Serenity Now: Coney Island through Doug Safranek’s Eyes

Although it is one of the earliest and longest lasting forms of paint, egg tempera is rarely seen in contemporary art. Used widely in religious works of the Renaissance and Baroque eras and later revived in the 20th century by artists including Andrew Wyeth and Ben Shahn, it hardly exists in painting nowadays. Egg tempera is made with ground pigment, water, and diluted egg yolk, mixed by the artist to order. Though it’s difficult to use and time-consuming overall, tempera allows the artist to be involved in every step of the painting process.

 New York City-based artist Doug Safranek works exclusively in egg tempera; the medium is well-suited to his artistic perspective. Every aspect of his paintings feels carefully studied, the product of a slowed-down process. His still-life paintings, though objectively unromantic, exude tranquility, nostalgia, and reverence for the fruit and vegetables on display, gently blanketed by a soft-focus haze. This calm admiration inhabits all of Safranek’s work, even paintings bustling with action and people. The Brass Ring (2010) shows dozens of Coney Islanders surrounding a merry-go-round ride; a ferris wheel looming overhead. Despite the commotion in the scene, there’s poignance and quiet to it, and it’s not for lack of detail—every person in the painting is rendered with great care. The same goes for Seescape (2011), in which a busy day at the beach becomes peaceful through Safranek’s vantage point.

 He has said of his work: “I like the idea of looking at these not obviously beautiful, rough landscapes and interpreting inner-city street scenes with a medium that generally was used for spiritual images.” Indeed, his Coney Island series captures moments in time we would easily let pass—there’s no crux to the scenes and no romanticizing of the subject matter. The settings and people within it are shown exactly as they are, painted with Safranek’s measured care.

—Makiko Wholey

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