Imperfections by Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954-1966

At first glance, the “Imperfections By Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954 – 1966” exhibit at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery looks like child’s play. Large geometrical figures hang on bright pastel canvases spread across five rooms in the South Galleries of the 1905 Albright building.

Curated by Albright-Knox Chief Curator Emeritus Douglas Dreishpoon; Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director Janne Sirén; and Tyler Cann, associate curator of contemporary art at the Columbus Museum of Art; “Imperfections By Chance” is a delightful dip into some of Feeley’s (1910-1966) later works.

"The Other Side" (1957) by Paul Feeley

“The Other Side” (1957)

Some, like a 1958 untitled piece, resemble a thought bubble. Others are more scientific or earthy. “Cassius” (1957) looks like pink fleshy gums within a dark navy lava lamp. “The Other Side” (1957) shows two connected aqueous planets competing for the warm navel-orange embers of a neighboring sun. “Red Blotch” (1954) features an fiery-red blob surrounded by its complement: a rich pine green.

As simplistic as this looks, the complementary colors in Feeley’s paintings hold your attention. Like a Rorschach test, shapes and textures begin to emerge within the inkblot. “Red Blotch” could be a red bow or the aerial view of a Christmas tree in infrared. The white canvas bleeds through in some spots, giving tiny veins within the red. It looks unfinished, but these little imperfections give this blotch its layers and form.

That’s what makes Feeley’s abstract expressionism fascinating. “Kilroy” (1957) — a 101.5 by 92 in. oil-based enamel painting on canvas — resembles a giant red tear drop against a bright yellow background. The red and yellow blend — looking opaque and translucent in different spots. But the most interesting part is where the spots fray — resembling blood splatters speckling pristine yellow wallpaper. It’s a work of art — and one that Showtime’s “Dexter” would appreciate. 

“Imperfections by Chance” allows the viewer to experience the world through another lens. It’s as if the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s handed you a microscope to map Feeley’s evolution. In “Red Blotch” (one of the earliest paintings in this gallery), Feeley’s signature’s is printed in big black block letters, almost blending into its green backdrop. His watercolors (circa 1958 – 1959) features big loopy cursive scribbles, mirroring the bulbous figures of his paintings.

The playfulness is evident in Feeley’s works.”Gomelza” (1965) resemble a game of pick up jacks; “Minoa” (1962) looks like bowling pins orbiting a helix; and “Alioth” (1964) repeats a pattern of kidney beans over a light blue background.

Meanwhile, the precise orange, white and blue figures in “Asellus” (1964) — a 101 by 101 in. oil-based enamel painting on canvas — seem like the overlooked organisms that one might see under a microscope. These repeating figures of little significance are prominently displayed like the famous subjects of Andy Warhol’s pop art. Later, Feeley reprises the figure of “Asellus” in “Electra” (1965) and “El Rakis” (1965) — three-dimensional oil-based enamel on wood sculptures.

As abstract as some of these works are, some are more recognizable. A watercolor of “Pelikes, Greece,” — dated June 28, 1961 — looks like a cubist version of El Greco’s “View of Toledo.” “Pelikes, Greece” is displayed next to another cubist watercolor landscape. This one, an untitled piece painted in 1962, shows the washed-out blue of a nondescript body of water next to a sandy coastline and it’s bubbly green vegetation.

It’s flat and other-worldly, yet oh-so familiar — like those misshapen heads on stick-figure bodies that your mother used to frame on the fridge a lifetime ago. Feeley reminds us that these “imperfections by chance” could be beautiful and worth staring at.

“Imperfections By Chance: Paul Feeley Retrospective, 1954 – 1966” was initiated by Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director Janne Sirén and organized by Albright-Knox Chief Curator Emeritus Douglas Dreishpoon and Tyler Cann, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Columbus Museum of Art. The exhibit was displayed from Nov. 9, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. 

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