Eight of Feeley’s brightly colored abstractions will be on view, as well as a selection of related watercolors.
The exhibition provides a detailed view of Feeley’s work from 1954 to 1959—the period during which he created what he considered his earliest “professional” paintings. In fall 1955, Feeley had his first solo exhibition at New York’s Tibor de Nagy Gallery. Works on display dealt primarily, as art critic Lawrence Campbell wrote, “with struggling complexes, blobs elbowing each other and being rained on.” One painting in the exhibition, Red Blotch (1954), stood out as something distinctly different. What was the “strange red blob” surrounded by verdant green? And what about the silhouetted black forms along the painting’s lower edge? With its inherent quietude and interlocking colors, Red Blotch set the tenor for the artist’s mature pictorial sensibility—one that balanced Dionysian extravagance with Apollonian restraint. “With the red and green picture,” Feeley said, “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.”
The Apollonian character of the paintings created for Feeley’s follow-up show in 1958 would have been hard to miss. Begun in 1956 and loosely titled after islands of the Cyclades, the series, completed in 1959, explores the terrain of organic abstraction through the most reductive of means. Muted reds and yellows, or yellows and blues, with occasional passages of bright orange and pink, distinguish the somatic nature of Ios (1957), Sterope(1957), Syphos (1958), and Melos (1958), as well as contemporaneous works such as Kilroy, The Other Side, and Between the In and the Out, all 1957. The critic Dore Ashton, covering the show for the New York Times, observed the paintings’ “erotic sinuousness–great curving bottomless shapes like chemists’ retorts, or slithering, wasp-waisted forms embedded in blue ether,” and their “obscure symbolism.” While it would be entirely plausible to see the “Cycladic” series, along with kindred stained paintings like The Other Side, as Color Field abstractions related to Helen Frankenthaler’s watershed Mountains and Sea (1952), there is indeed another side to Feeley’s biomorphic projections that retains a kinship to Abstract Expressionism and earlier Surrealist automatism. The paintings’ heuristic shapes, like an archetypal gestalt drawn from the depths of his fertile imagination, accrete into the canvas, where they confound expectations. To Feeley, a shape was a living thing, a vehicle for an abstract thought-complex, a carrier of the awesome feelings he felt before the “terror of the unknowable.”