The artist and the gallerist have been friends for over forty years and as I walked into galerie Claude Bernard on rue des Beaux Arts, I could feel their long acquaintance. It was such a beautiful moment. This legendary space where so many sculptors and artists of the 60’s have found a life, was crowded on opening night but the dozen or so very large watercolors and pastels were so stunning that one could make abstraction of the public. The artist Sam Szafran was absent but his wife Lilette gracefully aknowledged compliments fusing from everyone’s lips.
A youngish collector was trying to explain to his uninterested girlfriend who Sam Szafran was: « he hates gatherings of more than five people, he is very discreet ». There were a couple of elegant diplomat friends and some society ladies who, like me, had attended earlier the opening of photographs at MEP (Maison Européenne de la photographie) and decided that the Left bank was a better option for the night. How right they were !
The large watercolors and pastels on (mostly) paper are a miracle of talent and pleasure. If you are familiar with Sam Szafran’s art, you know that he has developped two themes in his life : dark fascinating spiral staircases and philodendrons, an invading plant, discovered near Tours at Claude Bernard’s house in the 70’s and which he has since grown into a jungle in his own studio.
Tonight, his wife is the main actor of the wild forest. She is surrounded by their dog, his pastel boxes, a Gaudi chair, a tall stove. She is a small figure in the gigantic green or beige jungle background, overwhelmed by what has become an obsession for the painter, large leaves with veins. In the beautiful catalog, art historian Jean Clair admires the disproportion of the foliage, its craziness and threatening presence.
The details of these 3 meter wide watercolors are vertiginous and each foliage is painted with a combination of colors, from green to beige and blue. The exhuberance could seem invading to one’s eye, it is actually very reassuring to me, very tender. On one of the large works, the kraft paper shows through the foliage and gives it even more substance.
This show is full of mystery, love and magic and if you spend some time in the gallery, the works invade your senses and make you feel happy.
Afterwards, everyone gathered at l’Alcazar, the nearby restaurant where Claude Bernard was gracefully smiling to his guests. Strangely enough, it is decorated with large green plants falling from the balcony, a coincidence that a few guests noticed. And I discovered a new excellent champagne, Esterlin.
(Galerie Claude Bernard, 5 rue des Beaux Arts, a catalog is published of the show, until March 3)
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