Now age 76 and an internationally exhibited artist, Alan Soffer was well into his 30s and leading a successful and satisfying career as a dentist when he first felt the stirrings of artistic awakenings. When came on, they did so with a rush and grip.
Evidence of art's abiding hold on the late-blooming Media, PA, artist may be experienced in Soffer's celebratory 40-year retrospective, 'I Never Owned A Lawnmower'. The wide ranging multi-media exhibit opens at the Villanova University Art Gallery on Monday, March 3.
Students are invited to a free public reception to meet the artist on Friday, March 14, from 5 to 7 pm, in the Gallery, located in the Connelly Center, 2nd floor. Refreshments will be served. Convenient and free on-campus parking is available. The exhibit continues to April 7.
Works presented in the richly-stocked, chronologically ordered exhibit mirror Soffer's artistic journey from its origins in ceramic and clay sculptures, to print work, representational and abstract paintings, to his more recent abstract work in the ancient heated wax process of encaustic, which combines Soffer's favorite mediums of painting and sculpture.
Works offering a folkloric look at dentistry by the graduate of the Temple University School of Dentistry are included in the exhibit. Students are invited to a free talk Soffer will give on the ancient art on Sunday, March 23, at 3 pm, in the Art Gallery.
In each piece he does, Soffer strives for strong impression and remembrance. “I want to leave art that matters, that has a presence; art that when you pass by it, you're compelled to stop and absorb it. I want my work to have a lasting impact,” he says.
That's not where Soffer felt his work stood in the mid-1980s, some 13 years after launching himself as a sculptor/painter. Self-taught, he felt he had taken painting “about as far as I could by the seat of my pants.” Then came a life-changing encounter with the writings and teachings of the great mythologist Joseph Campbell and his thesis that self discovery is life's most important journey.
Launching himself in that pursuit, Soffer took courses at several leading art institutions, among them the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. During that process, he came across a course in encaustic, signed up and fell in love with the process.
With creative expression increasing its demands on his time, energy and focus, Soffer found it increasingly difficult to continue as a dentist: “I had loved dentistry, but I needed to get out of the office. Time was passing and I needed to express myself more completely.”
As he transitioned from a representational to an abstract painter, Soffer found his canvasses attaining the power he was seeking. Victoria Donohoe, the much respected art critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, saw in Soffer a “truly poetic gift for making his paintings coalesce into visions of quite remarkable beauty.”
With encaustic came more continuity and physical dimension to his work. A New York critic noted Soffer's ability “to transform translucent layers of color into almost sculptural constructs. Rare among abstract artists, ”he never repeats himself,” the reviewer observed. A critic reviewing his exhibit, 'Circle of Life', saw his work as a “contemplation on the endless continuum of existence.”
Inspired to share his knowledge, Soffer organized in 2005 the first national conference on encaustic. In teaching, he believes, he has – if he does it right – the opportunity to leave messages more lasting than the power of his paintings.
One of the greatest teachers of his time, Joseph Campbell believed that success in teaching lies in the ability of teachers to “reveal the radiance of their own discovery.” Conversational and candid, Soffer believes himself to be a good teacher: “I'm a straight shooter and I get the artist's struggle.”
The 'I Never Owned a Lawn Mower' name Soffer gives his Villanova exhibit has nothing to do with lawn mowing. It's his descriptor for the 'busyness' of daily living that denies one the opportunity to pursue the important things, the most important being the revelation of 'self''. To keep the clutter at bay, the artist has dedicated himself to never becoming “a 'Mr. Fix It' around the house – or yard.”
The Art Gallery is open weekdays from 9 am into most evenings. For extended and weekend hours, and other information, telephone the Gallery at (610) 519-4612. Selected works for 'I Never Owned a Lawnmower' by may be previewed on the gallery’s website at www.artgallery.villanova.edu.