Lorser Feitelson


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Painter and printmaker. Between early and late abstract work, he turned to neoclassical and surrealist representation. Born in Savannah, Georgia, he grew up in New York and saw the Armory Show as a teenager. Before he first went to Paris in 1919, he had already evolved an animated abstract style influenced by cubism and futurism, but he subsequently followed Matisse's example. After a 1922 trip to Europe, he switched to a neoclassical approach, inspired by Renaissance and Mannerist painting. In 1927 Feitelson moved to Los Angeles, where he contributed importantly over the years to local appreciation for modern art. Soon he was attracted to surrealism, which formed the basis of his work for about twenty years. In the 1930s, together with his wife, painter and printmaker Helen Lundeberg (1908–99), he developed a variant called post-surrealism or subjective classicism. The movement claimed to supersede surrealist automatism and taste for the bizarre by substituting rational control of aesthetic order and subjects from the “normal” mind. Nevertheless, Feitelson's imagery generally surpasses common-sense understanding. Both partners participated during the Depression on murals for federal art projects. By about 1950, he had moved on to a final phase of his career, focused on large works anticipating 1960s hard-edge abstraction.

Born in Chicago, Lundeberg grew up in Pasadena, where she studied literature at Pasadena City College before enrolling at the Stickney School of Art, where Feitelson numbered among her instructors. Although some of her paintings from the 1930s incorporate disorienting biomorphic imagery, her best-known work, Double Portrait of the Artist in Time (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1935), displays a refined and controlled use of surrealist techniques, in a spirit suggesting magic realism. In this crisply delineated representation, she adapted a photograph to portray herself as a two-year-old who mysteriously casts the shadow of her adult self on the wall behind. In turn, the shadow intersects the edge of a recently painted self-portrait hung on the wall. Other works reiterate the unthreatening charm, contemplative ambiguity, and classic restraint evident in this painting. While remaining interested in the unconscious and in dreams, in the 1950s she began to work more abstractly, often creating complex and mysterious spaces. Both she and Feitelson died in Los Angeles.

Subjects: Art.

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