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Art review: Lorser Feitelson at Louis Stern Fine Arts

October 2, 2009 |  4:15 pm


Lorser Feitelson (1898-1978) was among the most influential painters in mid-20th century L.A., but his reputation has lagged since his death. Perhaps because bright, chromatic abstraction has once again become popular with a generation of younger artists, a show of 15 sophisticated abstract paintings from about the last dozen years of his life feels remarkably fresh.

At Louis Stern Fine Arts, Feitelson’s late paintings play the strict, rectilinear geometry of the mostly square canvases against the fluid curves of their interior drawing. Color is flat. The lines swell and gently undulate, changing thickness as they go.

Sometimes the lines seem to split open to admit narrow color-shapes within them. One result is a sense of nicely mind-bending confusion: When does a line become a shape, and when does the juxtaposition of shapes blossom into the shifting illusion of optical space?

In graphic design, the colloquial term for lines that come together and just barely (or don’t quite) touch is “to kiss.” Feitelson’s sensuous abstract curves likewise possess an inescapably titillating charge. Some Feitelson paintings (although none in this show) harness distinctive color juxtapositions like red and green or orange and blue to create an optical spark. Two small works — many of the rest are 5 feet square — from 1976 even fuse shapes that are phallic and vulval. But the sparks set off in Feitelson’s abstractions are also reminiscent of more generalized ideas of creation, like the one implied between the nearly touching fingers of God and Adam in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

Hard-edge abstract painting doesn’t often feel literary. (In an insightful catalog essay published with the show, art historian Frances Colpitt discusses Feitelson as an Expressionist painter.) What’s most compelling about the best of these, however, is the way they refuse to let your eye rest anywhere within the painted field. In Feitelson’s strongest work, perceptual pleasure is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

-- Christopher Knight

Louis Stern Fine Arts, 9002 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, (310) 276-0147, to Dec. 12. Closed Sundays and Mondays. 

Above: "Archimage #2." Credit: copyright Feitelson Arts Foundation, courtesy Louis Stern Fine Arts