Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1898, Lorser Feitelson was raised in New York City. Frequent visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and access to his father’s extensive collection of art periodicals fostered an early love of painting and drawing. The 1913 Armory Show in New York City sparked Feitelson’s interest in Modernist art. At the age of 18, Feitelson opened his first studio in Greenwich Village and began to experiment with new ways of representing the human figure in both drawing and painting. These early works revealed Cubist and Futurist influences, as well as the artist’s keen interest in kinetics.
In 1919 Feitelson embarked on his first trip to Europe where he studied life drawing at the Académie Colarossi in Paris. He returned to Europe in 1922, this time visiting Italy and witnessing first-hand a widespread revival of Classicism. In the Twenties, Feitelson exhibited in both New York and Paris, including a 1925 one-man exhibition at Daniel Gallery in New York. In 1927 Feitelson moved from New York City to Los Angeles where he established himself as a leader in avant-garde art. On the West Coast Feitelson began a prolific teaching career, holding positions at the Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles starting in 1929 and the Stickney Hall School of Art, Pasadena starting in 1930.
In an attempt to provide better representation for himself and other abstract artists, Feitelson helped to establish in 1933 the first contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles called the Centaur Gallery. Always passionate about expanding culture in California, Feitelson contributed to the opening of a number of other commercial art spaces, including the Stanley Rose Bookstore Gallery, the Hollywood Gallery of Modern Art, the Los Angeles Art Association Gallery and the Gallery of Mid-20th Century Art. Constantly working to pave the way for abstraction on the West Coast, Feitelson and his wife, Helen Lundeberg, founded a new art movement in 1934 that they called “Post-Surrealism”. This movement used much of the same imagery as Surrealism, but, unlike Surrealism, emphasized the conscious process of painting through logical, carefully constructed compositions. In 1936 Feitelson was included in both the critically acclaimed Oil Paintings and Water Colors by California Artists: The Post-Surrealists exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and Fantastic Art, Dada & Surrealism exhibition curated by Alfred Barr at the Museum of Modern Art.
During the 1940s Feitelson’s artistic style became less representational. His Magical Forms paintings of this decade embody biomorphic abstraction, consisting of dynamic natural forms made nearly unrecognizable through reduction and distortion. In 1944 Feitelson began teaching at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, encouraging his students to experiment with space and color and deriving many of his own works from these assignments.
In his work from around 1948 until 1963 Feitelson further reduced his forms as he filled his abstract canvases with geometric areas of color. In 1959 Feitelson began using a technique utilizing masking tape to create sharp edges in his paintings. Also in 1959 he presided over a meeting of abstract artists in California that included artists Karl Benjamin, Frederick Hammersley, John McLaughlin, and art critic Jules Langsner. This meeting led to the landmark exhibition Four Abstract Classicists at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where curator Jules Langsner coined the term “hard edge painting” to describe this type of reductive, geometric abstraction. The exhibition later traveled to London under the title West Coast Hard Edge. In 1962 Feitelson was included in the Whitney Museum exhibition Geometric Abstraction and had a work, Magical Space Forms, 1955, purchased by the Museum of Modern Art.
Feitelson used the simplest of forms in his paintings to explore the tension between positive and negative space. In his Stripe paintings of the mid-1960s, for example, Feitelson employed the basic line to create a barrier between nearly-touching forms, thus creating a sort of sensual tension between them. This is one reason why Feitelson was included in the 1965 watershed Op Art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, The Responsive Eye. The artist was further honored in 1966 when MoMA purchased a second work, an untitled Stripe painting from 1964.
In recent years, Feitelson’s work has been featured in the exhibitions Birth of Cool at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2007 and Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1945-1970 at the J. Paul Getty Museum in 2011. He was also represented in the Columbus Museum’s Optic Nerve: Perceptual Art of the 1960s, a consideration of the impact of MoMA’s The Responsive Eye exhibition in 2007.
Feitelson’s work is included in many public museums, including: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the Columbus Museum of Art, among others.