Donald Feasel exudes a fearless will to displease
Productivity alone matters little to most painters. They want to feel some sense of direction, call it progress or not. In recent years, South Bay painter Donald Feasel has scrambled his tools and techniques, even exposing his canvases to the elements, to fuel his works growth.The small survey exhibition Donald Feasel: Terra Infirma at Notre Dame de Namur Universitys Wiegand Gallery captures some of the episodes in his compassless pursuit of currency.
Argus (2004) appears to come from a period when Feasel was pouring pigment on unstretched canvas that he laid atop various objects to create a kind of topography.
The painting that resulted in this case looks grossly visceral and composed only in the sense that a perimeter and orientation were decided for it.
The signature of authorship eludes us in this canvas, as in many of the others on view, unless we recognize it in a fearless willingness to displease for the sake of seeing the unforeseen.
Countless artworks in all media in the past half century have risked or flaunted aggression toward their audience. But Feasels work has searching qualities that go beyond aesthetic offense.
He pushes the improvisational and unpredictable aspects of his production to - possibly past - the point where not only artifice but interpretability dissolves.
The 2010 Tujunga looks very dimly suffused with intention, only to the extent that we cannot imagine how else but by contrivance such a magmatic pattern might have gotten onto canvas.
Gravity, viscosity, absorbency, the uncontrollable effects of exposure to weather and earth: Feasel picked up these tools as he worked away from the brushed still lifes that here represent his point of departure. Only their butcher shop subject matter hints at the confrontations the later works provide.
We might understand Feasels work of the past decade or so as seeking incident without interiority - either that of picture space or that of subjectivity.
Uninformed viewers may mistake the rawness of Feasels abstractions for assertions of ego, but they value self-minimization over self-expression. That ought to guarantee them the audience they deserve.
Fahlen and Terao at Fischer: To what does outsider art stand outside? The bounds of professionalism, of the insiders art economy, of academic art discourse?
All of these exclusionary limits have shown themselves porous as cheesecloth since Roger Cardinal coined outsider art in 1972. (As he used it, the term encompassed the art of the insane, the self-taught, people with no art community connections.) Jack Fischer seems to have made a mission of demonstrating this fact through exhibitions.
His latest brings the work of Chuck Fahlen (1939-2010) alongside that of Japanese naif Katsuhiro Terao.
Fahlen, whose life began and ended in the Bay Area, earned art credentials in college and taught for many years at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia.
Terao, an Osaka native, had no art training. His father owned an ironworks that employed him as a welder for 20 years.
After the death of his parents, with whom he lived, and the closure of the factory, Terao began drawing obsessively, with support provided by Atelier Incurve, a creative center for the mentally challenged.
Cynics may smirk at the affinities between the works of these two artists, who never met. Others will see affirmative echoes: Fahlen having found in himself an elemental playfulness and ingenuity; Terao having discovered how much he could build on patterns taking form in his imagination.
Fahlens Here After (2007) constructs a sort of constellation, with a nod to Alexander Calders work, out of hooked brass and copper rods and painted wooden spheres. It marries the gravitas of a molecular model and the self-fulfilling silliness of a toy.
The wonderful Boggle (2007) similarly fashions a tangle, but with elegant curves that make it evoke a stroke of luck, creative or otherwise.
Teraos Iron Stable 2 and Spinning Wheel of Iron exhibit the tendency of many untrained artists to leave no corner of a surface undecorated. But his patterns suggest an interior architecture fanatically shored against intrusion yet assembled with devotion and delight in the process.
Donald Feasel: Terra Infirma: Paintings. Through April 19. Wiegand Gallery, Notre Dame de Namur University, Belmont. (650) 508-3595. www.wiegandgallery.org.
Parallels: Chuck Fahlen, Katsuhiro Terao: Sculpture and drawings. Through April 26. Jack Fischer Gallery, 311 Potrero Ave., S.F. (415) 522-1178. www.jackfischergallery.com.
Kenneth Baker is The San Francisco Chronicles art critic. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @kennethbakersf