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Donald Saaf

June 2 - July 10, 2016

Opening Reception: Thursday, June 2, 5 - 7pm

Artist Talk: Saturday, June 18, 5pm


Artist Statement

For this new body of work, I have continued to be inspired by Folk and Outsider art from around the world; folk painters like Bill Traylor and Maud Lewis, Wood Carvers from Oaxaca, Mexico, the Quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend as well as collage artists like Romare Bearden.

I’m interested in art that takes the humblest of found materials and transforms them in an almost alchemical process. I’ve been using found materials from around my studio; old books, handwritten scraps of recipes and algebraic notes, walnut ink, gouache and printed fabric. In the past few years I have been working in oils, using a slower more methodical approach involving many transparent layers. With these new collage paintings, I have attempted to return to my roots and work in a more direct and immediate fashion, usually completing the work in one sitting.

I’ve tried to enter each picture with no preconceived notions, letting them unfold as they please. The gourd sculptures I have tried to approach in the same immediate fashion. The gourds were bequeathed to me by a beautiful person and expert gourd grower, Cheryl Fletcher, and these sculptures are made as something of a memorial to her.

- Donald Saaf


The show at Mitchell • Giddings Fine Arts offers a rare glimpse into the evolution of an artist who chose to stay within a discreet repertoire and to explore variations on his given theme in various dimensions and mediums.

Here we are shown large paintings, also drawings, which collage layers of antiquated papers and fabrics, as well as a coterie of three dimensional figures that use dried gourd pods as an armature. The paintings have been worked on for many years and depict Saaf’s characteristic scene, small town pastoral life on the sunniest day of the year. The drawings, which were done in one sitting, read as character portraits from the larger cast featured in the paintings.

The smaller works convey the authority and robustness of a master story teller. Rendered in walnut ink they have a deftness and lightness of tone that is both classical (classic as in the standard songbook) but also whimsical in their improvisational departure from motif. Saaf found inspiration during his years of living abroad in the local art scene of Nova Scotia, Mexico, and New Orleans. His inspiration is specifically folkloric, meaning that in whatever medium he is exploring he remains a raconteur. This feeling is heightened by the addition of the remarkable gourd creatures who freely inter-populate the space as if they had recently disembarked from one of the painted scenes encircling them. The effect, one might imagine, is not unlike encountering penguins on the Galapagos. They entirely disarm the 4th wall or whatever scrim might otherwise cordon the viewer as they seem to waft by on their own individualized floes.

To wander into this scape of azure skies raked with birds, effulgent trees shining with coins, pedestrians at leisure striding with health into the day, is to be uplifted. Donald Saaf gives us a world in this show of sing-song beauty, expressed with humor and dexterity. Here is an artist who has fully found his stride. 

- Lisa Mendelsund