Dogs made of wheels . Houses made of faces . Trees made of birds . Ladders made of sky. Bicycles made of clock-faces.
In the vibratory sing song world of painter Donald Saaf everything is at once itself (a businessman wearing a hat ) and also part of whatever it is contingent to. The business man in a hat also belongs to the tangent slice of sky he overlaps and to the neighboring form he abuts. In Saaf's depictions of small town life people and the spaces they occupy are co-arrising phenomena , interpenetrating each other's forms with a lyrically improvisational quality that mirrors the experience of a pedestrian at leisure, entering the day with its unforeseen encounters and sensations.
The seams that interlock these forms are incised giving Saaf's paintings the look of stained glass or manuscript illumination.
Saaf is a virtuoso of the keyed up palette , using pthalo stains and then tempering them with zinc and rich earthen siennas and brown oxides. Vintage patterns on antique papers and fabrics are woven into the panels , creating a folksy vibe buzzing with vitality and narrative possibility. This is American in a pastoral moment. Women wore gloves. Babies were pushed in prams. Men in boater hats reached up into filigreed trees, into dappled leaves made of sky and coins.
If the dominant mood in Saaf's work is one of multiplicity, particularly of multiple joys , then it would only follow due to the multiple talents and pursuits of Mr. Saaf. "The ABC Animal Orchestra ", a children's book, is the latest of Saaf's illustrative offerings. He is also a musical maestro, fronting The Bluebird Orchestra, a singer/ songwriter and accomplished musician who often collaborates in theatrical ventures with his wife, the painter Julia Zanes.
While the life of so prolific an artist requires periods of incubation, the subject material of Saaf's pangs depict a world beyond studio walls , a world which is often strenuously communal. Many panels move from acrylic medium and fabric back to oil and have the quilted quality of a folk parable, one that would be open to infinite meanings and without one particular narrative pathway. In this painted world of striped awnings that mimic the stripped pants of long-legged stilt striders , with shadows that cling to their host a la Peter Pan in the nursery, everything is enmeshed and interconnected. Sloping hills intersect with pie slices of light. Like a jewel embedded in a rock face refracting other jewels in any given facet , there is simultaneity and multiplicity but held in a centrifugal compositional swing that registers as music.
There are seemingly arbitrary scale leaps , an outsized hand floats midair next to a tiny head on an elongated frame. There is the sense that no on is rushing, not the birds not the clouds not the business man with his hat. This lack of hierarchy in scale coupled with uniform velocity delivers the message that no one constituent part is intrinsically more significant than any other. Saaf's brushwork intensifies this feeling in its rigorous even- handedness , in it's Whitman-esque "every blade of grass" ness. The extreme deliberateness and regularity of the paint handling results in a stabilized cadence. It's the slowed down tempo one doesn't usually associate with town life, but it's exactly the tempo one might require in order to * see * , to see that everything is in fact made of everything else and that the sun shines on everyone indiscriminately.
If the motif of the wheel , which grows tangents to become a face , and greater tangents to become limbs or branches or clock-hands, is the central motif - then it is a wheel off its axle , suspended under its rider. If the central motif is a ladder, it would be a ladder that doesn't expect to bear weight. It's beauty is in the bridging of gaps and realms, in its easy incline . For speed and utility are secondary concerns in Saaf's work, secondary to the joy of ambulation and the possibility of the pedestrian's revelation : We live in a world with life all around us.
Look up through the filigreed branches and there is life vibrating in the cerulean sky. Walk down past the cemetery into the very interstitial root system that anchors those branches , and discover a faded phantom banjo player walking his dog. Or simply take a load off and loll in the middle ground on the green by the lake. These are calendar days. Close your eyes and hear the sweet laughter of picnickers . Someone is winding an old Victrola. The shoe- shiner is collecting flowers for the widow in the window made of of faces made of ladders made of birds made of song.