Doris Staffel (1921 - ) At age seventeen, Staffel moved from Brooklyn to Philadelphia to study at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, where she attended classes in painting, figure drawing, lithography, and art history from 1939 to 1944. Her teachers included Philadelphia artists Earl Horter and Franklin Watkins. This painting, inspired by a landscape, was made during her last year at Tyler. It is one of Staffel’s very first abstractions.
In 1948, Staffel and her husband, artist Rudolf Staffel, lived not far from the Tyler School of Art where Rudolf taught. Her studio was a spare bedroom where she set up still
lifes from which she painted abstractions such as this. In the 1950s, Staffel’s paintings were included in group exhibitions at the Dubin Gallery and Carlen Galleries. This painting, exhibited at that time, is one of the first paintings sold at the start of her career.
Staffel’s mother had a large and verdant garden at their family’s weekend home in Danbury, Connecticut. The artist remembers picking flowers and spending a lot of time weeding the garden. Floral and foliate forms have long figured as both representational and abstract forms in Staffel’s work, and she was known for having large potted plants in her studios. This ink drawing was made when Staffel was living in Rome. It is among the most representational of all her works.
When Temple University’s Tyler School of Art inaugurated its Rome Program in 1966, Staffel’s husband, Rudolf, was hired to teach there for its first two years. Doris reluctantly followed him there, taking a two-year leave from her teaching job at the Philadelphia College of Art, where she had been teaching since 1957. She recalls, “I had a wonder-ful studio in Philadelphia and my friends were here. I didn’t want to leave. . . In the end I loved it, and I didn’t want to come back.”
When Staffel and her husband were living in Rome, she often drove to the countryside where she drew the landscape and trees. Later, back in their apartment, she used the drawings as inspiration for paintings such as this. Abruzzi Mountains has flat areas of color and simplified, stacked shapes that capture the light and essence of the mountains. This painting and the drawing on the wall to the right, Rome, were probably included in Staffel’s 1968 solo show in Rome.
Around 1987, Staffel suffered a herniated disc that, she says, “had me flat on my back for over five months.” However, she adds, “It slowed things down, and put me in touch with many aspects of myself I had not been in touch with before.”
The experience of being immobile began to open up observations, and her response to physical therapy led Staffel to do many drawings and acrylic paintings of imagined figures—she hadn’t drawn figures since the 1940s, when she was in graduate school. At first she depicted only singular figures, as in this work and Standing Nude (displayed nearby). Soon she was including multiple figures, as in Abstract Figuration and Enfolding and in the charcoal drawing Mother and Daughters (all on view in this exhibition).