doesn’t really reflect the vibrant color they were painted with – I’m sorry for that (the color is better if you click on the image and go to the original upload which also shows more detail for some reason).

The bottom line is – you have to see them in person to really appreciate them. (Photography of paintings by Glen Reichwein)

Bernard Safran, In the Park, oil on masonite 1972, 24" x 30"

Bernard Safran, In the Park, oil on masonite 1972, 24″ x 30″

Close up of  In the Park by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite 1972, 24" x 30"

Close up of In the Park by Bernard Safran, oil on masonite 1972, 24″ x 30″
Please note that if you click on this image you can go to a one to one scale image of this.

Bernard Safran, Gossip, oil on masonite 1986. 19.75" x 28"

Bernard Safran, Gossip, oil on masonite 1986. 19.75″ x 28″

Bernard Safran, The Market, oil on masonite 1970, 24" X 30"

Bernard Safran, The Market, oil on masonite 1970, 24″ X 30″

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

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

Bernard Safran, The Alley, oil on masonite 1972, 33" x 38"

Bernard Safran, The Alley, oil on masonite 1972, 33″ x 38″

I Did Make the Cut! (briefly)

In one of my first posts (Posing Old Testament Style) I bemoaned my lack of X factor while modeling, and believed that my disheveled appearance led my father to cover me up in a photographic shot in favor of my more distinguished mother and sister.

I also wrote that I didn’t know of any painting done from these reference shots – but Lo and Behold! …

Bernard Safran, the Fitzgerald Gallery show 1965, unknown title for painting with angel

Bernard Safran, exhibited at the Fitzgerald Gallery 1965, interior shot of installation

I found a photo taken at the Fitzgerald Gallery from my father’s first solo show in 1965 that shows a painting with this very group, including me, stunned by an angel appearing over us. My father is collapsed in shock in the foreground in front of my mother. I am still only a blob of hair – but there I am.

I cannot find a title for this painting or any other reference for it in any of the ledgers or papers of my father’s. So I am assuming that it was destroyed after the show, not sold.

If anyone can suggest what this is depicting I would really appreciate hearing from you – I have been trying to figure out what scene from the Old Testament this is of.

Its interesting to see the other pieces that were for sale in the same area. I know the existence of one of the drawings of the angel on the left wall, but again have no record of sales for the other drawings shown in the room. Perhaps they were gifted.

And… another wonderful surprise for me – I found a Kodachrome slide of a painting that I have to assume was destroyed, of myself and my sister based on that funny photo of me with my fly down. And here I thought I didn’t rate!

Bernard Safran, unknown painting c 1965

My sister and I in a painting, that as far as I can tell, did not go in the Fitzgerald Gallery show in 1965. So I guess I made the cut only so far as a painting was painted – it was probably destroyed by my father soon after it was created.

I guess my Dad did appreciate my unique style. I have no idea if this was painted to be a portrait of us two girls or it was meant to depict something else.

In any case, I am happy to find these last remaining images.

… to be truly accepted for who I am… not in spite of my personal style but because of it!

I will write more about the1965 show in upcoming posts. Stay tuned.

The Safrans and the Drapers

I started watching the AMC series Mad Men like everyone else because it looked so cool, and its about the coolest people, and one of the coolest periods in recent memory (at least for those of us who lived through those cool times.)

Like many people, I am amazed at the attention to details that they manage on the show.

Sally Draper and Betty Safran wore this kilt

I wore the same skirt that Sally Draper did!

I was born in 1960 so I am on the tail end of those who can clearly recall everything about back then, but enough of the show hits me in the emotional center of my brain to make me remember things and feelings that otherwise would have remained buried in there.

1960s tartan book bag just like Sally Draper and Betty Safran had

Sally and I had the same book bag?

For instance I’ll get a sudden flash of recognition as a character walks by a wall near an elevator or a lobby, or the instant recall of a skirt or dress or some item that I knew.

All of my senses can come into play when I’m watching the show – and it can happen just from seeing some small item like the genie vases in the Draper’s apartment (see below).

Draper apartment with genie vases, AMC Mad Men

See those tall glass vases on the right side of the picture – we had them in our living room too – imagine that.

My father Bernard Safran worked at the Time Life Building in Manhattan just like Don Draper.

Time Life Building at Rockefeller Center

This giant black shiny building is the Time Life Building in NYC. It opened in 1959 and Marilyn herself was there to christen it. It was an iconic building then and it still is today. We’d drive by it and I’d think – “Daddy works there”.

He walked the actual halls, took the elevators, went to meetings there, had drinks in offices and ate weekly catered meals with suited men and kitten heeled women. In fact he was there a lot, from 1959 when the building opened, till 1966 when he stopped working for Time Magazine.

My Dad painted 73 cover portraits for Time. He was one of “The Stable” – a group of artists who were regularly commissioned and brought in to do cover art.

He worked closely with some of the most powerful men in American journalism at the time (no pun intended), including Otto Feurbringer and Jim Keogh and Henry Luce Sr. These men helped define American foreign policy and held a lot of power and sway.

In his book, The Powers That Be (Alfred A Knopf, New York 1979) David Halberstam writes about how even President Kennedy was intimidated and bullied by them.

These are the guys that my Dad would stay late with to have a drink.

Or he’d stay late with them to put the magazine to bed (get it into production and printed) which was a social event with lots of booze and food, and big name guests and other artists and writers would sometimes join them.

He was in the senior editorial offices when major news was breaking and so was privy to events before most people even knew they were happening.

Bernard and Adele Safran with Jim and Verna Keogh

My parents in the middle and Jim and Verna Keogh on either end. Jim Keogh was Executive Editor of Time, and later became head speech writer for the notorious Richard Nixon. (btw doesn’t Mrs. Keogh resemble Julia Ormond?)

So its kind of neat that my Dad’s painting of Conrad Hilton was included, nay, dare I say, featured in episode 306 of Mad Men – A Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency – (its one of the best episodes too in my opinion). Look for when Connie shows Don Draper that he’s on the cover of Time Magazine…

Well, how about that!