Carol Saft, Putting on a Zoom Face, 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 inches (Courtesy of Carol Saft and CANADA Gallery)


Carol Saft’s exhibit at Canada Gallery, The Cynnie Paintings, presents a visual diary of living in COVID quarantine with her beloved spouse, Cynthia. The paintings are small-scale, humble, joyful, and depict the safety and delicious privacy as expressed in the word home. Saft nails artificial and natural lighting, building on her experience as a documentary videographer to compose objects, figures, and interiors with changing and quirky focus. Cynthia is always center stage. Saft plays a supporting role; for instance, Sleepers shows the couple side by side in bed with Saft’s face bisected by the canvas’s edge, and Shower for Two depicts the couple showering while Saft’s back is turned to the viewer. Saft’s presence is asserted peripherally and most often through sketchy, impressionistic treatment of walls, paintings, dishes and furniture. Imaginatively reconstructing their apartment inch by square inch, Saft envelopes her spouse in a bubble of loving protection, where details closest to or belonging to Cynthia enjoy the most descriptive attention. Being enthralled with her mate’s aura serves both women, since painting their daily activities is both a buffer and spell against the outside world.

Putting on a Zoom Face shows Cynthia, in a harshly lit bathroom, applying makeup before she leads an online class. Saft painted the view from where she stands when she “waits her turn” in the morning. She says that “capturing this routine moment occurred spontaneously. Cynthia didn’t ‘model’ it for me. I couldn’t use a photo to complete her face in the mirror, because in the angle of the shot her face would be obscured by her head.” The painting carries the charge of one spouse preparing to encounter other people, to “go outside,” while the second watches and waits. Saft’s subdued role comes across as small inconsistencies in the room, bursts of odd details that resist integrating into a single perspective. At the edge of Putting on a Zoom Face, eyeglasses fixed parallel to the picture plane direct our gaze toward Cynthia. Near her, a drinking glass near sits awkwardly on the toothbrush rack at odds with an electrical outlet. The lack of spatial cohesion is amplified by provisionally ruled pencil lines that define a lavender tiled wall.

Once we enter Cynthia’s mirrored orbit and inhabit her self-scrutiny, her soft-focus body makes a pleasing cutout shape adjacent her dominant, mask-like face. She leans against such a believable sink that my legs feel cold. The faucet is solid and shiny as it should be, and Saft–caught in her partner’s gravitational pull–models it with deft pencil lines. Her dark dress shimmers in the chilly bathroom suggesting Joan of Arc, in chain mail, before a Zoom battle. Cynthia is the prime mover, the one on the go, the one who will be busy for the next few hours. Cynthia’s visage draws power from her superbly modeled profile, hair, neck, and torso; likewise, the reflected shower curtain is crisper and clearer than the real one. The world is improved by the mirror, just as being near Cynthia sharpens the scene for Saft. 

The anticipated lull in Cynthia’s company paired with Saft’s inconsistent realism enhance the pivotal nature and compression of Cynthia’s powerfully reflected face. Saft says, “the face in the mirror is a little bit of invention or imagined image. I discovered that one of the things possible when you are painting a diaristic life is that you can choose elements to emphasize. You aren’t bound to ‘photographically’ document your surroundings. The ‘truth’ of the moment can be an emotional truth.” The Cynnie Paintings, in particular Putting on a Zoom Face, survey a flourishing, emotionally whole couple by fixing Cynthia as polestar and Saft as shifting firmament.


Elizabeth Johnson, An April Evening, oil on canvas, 2022, 22 x 28 inches


An artist, art writer and guest curator, Elizabeth Johnson has written for,, artcritical.comFigure/Ground.orgThe Brooklyn Rail, and Solo shows have been held at Café Museo, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA); Canada College, Redwood City, California; Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture SFMOMA Artists Gallery; and Cedar Crest College. IG: elizjohnson2018