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Paul Feeley

Paul Feeley

Paul Feeley (July 27, 1910 − June 10, 1966) was an artist and director of the Art Department at Bennington College during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Though Feeley was born in the same generation as the Abstract Expressionists, his mature style was hardly gestural; instead, according to Feeley, his paintings "just sat still and had a presence rather than some sort of an agitated fit." His greatest source of admiration was the Great Pyramids in Egypt. Gene Baro stated that Feeley's mature style did not overtly depend on any contemporary art movements of the time. His paintings are best summarized as follows:

In 1931, Feeley moved to New York to pursue his studies. He studied portrait painting with Cecilia Beaux, figure painting with George Bridgeman and Thomas Hart Benton, and mural painting from 1931-1934. In fact, in 1934, Feeley joined the Mural Painters Society of New York and became increasingly engaged with mural projects. From 1934-1939, he would teach at the Cooper Union, where he'd later become the head of industrial design. In 1940, he would join the staff at Bennington College, where he was fundamental in establishing its art department. Aside from a brief hiatus from 1943-1946, when he volunteered for service with the United States Marines, he remained committed to the art of his contemporaries, he exposed his students — Helen Frankenthaler among them — to many of the most significant artists of his time. He helped to organize the first retrospective exhibition of modernist sculptor David Smith, in 1951 and helped with the 1955 Hans Hofmann and the 1952 Jackson Pollock retrospectives which were both organized by Clement Greenberg. Feeley and Greenberg also organized a Kenneth Noland Exhibition at Bennington in 1961.

Feeley was also an important Color Field painter and in the early 1960s he was included in the catalog and exhibition called Post-Painterly Abstraction organized by Clement Greenberg in 1964. Feeley had his first full scale retrospective (held posthumously) at the Matthew Marks Gallery, 2002 in New York City. In 2015 and 2016, the Albright Knox Art Gallery and Columbus Museum of Art held his first museum retrospective, titled "Imperfections by Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1956-1966."

His paintings are characterized by bright colors; simple, abstract forms; and symmetrically arranged, but serene, compositions. Clement Greenberg included Feeley’s work in his exhibition Emerging Talent at the Kootz Gallery in 1954, alongside other Color-Field painters like Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. Critics have argued that his work is distinct from Color Field painting in its classical rigor and forms, whether derived from ancient Greek and Moorish decorative patterns or Cycladic and Egyptian statues. Art critic Gene Baro argued that the Color Field classification was in certain ways inappropriate. He saw Feeley's work as something wholly independent and not dialectically related to the Abstract Expressionist legacy - "in the way that Baroque art is remote from ancient Egyptian art and presumes different standards of value and habits of mind."

Paul Feeley’s early style has been compared to that of the Abstract Expressionists. It was gestural, the painter’s hand was evident, many colors were present on the canvas at one time, and there was an overall abstraction of form. Lawrence Campbell, writing in 1955, described his paintings as “blobs elbowing each other and being rained on;” in one painting in particular Campbell described, “a strange red blob on a green ground successfully not looking like anything but itself.” This is his infamous “Red Blotch” from 1954. Feeley himself saw this painting as a breakthrough: “So I suppose the reason that I can see that red and green picture as significant has to do with the absence of all those textural variations and all that brush dynamism. I suppose in fact I just placed it, and didn’t do anything about the dynamic brush work, rather allowed the paint just to sit there. With the red and green picture, I think I just sensed the shape of the canvas as an event, as against the notion of the canvas creating an arena for events.” At this point, his focus shifts away from paintings that project themselves onto their viewers and towards paintings that bring you in.

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Paul Feeley Artworks
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