Alan Feltus (1943) ‘…carefully composed figures’

first coffee 1998

De overtuiging dat de tijd waarin een kunstwerk ontstaat er niet toe doet om het een valabel kunstwerk te kunnen noemen, ligt mee aan de basis van het verstilde werk van de Amerikaanse schilder Alan Feltus (1943).
Dat een ‘mode’ waarin een werk is uitgevoerd het opmerkelijk en of meer bijzonder zou maken is een andere stelling die duidelijk onderuit wordt gehaald.
Hij voelt zich aangetrokken tot een “carefully composed figure’ inzonderheid diegene die ‘stillness en ‘quit‘ uitstralen’, reflecting, zoekend naar ‘peaceful spaces’.
Het narratieve is onbelangrijk, zelfs niet een verborgen aanduiding om het werk eventueel in een bepaalde richting te duwen. De kijker mag zelf voluit interpreteren.
Natuurlijk zijn er indicaties die wanneer ze veelvuldiger verschijnen je kunnen meenemen naar mogelijke betekenissen of wellicht het raadsel vergroten.
Zo wordt de brief in verschillende werken zichtbaar, meestal een ontvangen brief maar ook wel eens een brief of boodschap die door de personages wordt geschreven.

Le Sorelle

Het gestileerde van compositie en personages verhindert niet dat de modellen van vlees en bloed zijn. Gekleed of naakt zijn hun lichamen naar kleur en structuur best menselijk warm en aantrekkelijk.
Ook zijn ze niet tot symbolen of vervreemde wezens herleid. Hun houdingen wijken wel eens af van hoe we ons tonen, maar de stilering schaadt hun aantrekkelijkheid niet.

La Matita, 2001 oil on linen 40,01 x 29,84 cm

Het ‘carefully composed’ vind je in de combinaties met de ruimte of met de opstelling in die ruimte zeker als er meerdere personen aanwezig zijn.
De verstilling heeft zeker met hun gezichtsuitdrukking te maken. Hun ‘afwezigheid’ in de handeling lees je in hun afwezigheid van het momentele: er is nog voor de compositie iets, of verschillende dingen, in hun leven gebeurd, of net niet, en die gebeurtenissen of het tekort eraan kun je in hun gezicht lezen. Hun gedachten ‘zijn buiten beeld’, hebben hun oorsprong gevonden voor de handeling waarin ze op het schilderij voorkomen.
Wij zijn niet in staat om elkanders diepste wezen onder ogen te kunnen krijgen, laat staan dat we het in onze gedachten tegemoet zouden kunnen komen.
Of er daardoor een zekere magie ontstaat blijft een open vraag, ik dacht eerder een leegte die maar niet ingevuld kan worden. Hoe mooi het verlangen zich ook voordoet. Of zou het verlangen zelf de leegte zijn?

Gallery Tea, 1991, oil on linen, 38 1/4 x 39 1/4 inches

De schilder zegt dat hij nooit modellen gebruikt, maar wel spiegels om delen van zichzelf te kunnen copiëren.
‘Because I paint using mirrors, observing parts of myself rather than models, I might say that all my paintings are to some degree self portraits.’
Zijn vrouw, Lani Irwin, eveneens schilder, maakt in haar werk weer heel andere raakpunten zichtbaar, maar dat is voor een andere bijdrage.

Self-Portrait (with Beret and Red Scarf), 2004, oil on paper, 12 1/4 x 9 1/4 inches

Alan Feltus was born in Washington, D.C. in 1943 and grew up in Manhattan. He studied for one year at the Tyler School of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and then Cooper Union in New York (B.F.A. 1966), and Yale University (M.F.A. 1968). He has received many awards for his work that include the Rome Prize Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Grant in Painting, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant in Painting, two Pollock Krasner Foundation Grants in Painting, the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Award from Cooper Union, and the Raymond P.R. Neilson Prize from the National Academy of Design.
Alan Feltus has lived in Italy since 1987. In his paintings, working intuitively, he choreographs figures in enigmatic relationships, without referring to live models or preconceived concepts and compositional ideas. He creates a silence in his paintings and avoids specific meanings, believing that paintings “which are difficult or seemingly impossible to fully comprehend” are the most interesting.

