MW | whitehot contemporary art magazine
By MARIEPET MANGOSINGApril 2022
Back in the art world after a 20-year journey making art away from the public eye, Bay Area artist Feldsott has found that the way to come back is to truly heal his past and rediscover its goal. Prior to this 20-year hiatus, Feldsott recounts some of the wry feelings he had with the art world when he first started out in the ’70s: To people, I was terrified. I didn’t have the mental bandwidth at this point. It was convenient to get away.
Realizing for the first time that his “quirkiness fit in with art kids” in high school, Feldsott channeled his artistic inclinations by delving into “graffiti work.” Prolific at 18, Feldsott experienced the whirlwind of being recognized for his work while trying to gain a foothold and understanding in a place he didn’t feel like he belonged. Starting in the 1970s and moving to California, Feldsott explains, “70s art was different and strange. People didn’t know how to categorize them. It was from these unconventional roots that Feldsott explored painting and gained attention.
After becoming one of SFMOMA’s youngest exhibitors, in the exhibition Fetishes in 1975, Feldsott became disillusioned with the demand for his work which he felt compelled to do. He comments, “I encountered this thing in the art world where I felt pressure to produce work based on what people wanted and expected of me. I was in the mind that each part and process was unique – this was relatively unfamiliar to me. I didn’t want to have 20 versions of each piece. It was a new experience each time. So, in my young, arrogant, upsetting mind, I said fuck it. Not wanting to settle for the cultural norms of art at the time, Feldsott continued, “At a time when most artists are recognized and have people buying works from collections, I said, I finished.
Feldsott left the art scene and embarked on a long, curious journey of introspection and healing. He says there were two pivotal places where he started his apprenticeship. He traveled outside the United States, becoming embroiled in what has been described as “a world of drugs, politics and indigenous upheaval” that eventually turned into “a spiritual quest” and learned medicinal practices and traditions of communities in Mexico and South America. . “I went to southern Mexico to help establish health clinics and to serve some of the communities that needed it,” Feldsott says. It was there that people welcomed me and recognized something in me, related to my hurt, and began to help me as an individual to restore and reclaim me.
Feldsott leaned into these communities, which ultimately inspired him to make art that spoke to the values and customs that left a lasting impression on him. “There was a patriarch in the village,” Feldsott recalls, “and I told him I’m pretty lost, I’m far from home, and I don’t know why I’m here. Can you help me ? day he took me somewhere down south. With this orientation, Feldsott visited an exhibition by the Ecuadorian painter Oswaldo Guayasamín. “I was in Ecuador and a friend of mine, who was a filmmaker, took me to a museum in Quito. We were walking through the gardens. Guayasamín – a very well-known painter in Latin America, who is incredibly powerful and iconic – I was very moved by his paintings. Prompted by the open dialogue between artist and viewer, Feldsott says, “There, art has a different position than here in the United States. They focus on murals, painting the spirit of the people. The work has more legs, in which it is deeper in the culture, it acts as a source of inspiration and a different space that the artist occupies. With his focus shifted from the commercialization of art he witnessed in the 70s to this new purpose of connection, Feldsott decided to once again show his art to the world, thus ending his sabbatical.
Feldsott tapped into his longstanding inspiration with the primordial beyond cultural idiosyncrasies, further expanding his aesthetic into the idea that art is a form of medicine and is meant to be shared. “The family traditions to which I was exposed, exchanged and ultimately nurtured” showed Feldsott a path to spirituality. Her practice was to take what she lacked, her hurt being, and use the works to heal herself and the viewer. Feldsott insists: “I want to contribute to medicine in the world. If this medicine is useful to the world, we hope it will change someone in a positive way. For me, medicine is about healing. In the spirit of his restoration, Feldsott says his work now is “more primordial.”
Asked about his East Coast contemporary, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Feldsott feels a kinship. “I did not know Basquiat and the same. But it’s interesting to see two artists doing similar things, healing problematic wounds, somehow in a synchronous way that we started the same journey. It was only years later that I discovered his work. There’s definitely some sort of connection there. We both tap into a certain type of vein and that makes sense to us.
Feldsott continues to tap into this vein, using archetypal imagery and influences from 1970s Beat poets and jazz musicians while examining issues of our current moment, including the Covid-19 pandemic in his Covid Logs series. Works from this series and others exploring socio-political themes will be on display at SUNY Westbury’s Amelie A. Wallace Gallery in a new solo exhibition in September.
In times of strife, Feldsott found help and comfort in communities other than the one in which he started. Since his time away from the art world, Feldsott wants to pay it forward, saying: dialogue with my community. He wishes to address the art space but also the world in general and its need for collective healing. Feldsott’s work and practice requires us to tap into our awareness to recognize our limitations while celebrating what we are capable of and engaging with each other to heal.
To learn more about Feldsott, please visit his website here and follow him on Instagram @feldsott. WM