The Cynnie Paintings
Canada is pleased to present The Cynnie Paintings, Carol Saft's first exhibition at the gallery. Saft began this series of intimate paintings during the Covid-19 lockdown, when she and her wife Cynthia spent their days and nights alone together in their apartment on 23rd Street in New York. Saft, who is widely known for her documentary shorts about New York artists and her experimental video series, My Brother Todd, approaches painting in a similar way to how she makes films: “I’m someone who’s been looking through a lens for a long time: that framing is similar to how I set the scene in my paintings of Cynthia.”
Saft comes from a theatrical background: historically, her family was part of the Yiddish Theater on Second Avenue and she has an uncle who performed feats of strength as a strongman in a traveling circus. Saft looks upon painting “as a proscenium,” where the co-creation between audience and artist is of utmost importance, a means to connection and transcendence. “Like my films, the paintings drop the viewer down into the middle of a scene and are removed before anything is resolved. That drama is something that I really care about, getting a close view of a moment of action, that you are free to enter, free to embrace.”
In these ten paintings, which all depict scenes from the domestic sphere—in the bath, on the couch, in bed, cooking in the kitchen—time is slowed down and laid bare, it is malleable, limitless, and plentiful. Time is different, which makes life different. In Sleepers, Carol and Cynthia lie naked, deep in sleep, atop pillows that look like clouds amid a bright-blue background that could be the sky, the ocean, or the sheets on the bed. Saft often selects colors based on the emotions they evoke. “Blue creates a feeling of stillness and tranquility, like it’s the weekend and everything has fallen away. I choose colors as if I was lighting a theatrical scene.” In Buns, sweeps of pastel colors—sunny yellow cabinets, candy-blue walls, minty green counters—foreground a hunched Cynthia as she checks her buns in the oven. For Saft, the large expanse of the blood-red floor casts a sense of irony on an otherwise light scene: “It's an 'exclamation point' contrasting Cynnie's careful hand gestures here. The red is for drama.” Indeed, the irony of these direct scenes of domesticity being shared by two lesbians is most certainly the point. Katherine Bradford, who has been friends with Carol Saft since 1985, sees the work as filling a lack of lesbian representation in art and the larger world: “Here, we see and feel a real closeness; real bodies and real evidence of a life being lived together in 2022. The lesbian relationship is often left out of our stories or told luridly in a coded language. Here is a straightforward visual presentation of two mature women who are married and happy.”
The conditions under which Saft made The Cynnie Paintings, ample and flexible time, mimics the conditions that the paintings depict: a world where the urgency and demands of the outside world have ceased and there is potential for new intimacies, not just between the two people at hand, but for everyone: “With these paintings I’m trying to convey an ideal world, and for people to feel like they can enter it.”
Carol Saft is an artist, filmmaker, and activist. She was born in Newark, New Jersey, and attended the Pratt Institute New Forms program, later receiving a full fellowship to the MFA program at SUNY Purchase. Most recently, her paintings have been shown at Garageland Gallery, NYC; Marquee Projects, Bellport, NY; and Mt. Airy Contemporary, Philadelphia. Her video work has been shown nationally and internationally at film festivals, museums, and galleries such as the Smithsonian Institute, DC; Aurora Picture Show, Houston; the United Nations World Conference; the Islip Art Museum, East Islip, NY; the Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, NY; the Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY; Pierogi Gallery, Brooklyn; Diverse Works, Houston; and CableVision’s 28sec project. She has had grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, the International Film and Television Workshop, CableVision Systems, a New York Foundation for the Arts exhibition grant, and the New York Community Trust. Saft has been awarded residencies at Abrons Art Center, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Cooper Union Summer Residency, and most recently, the Merritt Island invitational residency. Her work has been reviewed in local and national publications including The New York Times, New Yorker, New York Newsday, Two Coats of Paint, Ocula Publication, the BerkeleyPress, Chelsea now, the SouthamptonPress, and the East Hampton Star. Saft’s works are held in the permanent collections of the Guild Hall Museum; Heckscher Museum, Huntington, NY; the Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill Center, NY; and The Museums of Stony Brook, NY.
– Written by Svetlana Kitto