DONALD SAAF ARTIST STATEMENT
Although my new paintings are to a certain extent an ode to the local experience of our community and a mirror of my surroundings, I am always striving for the universal. Beneath the surface qualities, I try to view the pictures simultaneously as their ‘subject matter’ and also as a pure abstraction.
On the surface, I’m influenced by Outsider and Folk Art from around the world and my methods are not too far from a quilt makers methods, breaking down the composition into organic forms and shapes. I usually begin with a compositional idea, and once that is established, I let things grow organically. I’m always hoping to ‘solve’ the picture in a way that is surprising to me. I’m happiest when the outcome is not entirely what I planned.
I’m interested in memory; the memory of place and experience. The memory of walking down a street imagining the view from a birds eye view, while simultaneously seeing a house in the distance, noticing small objects on the ground and briefly experiencing other people’s lives as they pass by. Painting is a good way of capturing many different events and emotions occurring over a long period of time and condensing it into a single moment.
If I am not happy with the way a face is painted I draw it again on top of the original, and the face that I like lies somewhere in the space between the two. I like to leave remnants of all stages of the painting process. In another more deliberate sense however, these ‘ghost’ images become a literal manifestation of the larger spirits of the figures; the life energy that is too big to be only contained inside the body. Personally, I often have the sensation of not being in my body, but of hovering somewhere above it, and this feeling is also something I hope to translate into image.
With the new work I have been thinking of the idea that every thing is made up of relationships. Families are made of separate people, people are made of spirit and matter, atoms made of electrons, etc. There are no basic building blocks, because every element is always made up of smaller elements. In an attempt to transplant this concept into a 21st century ‘folk’ painting, I’m moving away from the singular personal story line to one that focuses more on the community, and the great ocean of souls from which we all emerge. In one sense there is a story being told on the canvas but if you look closer, it’s made of colorful pieces of fabric with histories of their own; fabrics which are in turn made of individual colored threads. It’s a harmonious collection of shapes and blocks of color that only tell a linear story in your imagination.
The name of my latest show is 'The Stuff of Which All is Made’ and it comes from a passage from the Upanishads
“As by knowing one piece of clay,
We come to know all things made of clay
They differ only by name and form
While the stuff of which all are made is clay.”