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 Lorser Feitelson  (1898 - 1978)

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Lived/Active: California/New York      Known for: hard edge-op modernist, surreal figure painting

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Ad Code: 3
Untitled (February 28), 1971
from Auction House Records.
Copyright The Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A painter, Lorser Feitelson became known for abstraction but briefly explored mural painting of regionalist subjects.  In his signature work, Feitelson used many images and symbols that evoke dreams and address the subconscious mind.  He was a key figure in modern art in California at a time when that area had little exposure to avant-garde styles of which he explored a variety including Surrealism, Cubism and Kinetic work.

Feitelson was born in Savannah, Georgia but grew up in New York City.  His father was an art connoisseur and took his son on frequent visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  After the 1913 Armory Show in New York, which introduced modern art to America, he turned to abstraction and by age eighteen, had established a studio. In the 1920s he went back and forth between New York and Paris and exhibited at the Salon D'Automne in Paris and various galleries in New York.

Tiring of the insularity of the New York art scene, he moved to Los Angeles in 1927 and became a leader of the avant-garde art scene there. One of his students was Jackson Pollock before Pollock moved to New York, and another was Philip Guston. He opened one of the first modern art galleries in Los Angeles, and a television series, "Feitelson on Art," ran on NBC in Los Angeles.

He married artist Helen Lundeberg, and together they formulated a style called Post-Surrealism which borrowed imagery of Surrealism but rejected its lack of conscious process. Rather than random arrangements, the compositions were carefully developed, and the mind was led logically from one element to the next.

In the late 1930s, Feitelson became an administrator of the Federal Art Project of the WPA for Southern California and did five murals for this program.  Shortly after that, in the 1940s, he found his mature style.

Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940

Biography from Tobey C. Moss Gallery:
As a precocious pre-teenager, Lorser Feitelson born in Savannah, Georgia, but raised in New York, was influenced by frequent visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Armory Show in 1913 as well as to classes at the Art Students League. After World War I, he lived and worked in Paris; his paintings were included in the famous Salon d’Automne.  He was also exhibited in New York but, in 1926, Feitelson rejected the incestuous influences of the New York art scene and moved West.

Upon arriving in Los Angeles in 1927, Feitelson had visions of enhancing the cultural landscape of the growing city. His paintings were exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum and, in 1930, he taught at the Stickney Memorial Art School where he met and eventually married student Helen Lundeberg. He and Lundeberg issued a ‘manifesto’ proclaiming ‘New Classicism/Post Surrealism’. Working within a classical figurative context, Feitelson combined symbolic elements into a structured surreal time-space, opposing the irrationality of European surrealism.

This movement became the basis of the 1935 San Francisco Museum of Art’s exhibition “Post-Surrealism”, which went on to the Brooklyn Museum. As a result of that show, his and Lundeberg’s paintings were included in the Museum of Modern Art’s “Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism” in 1936. Simultaneously, Feitelson directed the Hollywood Gallery of Modern Art, he taught and painted for the Federal Arts Project, while serving as the director for its mural division, and he co-directed the Los Angeles Art Association. He also taught at the Chouinard Art Institute and, until his death, at the Art Center College in Los Angeles and Pasadena.

Though a post-surreal element remained in his work, by the 1940s Feitelson moved into anthropomorphic abstraction, creating canvases of ‘Magical Forms’. By 1950, this movement evolved into non-objective geometric abstraction termed ‘Magical Space Forms’.  Meanwhile, between 1956 and 1963, Feitelson hosted “Feitelson on Art”, a weekly NBC television series.

In 1959, Lorser Feitelson was featured in the seminal exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: “Four Abstract Classicists” with Karl Benjamin, Frederick Hammersly, and John McLaughlin. In conjunction with this exhibition, critic and curator Jules Langsner coined the term, ‘HardEdge Colorforms’. In 1960, it opened in London as “West Coast HardEdge” with an introduction by Laurence Alloway. A reprise of this exhibition was mounted at LACMA in 1975.

During the last decade of his career, Feitelson again shifted to an even more minimalist form, employing sensuous tapers and bold lines against backgrounds of color.

From the 1930s, artist, teacher, collector and television host, Lorser Feitelson took his place as a central figure of the art historical developments in Los Angeles. From co-founding Post-Surrealism to pioneering concepts of hardedge colorform painting, Feitelson played a key role in the evolution of modernism in Los Angeles.

Biography from Louis Stern Fine Arts:
LORSER FEITELSON (1898-1978) “I have tried to create a wonder-world of formidable mood-evoking form, color, space, and movement: a configuration that for me metaphorically expresses the deep disturbance of our time: ominously magnificent and terrifying events, hurtling menacingly from the unforeseeable.” L.F. (In reference to his painting, Geomorphic Metaphor of 1950-51).

Lorser Feitelson came to Los Angeles in 1927, bringing with him Modernist ideas he had adopted while living in New York and Paris.  Highly influential as a leader and teacher in the art community, Feitelson helped to establish Los Angeles as the important art center it is today.  With Helen Lundeberg in 1934, Feitelson founded Subjective Classicism, better known as Post Surrealism.  In this movement, Feitelson rejected the unconscious and dream inspired works of European Surrealism.  Instead, he focused upon conscious, carefully selected subjects pertaining to universal themes such as love, life and death. 

From roughly 1940 – 1960, Feitelson embarked upon a remarkable exploration of abstract forms.  Rooted in the figurative world, Feitelson’s compositions evolved from the organic into the geometric.  Known as Abstract Classicism, this period of Feitelson’s work offers unique imagery that maintains the profound sense of space and form associated with traditional Classicism.  As time went on, Feitelson began reducing his compositions, focusing on just the essentials.

From the mid-1960s, he ventured into Minimalism, creating sleek paintings comprised of sensuous lines set against solid backgrounds of color.  These works were a culmination of Feitelson’s experience and represent decades of artistic development.  Lorser Feitelson’s works are included in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and numerous other public and private collections.  Louis Stern Fine Arts is the exclusive representative of the estate of Lorser Feitelson and working on a catalog raisonne for this artist.

Submitted in May of 2006.

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