My most anticipated of all the summer’s exhibitions was ‘Elusive Space, a ‘A Centenary Retrospective’ of the work of Paul Feiler at the Redfern Gallery in Cork St., London. Though not a particularly large exhibition, it lived up to that anticipation.
I first became aware of Feiler’s work a decade or so ago and he has silently been a strong influence since then. We were working within a couple of hundred yards of each other at Bristol in the 1960s and ’70s but of course at the time I was unaware of him and had no idea that I was going to be interested in painting. A bit galling all the same, for I never met him. The current exhibition introduced me to his fastidiously neat geometric works and showed me just enough of his Italian and Cornish paintings to enthuse without spoiling their impact.
Peter Fowler View of a north Italian city 2015 Oil on canvas
Above is one of my paintings that I started several years ago and finished off this summer. It apparently came from nowhere and is an entirely imaginary version of a vaguely generic north Italian walled city. I suppose I was recalling a half-memory of Sienna and similar cities but what was very much in my mind was a painting I had seen of such a subject by Feiler. His painting below is not that painting but it is similar. I was delighted to see it in the Redfern and to know that my early memory of a Feiler had not been all that far out. I am of course only writing of style and influence, not quality!
Paul Feiler ‘View of Florence’ 1954 Oil on board
Feiler made the first of many visits to Venice in 1947 and to Cornwall in 1949. Both Italy and Cornwall played important roles in his painterly career. Over the following decades much of his work came from his studio at Kerris in West Penwith, Cornwall, first in a disused chapel and then, nearby at Paul, in a converted barn. His earlier work was characterised by being in a recognisably mid-20th century ‘St. Ives style’:
New to me were his geometric compositions, of which this is a good example:
‘Revolving Circular’ 1968-69 Oil and cut plasterboard on board
Feiler was of course interested primarily in the geometry in this image, and you can readily see his earlier attempts ‘beneath’ the finished image to get this exactly right. But to my eyes this could easily be a plan or vertical air photographic view of a Bronze Age cemetery of round burial mounds. I painted several small works as such 10 and more years ago but I did not know that Feiler had arrived there unknowingly two decades earlier. Colt Hoare was publishing archaeological plans like this two centuries ago in his Ancient Wiltshire.
This general view of part of the exhibition includes in the centre one of Feiler’s Zenicon series, created in 2007 in oil and gold leaf on gessoed board on canvas laid on wood. The view overall gives a sample of Feiler’s styles and perhaps bears out my contention that, in my eyes, it was a very encouraging exhibition. It ends on 27 October.