A leading light of modernism in Southern California, Lorser Feitelson (1898–1978) created an unparalleled body of pure abstract painting. Born in Savannah, Georgia, Feitelson was educated in New York and relocated to California in 1927. He began teaching at the Chouinard School of Art where he met his wife, the painter Helen Lundeberg. Together, they embarked on the development of a new aesthetic they described in a manifesto as ‘New Classicism,’ a movement inspired by the associative imagery of surrealism. Termed the ‘Post–surrealists’ by critics, the group quickly became prominent and held exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum. During this time, Feitelson began working under the Works Progress Administration to supervise their murals projects on the West Coast.

In the 1940s, Feitelson’s work took a new direction and he began to refine his forms to produce surrealist, non–representational paintings. His Magical Space Forms series of paintings emerged in the aftermath of the Second World War, with the intention of reflecting the new post–war reality. These forms were intended to be both concrete, evocations of the natural world, yet also capable of stirring interior contemplation. For Feitelson, the relatively unformed art scene of Los Angeles—which he called an “artistic desert”— represented a field of possibility, a place in which radical new forms of art could be pursued. These paintings featured stripped–down geometric forms in vibrant tones, applied in flat planes of color. By 1950, he had found fame once more as one of the founders of California Hard–Edge painting, which rejected the gestural style of much abstract painting of the time, instead favoring smooth surfaces, crisp lines, and timeless shapes. In 1959, curator Jules Langsner included some of his works in the seminal exhibition “Four Abstract Classicists” at LACMA, alongside John McLaughlin, Karl Benjamin, and Frederick Hammersley, which established Feitelson’s reputation as one of the country’s foremost artists.

Magical Space Forms (1962) was created when Feitselon was first experimenting with the curvilinear motifs that would recur throughout his work for the rest of his career. One of the artist’s most pared-back paintings, this work is dominated by a creamy swathe in its center, bounded by two deep red waves. The universal forms of the work, reduced to the simplest elements, produce a sense of harmony and balance which sets it apart from the expressive and deeply personal abstraction of the artist’s New York peers. In a 1964 interview, Feitelson described his recent works as follows: “My abstract paintings essentially are dealing with instability of color, instability of line, to make things move psychologically.”

Cándida Smith, Richard. Utopia and Dissent: Art, Poetry, and Politics in California. Berkeley: U of California, 1995. 9-10. Print.
Anderson, Susan M. “Journey Into the Sun: California Artists and Surrealism.” On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art. Ed. Paul J. Karlstrom. Berkeley: U of California, 1996. 202. Print.
Trenton, Patricia. “Before the World Moved In: Early Modernist Still Life in California, 1920–1950.” The Not-so-still Life: A Century of California Painting and Sculpture. Berkeley: U of California, 2003. 70. Print.
“Oral History Interview with Lorser Feitelson, 1964 May 12-1964 June 9.” Interview by Betty Hoag. Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution, 16 May 2005. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.