Sam SZAFRAN

(Paris 1934 - Paris 2019)

Staircase

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Pastel on card.
Signed Szafran at the lower centre.
284 x 190 mm. (11 1/8 x 7 1/2 in.)
‘If I had known what I was letting myself in for, admits Szafran, I probably would never have bought my first box of pastels. I found myself, in 1958, fresh from abstract art, in front of these little multicolored sticks like a poverty-stricken child in a Belgian or Swiss delicatessen amidst an abundance of candy and cakes, and I seized them without even thinking. For twenty years I threw myself into this technique, because I was incapable of mastering it.’ (Gilles Néret, ‘Szafran ou la passion du pastel’, Connaissance des Arts, March 1980, p.92).

Drawn in 1980, the present sheet depicts one of Szafran’s favourite subjects; a staircase seen from above in steep perspectival foreshortening. The artist himself has noted that ‘The impression of the void, of vertigo, is the strongest sensation I have ever experienced. This can explain why my drawings always contain a hint of vertigo and that often, in front of my subject, I’m terrified by the calling of the void.’

A closely related drawing, of smaller dimensions, was one of several works by Szafran in the collection of Jacques and Anne Kerchache and was sold at auction in Paris in 2010. A much larger pastel of the same staircase, dating from 1981, is in the collection of the Musée national d’Art moderne at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Born Samuel Berger in Paris in 1934 to Polish immigrants, Sam Szafran took the maiden name of his mother when he began to sign his works in the 1960s. Although he was briefly enrolled at the Académie de la Grande-Chaumière in Paris in the mid 1950’s, he was largely self-taught as an artist. He exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1957 and two years later at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. While his earliest work was based in abstraction, from around 1960 onwards he began to depict representational subjects, drawn in dry pastels, charcoal or watercolour. Content with studying a limited range of subjects - notably studio interiors, staircases and plant forms - Szafran produced numerous drawings, each characterized by a very skillful handling of the medium and an abiding interest in perspectival effects. From 1965 onwards Szafran's work was exhibited extensively in France, and also in Switzerland, but only rarely elsewhere. Szafran contributed to the Nouvelle Subjectivité exhibitions curated by Jean Clair in Paris in 1976 and Brussels in 1979. His work continues to be exhibited widely, and works by Szafran are today in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., the Centre National d’Art Contemporain and the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris, and elsewhere. A retrospective exhibition of his work was recently held at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny, Switzerland.

Provenance

Anonymous sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 4 July 2000, lot 68
Galerie Nathalie Seroussi, Paris
Private collection, Paris, until 2012.

Sam SZAFRAN

Staircase