H.M. Saffer II launched his artistic career at the tender age of six. Upon graduation from Temple University in 1965, he traveled to Paris to enroll in graduate economics courses while simultaneously performing with talented French musicians like Hugues Aufray, Jacques Brel, and Charles Aznavour. During this period, he was also the chef/owner of two restaurants in Paris. Remarkably, HM never stopped painting and exhibiting his works.
HM continued his music career in the United States at Warner Brothers Productions. All through this period HM’s art continued to refine and yet broaden in its scope. In 1981 he began to study the art of Japanese brush painting, Sumi-e.
He left for Japan in 1983 to study with the masters and there met his wife, Hisayo. While in Japan, HM adapted his Sumi-e techniques by applying Western styles of painting. HM reentered the United States in 1994 and took residence in Upstate New York. His style of painting began melding his Oriental influences with his Western styles to create a new and different path towards interpersonal visual expression, and his current works are a reflection of this mélange.
A Brief Q&A with the Artist
You have a unique style of oil painting—how did you develop it?
HM: About 10 years ago, I saw an exhibit of Gustav Klimt’s landscape paintings at the Clark Institute [Williamstown, Massachusetts] — I knew of his figurative work, but not his landscapes. And I noticed he used a type of pointillism that has different sizes and textures, not the same brushstroke like Seurat. And I said, “I want to try that.” So I started copying his motifs, and they turned out great – they sold — so I thought I’d develop this more. I was also a fan of Maxfield Parrish, so I started putting in some Maxfield Parrish skies, and I also added in some Van Gogh and Monet – so my work is a combination of all of my favorite artists. But it all started with an exhibit at the Clark.
Why oil painting?
HM: I use oils because they are more malleable. They link us to the Old Masters – there’s more depth, more luminosity. Also, they dry slower, and so they allow more time to go back, adjust, and fine-tune. Because of this slower drying time, oils are also great for painting en plein air (outdoors).
How do you teach oil painting? Any specific method?
HM: I teach using the same methods as used in the Art Students League of New York, the way my teachers taught me: I have everybody just painting. I tell them to just go ahead and paint, a still life, a landscape, in their own style, and if they want to learn a different style, I will show them how to do this. If they are having trouble with perspective, I will show them how. When the paintings are finished at the end of class, I will have each student witness a constructive critique, so they can learn what to add, subtract, and how they handled composition. A group constructive critique is very important; that’s how you learn. You can teach people how to learn to paint, but no one can teach you how to paint. This is important – it’s a big difference.
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