Over the past quarter century, international art fairs like this one have become a significant driving force in the engine of the contemporary art world economy. They have proved a boon to many of the participating dealers in terms of the sales they generate and the opportunity to expand their clientele, introducing their artists (or their wares) to an international community of collectors; and sometimes to prowl the aisles to survey the competition. They are unabashedly about commerce rather than aesthetics, and for this reason are anathema to many artists and critics. A crowded convention center floor, clearly, is not place to display or look at art works, mixed higgledy-piggledy with thousands of others, all of wildly divergent quality which ranges from the schlockiest of schlock to the occasional surprising new discovery or the familiar masterpiece.
The 2011 Los Angeles Art Show is no exception. A vast affair, it features 144 galleries from all over the world showing more than 10,000 art works. There was plenty to scoff at--unfairly, perhaps, because who really stops and take time to look at anything with great care or attention? I confess to being one of those who--last night, at least--strolled up and down the aisles with plenty of snap judgments (mostly negative) and little in the way of thoughtful appraisal. Still, it was fun to take a snapshot of the international art scene, with ample representation from China--the new powerhouse in this, as in so many other economic fields--and other Asian countries. (Europe, however, was only patchily represented.) In my scant perusal, I have to say, I was not overly impressed with the Chinese participants, with certain notable exceptions like this wonderful wall painting which seeks to impress us with the identity between the intricate structure of our bodies and that of vegetative life, the great Oneness of being:
In all this I did pause for long enough to take a good look at the work of an artist whose work is new to me, Yisrael K Feldsott...
... who shows with San Francisco's Paul Mahder Gallery. I was also fortunate to have a few minutes to talk with the artist; based in Northern California, he is from a Russian Jewish immigrant family and, aside from being a painter of great skill and passion, is a devotee and sometime guardian of Arctic wolves. A world traveler, he has devoted considerable time to the study of Central and South American culture, lore and ecology, and has received shamanic training in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The results, as you might expect, are paintings of great depth and humanity. This artist thinks of his work in much the same way I would like to think of my writing: each painting is a personal foray into the depths of consciousness and the heart of the human psyche--a journey on which he asks his viewer to accompany him. Archetypes abound as powerful images in the work--wolf, bird (light or dark, dove or crow), boat, river, man and woman, sun and moon--with associations that speak with deep resonance to some ancient place in the soul of each of us...
(I apologize to the artist for not having images that more faithfully represent his work. What I have are simply the snapshots I took to serve me as aides-memoires.) This one records his response to the death of his father...
Surfaces, dense with material in places, are worked and reworked, revealing as many layers as an archeological dig and requiring the eye to pursue the artist's arduous journey in the creation of the painting.
Scratch the surface of any of the religions our species has created, from Judaism to Tibetan Buddhism and the rites of the South American shaman, and you'll find a common need to account for the great mysteries of living and dying and to provide solace in the face of suffering and loss. It's in this area that Feldsott works: confronted by his paintings, we are invited to encounter the darkness and the ecstasy of our own inner life.
So yes, it's worth pausing once in a while along the way at events of this kind. There is always much to be seen and much to be learned, if one simply pays attention.
Follow Peter Clothier on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peteratlarge