Artist Elias Saifan cleans one of his brushes after working on a recently completed canvas.
by Dave Warner
Artist Elias Saifan was born and raised in Brooklyn and now calls Little Falls his home. But, if you ask him why, be prepared to listen for at least an hours worth of his travels around the world before he explains his arrival in the City.
Saifan originally studied fashion design in Los Angeles, attending the prestigious Fashion Institute of Design & Manufacturing. While attending, he was required to sketch and study color theory. “They introduced you to watercolor, acrylic and oils, so I picked up paints and fabrics from class and that’s how I started painting,” he said.
In the end, he didn’t do anything with the fashion knowledge that he had gained. He started painting in Los Angeles, but went into acting when he traveled back to Brooklyn. He said “I got into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts on Madison Avenue and did the acting, but painting really starting taking over my life.”
Saifan was hooked on the process of painting, where he got into his solitary moment, was able to start creating something, and see that immediate product come to life. It was unlike fashion, where you’d work on a project and then wait…”designing, sketching, doing the patterns, picking the fabrics, and then you get to see it,” stated Saifan.
Art for him, allowed an immediate response, from himself and those who saw his paintings. “I just got into it naturally – the freedom of it. To not be held back by the process that is imposed on you,” he said.
Once he started painting, Saifan always managed to have a studio somewhere, combining living and working. In Brooklyn, it was in the Williamsburg area before it became famous for arts and culture.
“I was on South Fifth and Marcy and it was a grungy neighborhood and I wont’ give details, but it was really rough,” stated Saifan. “But that’s what happens, it’s cheap, and the artists move in.”
The important detail out of the Williamsburg experience was that Saifan started gaining confidence in his work. “I started wanting to sell the work and satisfy that materialistic component of art,” he said.
So in the early 90’s, he started selling out of his own gallery. Year after year, he did that, until Williamsburg started to get famous and the artists were pushed out. “I went to DUMBO, between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge, and we were living in raw spaces with nothing.”
Saifan also started selling his work at SoHo and had weekends where he could make $3-4,000. “I made enough money where I could go to Europe. I just had that urge in me to do it.”
It was at SoHo, that Saifan made his first Little Falls connection, selling some of his work to Gavin Maloney. “We became friends. We’d smoke cigars in SoHo and check out the art,” he said.
A friend of his from Lugo Spain who had had a show in New York, gave him a key to a studio that was a huge barn. Saifan headed over and had immediate success in Spain with two sold out shows, television coverage about his art, newspapers articles and interviews.
“I made a nice name and enough money, so I did a bit of traveling throughout Europe.”
During one of the shows over there, Maloney stopped by and told Saifan about another area in Brooklyn that was opening galleries and how he could have a show there.
“The show was going to be called ‘Warless Warriors’ because the figures were very dark and morbid. This was 2001 and I came back and the show got cancelled because of 9/11. They didn’t think that soldier figures coming down at you from the sky was a good idea,” stated Saifan.
The plan had been that Saifan would travel between Brooklyn and Spain, having shows on two continents.
Saifan said “In order to get by at that time, I worked construction for Gavin a little bit. The economy at the time was horrible and people weren’t buying art.”
He saved up a little bit and headed back to Barcelona Spain, where he started selling his work again, both on the street and during a few shows. “I even paid my rent with paintings and fixed my teeth,” he said.
Things were good. He had a girlfriend, was painting, selling art and even doing some performing in plays. “I did everything in Barcelona.”
“My girlfriend was French and she wanted to go to New York. Money and everything was great, I had even opened up a coffee shop in Spain, was showing in Amsterdam and Prague,” said Saifan.
So, in 2006 he relented and brought her to New York City. “Gavin was here, all my friends and I’m like OK, I’ve got to do something and Williamsburg was blowing up at that time, so we got a basement apartment,” he said.
Saifan started selling in SoHo again as well. “It was just incredible. Every weekend, I’d make 3, 4 or $5,000. I was running home just to finish. I couldn’t keep up and business was great.”
Maloney invited Saifan up to Little Falls. “It was the first time I’d been up here,” he stated and he loved it.
But, Saifan said that he always tries to balance life and shows and he was setting up do to a big one in NYC at the Javits Center. So he spent months and months getting ready for it and invested every last dime he had into attending and showing “and it was a bust.”
At this point in his life, he started to do a lot of soul searching about what he really wanted. Yet another friend, invited him to France, where he had a great time, and then on to Lebanon.
“I made some money in Lebanon, but ultimately had to escape, as the conflict reached our location.”
Saifan continued to travel in Europe, and even spent some time in California with his brother. But, New York was still in his blood.
“I saw Gavin again and he continued to tell me about Little Falls and how inexpensive it was to live here,” said Saifan. Maloney said “If you want to come back now, I’m in Albany and you can do whatever.”
Saifan did come back and spent time in Albany and then New York City again before moving to Little Falls in 2017.
“By this time, Gavin was living here in Little Falls. He was telling me, look, there’s still cheap houses here. I sold some work, made some money in NYC and took that and bought a house here,” stated Saifan.
He continued “I was paying about $2,200 a month for a place to live and a studio, so I had two choices in my head. I either live in Spain and that’s it, or I buy a house in Little Fall because it’s beautiful and I really love it.”
“I did have friends up here in upstate other than Gavin. I love the landscape and there are cities other than New York that are trying to have a cultural thing going on, so I thought, why not?”
He also met a girl who lived in Syracuse, so the move made sense. “All these elements came together,” he said.
Saifan said “Everywhere I go, it’s always an art town. Any place I am, it’s always going to be a place where I’m going to show my work. I’ve had some places where I’ve just had a little tiny room to show. At one point, it was a little Hostel room. I still invited people over to have a glass of wine, see my work, share ideas and play some music.”
“For me, it’s never separate from anything else. I always believe in trying to be engaging with the community,” Saifan said.
“Maybe I’ll just go set up my easel on Main Street. I am here and this is it for me.”