Helen Lundeberg

(1908-1999)

About The Artist

Although she initially set out to be a writer, California artist Helen Lundeberg turned to painting after taking a class at the Stickney Memorial School of Art in Pasadena in the early 1930s, where she received instruction under painter Lorser Feitelson—who would later become her husband and artistic collaborator. Over the course of her career Lundeberg explored numerous idioms of expression; her work has been alternately characterized as working within the parameters of Hard-Edge Painting, Geometric Abstraction, Social Realism, and, perhaps most famously, Post Surrealism—a style and movement that she pioneered with Feitelson.

Lundeberg herself repeatedly referred to her practice as what she termed “Classicism.” In a statement she wrote on the occasion of a 1942 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art she laid out precisely what she meant by this term: “By Classicism I mean, not traditionalism of any sort, but a highly conscious concern with esthetic structure which is the antithesis of intuitive, romantic, or realistic approaches to painting. My aim, realized or not, is to calculate, and reconsider, every element in a painting with regard to its function in the whole organization. That, I believe, is the classic attitude.”

Post Surrealism, which Feitelson and Lundeberg originally termed New (or Subjective) Classicism in their eponymous 1934 manifesto, was a direct response to André Breton’s philosophy, which encouraged the expression of what he called “psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.'' Lundeberg and Feitelson, on the other hand, “wanted the utilization of association, the unconscious, to make a rational use of these subjective elements” with “nothing of automatism about it.” In this new take, subjects were deliberately selected to represent psychic states and the random dream imagery favored by European Surrealists gave way to something more akin to lucid dreaming that carefully reflects on the interaction between physical and mental landscapes. Or, as Lundeberg and Feitelson put it in their manifesto, “the mechanisms of New Classicism are based upon the normal functioning of the mind: its meandering, logical in sequence though not in ensemble, its perceptions of analogy and idea-content in forms and groups of forms unrelated in size, time, or space. 

Lundeberg once said that the primary concern of her work was an “effort to embody, and to evoke, states of mind, moods and emotions." Although she took psychic states as her raw material, Lundeberg’s early work often expresses these through formal, concrete images grounded in reality. Often reflecting on elusive principles of astronomy, biology, and physics, Lundeberg’s early works present as vibrant, hyper-real fever dreams. Resting somewhere between figuration and abstraction, these early lyrical paintings work within the constraints of a limited palette and are dependent on meticulous attention to composition. Lundeberg’s later work, by contrast, shifted focus to expressing psychic moods through more forthright abstraction, while continuing to engage both the material and spiritual worlds through her use of form, color, shape, and line.

Works by Helen Lundeberg are included in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including those of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Orange County Museum of Art, the Georgia Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of American Art, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, and scores of other private and public collections. Lundeberg’s work has appeared in solo exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the University Art Museum in Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the Fresno Art Museum, and the Long Beach Museum of Art. In 2016 the Laguna Art Museum presented a retrospective of her work.

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