2004 Summer, 39 1/4 X 47 1/4 in. oil 2004,

Back in the the United States, he taught for 12 years at American University in Washington, DC. Though tenured, he eventually gave up the position to devote more time to painting with his partner, painter Lani Irwin. After three subsequent years, he and Irwin left their home in Maryland and moved to Italy with their two young sons, Tobias and Joseph, imagining they would expose their children to a broader cultural perspective. They bought an old, in-need-of-work stone farmhouse with adjacent barn in the Umbrian hills near Assisi, and they never moved back to the United States.

The poets dream 2002 oil on linen

… in Italy, where the landscape is amazingly beautiful, and we were minutes from Assisi where the church was filled with wonderful frescoes and art, as are towns close by, we didn’t have to create an environment to support our needs. We didn’t have to own it. It was just there, the art, all around us…

The Green Pencil, 2003, oil on linen, 29 1/2 x 23 1/2 inches

Early in his career as a painter, Feltus was attracted to paintings of the “carefully composed figure,” particularly to those exhibiting stillness and quiet, reflecting, it seems, his own tendencies to seek out peaceful spaces. As for the narrative, he does not extend an obvious one, leaving interpretation to the viewer. (Katerine Duncan Aimone)

Olaf and Anya, 2006 oil on linen

I don’t work from live models other than referring to myself in mirrors. Any painting I work on goes through an evolution of changes—continuous small changes that happen as I adjust relationships and locations. Things appear, squirm, alter…disappear or remain…but they change. I see this as choreography of sorts. It applies not only to the figures in the space, but to all forms, such as drapery, a chair, a shadow on the floor—their shape, color, location. All have a gesture and weight and carry meaning.

Studio Days, 2004, oil on linen, 43 1/4 x 31 1/2 inches

I see the abstraction in all paintings, whether they are representational or not; they are nonobjective to me in that the composition is what is important. They must have a structure that works for me. People who don’t paint do not often see the abstract aspects of figurative painting. But I hope they will recognize something of the less obvious aspects of my paintings, without trying to understand or talk about them in a literal way.

Two Ties

We all have differing ideas about what great paintings are. For me there are many things that are important in painting. Composition is very important to me. There are many kinds of composition. If I don’t see an order that exists apart from the narrative or subject matter in a painting the painting is not a good painting. In other words, there is an abstract structure underlying any good painting, as I see it. What interests me is often more an intuitive composing, as my own composition is, rather than a geometric framework that holds the painting together. Color and light have to be beautiful for me to love a painting. Magic is more difficult to come to grips with. What makes one painting extraordinary above others can be one of many things. Often I don’t really know what that quality is. It might be a kind of rendering that is far more perfect in every way than what I am capable of doing. Or it might be a kind of poetry that I see in a painting that eludes any clear explanation.

The letter

Shapes of two bodies and shapes between them and between their contours and any other line in the painting. I might put in a horizontal line that divides wall from floor, and maybe a vertical that is a wall edge. A chair might come in. Those are enough to stay with for weeks. They shift and change and very often are painted out and something else brought in. Most changes are small but they can be as large as taking out a figure or moving a figure to a new place in a painting. One such change triggers many others. Light in the room allows us to see a painting. Light within the painting, as painted by the artist, allows the viewer to understand form. In paintings light can be the primary subject or a very central part of one’s work or it can be one of many elements a painting is made from. Light and color are interdependent. Light has a color that influences all the colors, all the parts of a painting. Light can carry a mood as well.

Padova, 1986 oil on linen


I paint slowly, layer upon layer, making adjustments and changes throughout the process. I don’t start with an image in mind. I begin a painting knowing vaguely what it will be and allow it to find itself. For instance, when I begin a painting I might assume there will be two figures, but then a third figure may enter, or one that was there tentatively in the early stages might disappear.

Once Upon A Time, 1993 47 1/4 X 63 inches oil on linen

Of course, self portraits are more directly autobiographical by definition than other paintings, yet we are identified as people also by what we paint and how we paint what we paint. There will be some artists whose works are more personal and more about their own thoughts or experiences than others. So someone like Frida Kahlo painted more biographically than Mondrian, however, we can say that Mondrian was very much like what he painted. Only in a different sense. Because I paint using mirrors, observing parts of myself rather than models, I might say that all my paintings are to some degree self portraits.

Monday, 1997 oil on linen

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and now, what 2013 oil on linen
From Page to Memory, 2004-05, oil on linen, 39 3/8 x 47 1/4 inches
Wine and Words, 2004, oil on linen, 31 1/2 x 39 1/2 inches