A look at local artist Harry Sefarbi’s career

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For 21st Century Media
Artists have their own unique ways of looking at the world. It’s the only thing that makes them all the same. An exhibit at the Wayne Art Center reveals the way renowned local painter Harry Sefarbi viewed his surroundings. His unique take on classic themes — religious icons, gentlemen callers, proud mothers, dinner parties, and mosaic cityscapes — are on view in The Harry Sefarbi Retrospective Exhibition through Nov. 15.
According to the Center, Sefarbi’s work is known for its use of varied colors, overlay of patterns, and witty subject matter. The exhibit, which includes paintings he completed shortly before his death in 2009 as well as works from earlier in his career, is the first substantial retrospective of Sefarbi’s works since he died.
Sefarbi, who was born in Chester, settled in Philadelphia’s Powelton Village neighborhood in the 1950s after serving in the Army during World War II then living in Paris for several years. He painted and also taught at the Barnes Foundation for more than 50 years.
Danni Malitzski, a student of his at Barnes as well as a friend of Sefarbi and his wife, Ruth, curated the exhibit. “He was a great guy. I really liked him,” she said. “He was very interested in educating people. He was always teaching you.”
Malitzski became friends with Sefarbi after attending his class. They remained friends, for more than 20 years. She’s excited that people will get to see about 100 of his works in one place, especially since not only did he create the art, he made all of the frames the pieces are showcased in.
“The frames are all different, each made specifically for the painting it holds,” she said. “They’re an important part of the whole picture.”
And viewers will see several themes in his work. One is the IKON theme, focusing on religious icons, like the Madonna and child. In his take, though, one painting shows a large woman with a small man (not a baby), in a suit with a hat, she said. One called “Twins” shows the woman holding two men. “There’s a lot of humor in his work,” Malitzski said.
Sefarbi was surrounded at the Barnes by works by Cezanne, Renoir, and other masters. That influenced his work, Malitzski said. “He taught about the traditions,” she said. “The show is about his twist on the traditions.”
Malitzski said that Sefarbi was her favorite teacher. Once she started visiting the Barnes Foundation, she began to look at art every chance she could, she said. “I was so amazed at what was in that collection, I became an art dealer,” she said.

A  painting by Harry Sefarbi. Photo courtesy of  www.wayneart.org.

A painting by Harry Sefarbi. Photo courtesy of www.wayneart.org.

Going there and meeting Sefarbi changed her life. And even though he’s gone, she carries fond memories of him still.

“Every day, he painted. He referred to himself as an artist who teaches not a teacher who paints,” she said. “There’s nobody that has been around that long that painted like he did.”

“Harry Sefarbi Retrospective” will be at the Wayne Art Center, 413 Maplewood Ave., Wayne, through Nov. 15. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.  For information, call (610) 688-3553 or visit www.wayneart.org.

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