The painting of Lorser Feitelson

Moran, Diane, McIntire Department of Art, University of Virginia
Ashton, Dore, University of Virginia
Lawall, David B., McIntire Department of Art, University of Virginia
Barolsky, Paul, McIntire Department of Art, University of Virginia
Railton, Stephen, Department of English, University of Virginia

This dissertation is a study of the oeuvre of the Los Angeles painter Lorser Feitelson (1898-1978). The paintings are considered in terms of the cultural context, their developmental relationship to the oeuvre as a whole, their formal qualities, their significance in the history of modern art, and the artist's intentions. In addition, Feitelson's crucial role as champion of modern art in Southern California from the late twenties on is discussed in detail, as are his activities as gallery owner, teacher, lecturer, and director for Southern California of the Federal Art Project, mural division.

The dissertation begins with an investigation of the early work done in the years following the Armory Show of 1913, from the mid-teens to around 1920. These paintings reveal his broad interests in the Italian Renaissance masters, the perceptual kinetics of the Futurists, the dynamic contours and structural devices of C├ęzanne, and certain stylistic elements of Matisse. A period of neo-classicism followed during the twenties, prompted by similar contemporary developments in Paris, where Feitelson lived for much of the decade. During this period he aimed at creating a synthesis of the angularity of Derain and the curvilinearity of Matisse.

A trip to Corsica in 1923 inspired a series of Peasant paintings later in the decade. These are works in which Feitelson pursued an interest in an aesthetic principle he referred to as the "dynamics of directional suggestion," a device he extrapolated from certain High Renaissance compositions which involves the visual and psychic phenomenon of the potential of the eye's glance within the picture to create powerful formal and subjective pathways or links. By 1934 he had carried the implications of this device to a personal conclusion in the creation of a movement called Subjective Classicism or Post-surrealism, which involves certain associative elements of metaphysical painting and Surrealism but eschews the irrationality of those schools in favor of a rational, intellectual approach. Post-surrealism has been acknowledged as an early, significant, and authentically American response to Surrealism. His Federal Art Project murals are also discussed.

After a brief period in the early forties, of romantic, tenebristic figure paintings with highly personal content, Feitelson moved on to a major series of surrealistic abstractions which he called Magical Forms, characterized by strange morphologies which span illogical dimensions of multi-horizoned space. By 1948-49 this series evolved into highly reduced, coloristically innovative paintings in which the salient quality is the tendency for form and space to become interchangeable. He called them Magical. Space Forms. They are the essence of what was to become known a decade later on an international basis as Hard Edge painting, a mode recognized as a significant alternative to the then prevailing school of Abstract Expressionism. Feitelson's contributions in this area have been acknowledged as seminal. In 1953 he painted the first of a small but important series of Stripe paintings, for which his innovative role has also been noted.

By 1963 his attention focused on the contours of the Magical Space Forms to the extent that he eliminated references to space and form in order to concentrate exclusively on the line. The series of Line paintings which followed are the culmination of his career and have been recognized as brilliant achievements in terms of the mastery of movement and space with minimal means. In several of the last paintings of his life the lines take on subjective qualities as well, evoking archtypal associations.

The author believes Feitelson to have earned a place in the first rank of modern painters, despite his lack of association with a major movement or school and his absence from the hegemony of the New York art scene.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Feitelson, Lorser -- 1898-1978
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