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Paul Feeley


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Painter and sculptor. Disavowing abstract expressionism in favor of clarity, structure, and composure, he fostered the growth of color-field and hard-edge tendencies. Signature works feature fluid, clean-edged, organic shapes that respond to each other in intricate rhythms within a systemic approach to design. Additionally, his interest in non-Western decorative arts, such as fabrics and Islamic tiles, opened the way for pattern-and-decoration painters and others interested in ornamental effects. Born in Des Moines, Feeley grew up in Palo Alto, California. In 1931 he moved to New York. Already an accomplished portrait painter, he worked privately with Cecelia Beaux, while studying also at the Art Students League with Thomas Hart Benton, among others. He painted several murals during the 1930s and also worked as a commercial artist. Except for military service during World War II, from 1939 until his death he taught at Vermont's Bennington College, where he built a distinguished art program. His singular style emerged in the early 1960s, as he developed a formal vocabulary capable of great subtlety and refinement. A shape reminiscent of children's toy jacks recurs most often, while other common forms suggest bowling pins, barbells, vases, or butterflies. Usually, all pattern elements, each in a single, unmodulated hue, float independently on the canvas, without touching. He often worked in series, repeating a single composition in several intuitively chosen color combinations for variant effects. During the final year or so of his life, he also made painted wood sculptures that extrapolate his two-dimensional forms into space.

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