The late Morley Safer liked to describe himself as a “Sunday painter.” Although he was referring to his sideline hobby of crafting watercolors, that description could just as easily apply to the way he deftly spun 60 Minutes narratives.
On this holiday-weekend Sunday, a good place to turn to learn more about Safer’s art is a piece in the new issue of New York magazine by art critic Jerry Saltz. Canadian-born journalist Safer was known for painting a still life of his hotel and motel rooms while on the road for stories, and interestingly enough, when Saltz received a bundle of Safer’s artwork in the early 1990s, that was the subject matter that jumped out:
I wouldn’t have bought any of these [paintings] if I saw them at a yard sale, except one. His motel-room picture has everything you’d want it to have, and even a little bit more. Which is to say banality, blankness, something sweet, neat, forlorn and soul-killing. The space is cramped, the décor drab and sterile; a rotary dial phone sits on the bare night table next to one generic lamp. Over the small double bed is just the kind of cliché landscape that Safer liked to paint: two trees on a hill with a yellow sun in the white sky. Ironies extend. The rumpled bed with only one side turned down lets us know Safer has been here, alone on the road. A plain poignancy lingers, even in the uninspired style.
The first exhibit of Safer’s paintings, held in 1980, focused on the theme of hotel rooms. The second in 1985, titled “Travels in Provence,” sparked this fun New York Times lede:
Fourteen paintings were sold in 60 minutes the other night at an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Morley Safer.
Among the buyers was the late Mike Wallace, who admitted ‘collegiality’ had something to do with the purchase.
Photo courtesy: CBS News