Paul Feiler

Janicon LXII


Paul Feiler 1918–2013
Oil paint and silver and gold leaf on canvas
Support: 1422 × 1420 × 27mm
Presented by the artist’s estate and the Redfern Gallery 2017


Janicon LXII 2002 is a square abstract painting on canvas. This canvas has been stretched over a built-up stretcher that, with the addition of silver leaf around the edges of the canvas, provides an illusion of a separate frame for the painting. This is however not the case, and the silver leaf border sets up the sharply recessive space that is described by succeeding horizontal and vertical bands of pale blues, greys, greens and browns. The back board of this illusionistic space is a field of similarly coloured vertical bands, in the centre of which is an upright oblong, bounded off-centre in gold leaf. The title brings together references of the double Janus head that looks both back in time and towards the future, with the gold and silver leaf of Byzantine religious icons. Despite the use of geometry and pale colour, the paintings in Feiler’s extensive Janicon series, of which this is a part, are built up of many layers of colour over a long period of time.

In the late 1960s Feiler’s painting changed markedly in appearance. Through the 1950s until the early 1960s, his painting had reflected an abstract treatment of a landscape subject (particularly the conceit of a window through to an experience of landscape) that set him firmly in the post-war avant-garde that included artists such as William Scott (1913–1989) and Peter Lanyon (1918–1964) in Britain and Nicolas de Staël (1914–1955) and Pierre Soulages (born 1919) in France. This form of structured, if freely gestural, associative abstraction provided a foundation also for a reception of American abstract expressionism in the late 1950s. However, by this time Feiler’s work was already changing, and through the 1960s his painting became increasingly pared down and less immediately about landscape, and more non-figurative and concerned with the action of perception. This was initially indicated through circular or oval forms within intersecting rough square and oblong shapes in works such as Inclined Oval Brown 1964–5 (Tate T00741), and then with a move from using a landscape format canvas to a square format.

The catalyst for a further restriction in his means and a clearer statement of his subject – not so much a general perception of space but more a meditation of a more spiritual kind – was a visit made by Feiler and his wife to Greece in 1967, where he visited Athens, Delphi, Olympia and Mycenae; this was the start of his conception of his paintings as equivalents for shrines. The different series of paintings he commenced in 1969–70 with titles such as Adytum, Ambit and Aduton – each being series of paintings he continued over many years – are all indicative of shrines, sacred enclosures and sites of contemplation that Feiler’s pared down geometries and use of optical illusion emphasise. Over the next forty years, Feiler devoted himself to refining these different series of works and, ultimately, the Janicon series, which was held by him to resolve aspects of the other paintings.

Feiler gave the title Janus to a small group of paintings in the 1990s. In 1998 he started to add gold and silver leaf to these paintings, markedly altering their character and he termed the new series Janicon (this series continued to occupy him into the last decade of his life). The historian Peter Khoroche has written of this series and specifically of this painting:

Like icons these paintings invite contemplation. They calm and concentrate discursive thought and imperceptibly alter the viewer’s consciousness. But unlike icons, they are not aides to specifically religious meditation. In Janicon LXII the eye is drawn inwards, first by wide and then by narrow bands of ever more close-toned colour, to the central vertical rectangle, whose golden borders of varying thickness frame no sacred figure but only dark depths, in which faint gleams of light seem to hint at some imminent but ever retreating revelation. However powerfully one senses the numinous, the experience of looking still remains grounded in the aesthetic.
(Peter Khoroche, in Redfern Gallery 2005, unpaginated.)

Further reading
Paul Feiler, exhibition catalogue, Austin/Desmond Fine Art, London 1990.
Paul Feiler, The Near and The Far, Paintings 1953–2004, exhibition catalogue, Tate St Ives 2005.
Paul Feiler, Janicon, exhibition catalogue, Redfern Gallery, London 2005, illustrated, unpaginated.

Andrew Wilson
August 2017

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