Oil on canvas
61.25 x 61.375 in. (155.575 x 155.893 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
The title, Dichotomic Organization, was Lorser Feitelson’s profound-sounding way of indicating that this painting is divided in two. The left half is uninterrupted tomato-soup red, while the right half includes two colors—black and a light blue—which, in combination with the red, reinforce the dynamism of the self-assured spiky triangles. The tall, narrow wedge of black, whose top-to-bottom side signals the painting’s bifurcation, has a right-facing point situated halfway above the picture’s bottom edge, where the horizon commonly occurs in a conventional landscape. With an artist of Feitelson’s background and breadth, this is certainly no accident.
Feitelson, born in the nineteenth century, was the eldest of the four painters in the groundbreaking 1959 exhibition Four Abstract Classicists, a show that set the stage for the precise, clean “finish fetish” and light and space art that would put Southern California’s art world on the map. However, Feitelson reached his brand of lyrically minimal abstraction by a more circuitous route than the others.
For a while he led the life of a typical bohemian painter. He had a studio in Greenwich Village while still a teenager. In his early twenties he went to Paris to immerse himself in modernism and became especially attracted to surrealism. Eventually he and his wife, the painter Helen Lundeberg, launched a movement they called Post-Surrealism, whose purpose was to bring rational order in both content and composition to the “hand-painted dream photograph” imagery of Salvador Dalí. For Feitelson, this led to shallower space, highly contrasting colors, shapes Feitelson called “magical forms,” and outright abstraction. Further distillation led to his own distinctive brand of “abstract classicism”—more romantic, more allusive to figuration (Dichotomic Organization suggests desert mountains in strong sunlight, with blue sky peeking in), and more indebted to early European modernism than the others.
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- Refers to the paintings of a group of West Coast artists working in the 1960s. Named by critic Jules Langsner in 1959, the style is characterized by the use of large shapes with sharp outlines that extend across the canvas from edge to edge, painted in two or three saturated hues.
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