Interview: Kirk Saber
On any typical day, you can find a variety of vibrant, thought-provoking art by Kirk Saber at WestEdge Gallery in Solana Beach, California. Although the gallery may be closed during these hard times, behind its doors Saber spends this societal downtime creating new pieces. Self-quarantined inside the studio and his adjacent apartment with his girlfriend and countless art pieces surrounding him, he is utilizing the opportunity of these otherwise troubling times to create works of joy and wonder.
Having an interest in art throughout his life, Saber was self-taught and never went to an art school for a formal education in art. He took a deep dive into studying the old masters on his own, purchasing and reading any book he could get his hands on. He poured himself into all types of styles and picked up bits and pieces from all of the artists he has learned from. When he gets an idea, he can tap into all of the different styles he knows to create his own original works. The decision to dedicate himself to art as the means to support his livelihood occurred in Denver, Colorado. When Saber was in his 20s he worked at a Honda dealership and became their top salesman. One day he asked for time off because his family was in town. The boss said no because he was making the most sales out of everyone and he couldn't afford to not have him there. Saber immediately realized that he did not want to live a life where his time was at the mercy of somebody else. Also at the time, he was working to become an actor, and flew to Los Angeles for the filming of the series Falcon Crest. While flipping through a magazine on the plane he saw an article about a painter who sold their very first art piece for $100,000. Saber thought to himself “well I could do that”, but he hated when people said that and didn't follow through, so he told himself he had to do it. When he told his mom he was going to become an artist she insisted that he only do it as a hobby. Saber flew back to Denver to tell his girlfriend about his new career path and she left him shortly after. Saber had no financial support from his family and realized the emotional support would also be in short supply. Nevertheless, he accepted it was going to be a life change, and committed to it. After many weekends showcasing his work at street shows around LA, he sold his first painting in 1986 to a TV producer. Sales would be consistent and somewhat high at times, but on a few occasions, it would be an entire year between art sales.
Saber does not fall into one particular genre or style, which has proved to be an obstacle from the start and has continued to be throughout his career. Because of the diversity among his works, the galleries did not know how to market him. “Ironic how they want an artist to be repetitive, because then they become a manufacturer, defeating the entire definition of creativity,” Saber recounted. A unique style he used to work with was to paint swatches of color, take photographs of them, then cut up the photographs to make stained glass window style art. His current work could be described as anywhere between abstract or impressionistic, to soft nudist realism and subtle satire. He self describes it as contemporary and chooses not to be limited by a single style.
Saber likes his art to draw a reaction from the audience in a subtle fashion. Many of his pieces focus on the female form, such as one of his favorite pieces: One and a Half Lesbians, which incorporates newspaper clippings in an attempt to satirize the sexualization of lesbianism. Saber occasionally depicts the absurdities of humanity in his own way. His piece 911 there’s a black man in my painting is a take on how racism was getting so bad that people were calling the police on people of color. He likes to create shocking images that would captivate a person at a glance but then ideally lead to a serious conversation about the topic. He does not consider himself a political artist by any means, but loves to subtly showcase the ironies within human nature.
Art has had a huge effect on Saber’s life. The most profound effect that being an artist has had on him is how, as an artist, you look at the many different cultures in life, and you find beauty in the differences between people instead of fearing them. Saber’s father was a gangster and went to prison when he was 5 years old, leaving his family destitute and fending for themselves. His brother ended up in a boys reform school, but Saber chose to create his own environment through art and meeting new creative people, and there were many new people to meet with an open gallery/studio door.
Saber went to the LA County Museum of Art in the 1980s to see an art show by David Hockney, one of the United Kingdom’s most highly celebrated artists. He loved the show and decided to write to Hockney. Not knowing who he was at the time, Saber wrote a letter to invite Hockney to attend his own art show in Malibu. He saw on the news one night that British royalty was flying into LA to see the same show, and realized Hockney must be somebody pretty well known but decided the letter was worth a shot anyway. Hockney ended up going to Saber’s show and bought a painting. Ironically enough, the painting he bought was the one that Saber’s friends liked the least, and even told him not to include it in the show. They told him to sell it for thousands below the asking price, but Saber said he was going to ask over several thousand for it. When Hockney arrived, Saber saw that he wasn't looking at his art and realized this man is akin to royalty, and it would be considered rude if he didn't wait for the artist to show him around. Saber, realizing this, introduced himself and offered to show him around when they came across a piece that Hockney loved. Hockney started to physically touch and grab Saber’s piece and told him “I'll have this.” Typically in the art world, touching is a big no-no, but for "David fucking Hockney" himself to feel his work was a surprise as well as a great honor.
“It’s odd, how you wouldn’t ask your mechanic over for dinner, but when you’re an artist of any type, people want to have you over to their house and party with you,” Saber told us. The profession is great in that it breaks down barriers. As Queen Victoria said, “beware of artists. They mix well with all classes of society, and are therefore most dangerous.” One of the hardest things he’s had to learn was how to say no, because he realized he would be drinking wine over dinner and partying at somebody's house far too often, never working nor painting. “They can take your painting home, but sometimes when they buy a piece of your work they can feel like they have purchased a piece of you. In a way, they may have.” Saber describes the bittersweet personal side of his career as wanting them to like and collect your work, and at the same time be left alone to create.
Saber worked out of Los Angeles for 14 years, and now the Solana Beach area for the past 21 years. He is currently writing a book that showcases his life and the many celebrities that have collected his work over the years, with his self-portrait as the cover. Saber works on multiple projects at a time, switching between an abstract to a nude to a sculpture simultaneously. Over the years he has earned success, with collectors of his works including Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson, Brooke Shields, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Ted Danson, and of course, David Hockney.