During the 1950's Feldman was like a sponge, absorbing and experimenting with many modernist ideas. Returning from WWII a mature and thoughtful artist he evolved his painting ideas and this online viewing room gives a sampling of artwork documenting his artistic progression during the first decade of his career. There were over twenty paintings on exhibit at Bert Gallery ranging from Memory Paintings created in the 1940's to Expressionist works from the late 1950's, along with woodcuts and works on paper.
MEMORY PAINTINGS 1948
The “memory” was an idea I developed in the army, where you had to remember numerical data for combat. We were constantly practicing, and I continued when I returned home. I would stop at a window and look at it for 30 seconds, and then turn around and see how many objects I could remember.” Walter Feldman Interview, 2010
“This is a memory portrait. I’m interested in developing the expansion of one’s memory. The painting was done after knowing and meeting the mother of Stuart Davis, the artist, for whom I have great respect. I had just come back from the army, and at that time I did not have a job but could get 52 weeks of unemployment pay at $20 a week. A buddy and I rented a studio in a big complex in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and a little old lady was there, too, making small sculptures. It turned out that she was Stuart Davis’s mother. Later on, I did a portrait of my oldest boy from memory." Walter Feldman Interview, 2010
MOVING PLANES 1950
By the early 1950's Feldman completed his BA and MA at Yale University School of Fine Arts. His art education was interrupted by WWII where he served in the infantry and was severely wounded at the Ardennes Skirmish resulting in a profoundly changed man. Returning to art school, Feldman found the art world dramatically changed and studied at Yale with the art legends Josef Albers and Wilhem DeKooning. Modernist ideas and progressive art thoughts became the fabric of Feldman's daily life.
“By around 1950, when I painted Procession, I had been exposed to the work of Marcel Duchamp and was involved in ideas about moving planes. I wasn’t trying to be a Duchamp advocate or copyist, though the idea for this painting started with him. At around the same time, the idea of a very hot or red painting became important to my work.” Walter Feldman Interview, 2010
MELDING REALISM WITH MODERNIST TRENDS, 1953
Feldman's first solo exhibition at the "Artists Gallery" (1953) showed his continuing journey and struggle to absorb modernist theory. A New York Times (1953) art review speaks to Feldman's transition toward abstraction. "These are not forceful pictures but they have appealing qualities and they exemplify the main concern of many modern paintings - the reconciliation of subject matter with idiosyncratic and abstract painting language."
“I thought of this arrangement not only as a still life but also as an altar. One can see, in the upper left-hand section, a figure holding a child, with a shawl over the head. Objects on the plane of the table are being sacrificed or offered to a deity.” Walter Feldman Interview, 2010
Throughout his career Feldman painted biblical themes and images of Jewish ritual. His knowledge of the Old Testament and Jewish Heritage was in-depth and reflected his spiritual growth after returning from WWII surviving a painful combat shrapnel injury.
“This painting has a very muted color orchestration. It was done during a time when I was in constant pain and thinking of Job as a reflection of how I felt. This is my interpretation of Job wearing a prayer shawl. With the gray, black and olive-green colors, I was trying to express what Job had endured.” Walter Feldman Interview, 2010
THE MOSAIC INFLUENCE, 1956
A Fulbright Fellowship in 1956-57 to study the art of mosaics in Italy enabled Feldman to concentrate on mastering mosaics. As a result he integrated a staccato paint stroke in his canvases. In a later interview, Feldman describes this mosaic influence along with his desire to push further beyond representation to abstraction in the painting.
A Corner of My Room, 1956
“The mosaic influence appears again in this painting. The painting almost looks non-objective, and I didn’t realize it was really the corner of my room until I stopped one day and looked at it. I said, “Oh my; it’s very realistic.” So, I painted part of the realism away to make it more non-objective or abstract. The green represents growing abstract. The green represents growing things. The direction of the strokes, as in mosaic, became very important.” Walter Feldman Interview, 2010
1958 NYC GALLERY EXHIBIT & CANVAS COLLAGE
By 1957 Feldman was pushing the boundaries of his painting style. The influence of his mosaics study emerged in his paintings by grouping smaller painting shapes like mosaic tiles, each with their own secondary direction. At this time Walter began experimenting with collage. These collage and abstract canvases impressed Kraushaar Galleries resulting in his first solo New York City gallery exhibit in 1958.
“Negev Silence uses collage as well as areas of gold, which I then glazed over. Again that technique of glazing becomes very important. In the upper right there is a pulsing light trying to get through the thin veils of color.“ Walter Feldman Interview, 2010
“Art that is purely emotional has little to recommend it besides its passion and sincerity. While art that is purely cerebral reveals only one part of man.” Walter Feldman, La Galleria D’Arte Del Grattacielo, Milan, Italy 1957
Creation (Yellow Sky), 1960
Winning the Metropolitan Museum print prize in 1952 for The Final Agony, Feldman's first exhibited woodcut, launched the artist into a lifelong love of printmaking.
Walter Feldman’s woodblock print, “The Final Agony,” is a very moving and suggestive example making fine use of black and white areas in the working out of his closely knit design. December 7, 1952, New York Times
In 1952, I had been invited to teach in the Yale summer school in Norfolk, near New Canaan, Connecticut, and I met a Hungarian artist, Gabor Peterdi. Most of his work was in printmaking. He was essentially an etcher and engraver in metal. I had no interest in engraving, and while I was not particularly interested in making woodcuts, he convinced me to try. He gave me a large block of wood he had found and lent me his tools, I cut the block, I became very interested in the process, and when I looked down at my hand, I had bleeding blisters but not pain. I then printed one or two proofs by hand rubbing. I had heard of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum that fall, and since Peterdi lived close to New York and was going to bring a print of his own, I asked him if he would drop mine off at the same time, which he did, Shortly thereafter ... the drawing and print curator at the Metropolitan, ...informed me that I had won the print prize. Of course, I was very happy. Walter Feldman personal interview 2010