By MARIEPET MANGOSING, April 2022
Returning to 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 one’s past and rediscover one’s purpose. Leading up to that 20 year break, Feldsott recounts some of the disillusioned feelings he was experiencing with the art world during his start in the 70s: “I had complete anxiety going to events, so when my art dealer told me to go around and talk to people, I was terrified. I didn’t have the mental bandwidth at this point. It was convenient to walk away.”
First realizing that his “oddness fit in with the art kids” in high school, Feldsott channeled his artistic inclinations by dipping into “graffiti-esque work.” Prolific by 18 years old, Feldsott experienced the whirlwind of being recognized for his work while trying to gain his own footing and understanding in a place he did not feel like he belonged in. Starting out in the 1970s and moving to California, Feldsott explains, “The art in the 70s was different and strange. People didn’t know how to categorize it.” It is from these unconventional roots where Feldsott explored painting and garnered attention.
After becoming one of the youngest exhibitors ever at SFMOMA, in the exhibition Fetishes in 1975, Feldsott grew disillusioned by the demand for his work he felt pigeonholed to make. He comments, “I ran into that thing in the art world where I felt pressure to produce work according to what people wanted and expected from me. I was in the mind that each piece and process was unique—it was relatively unknown 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 and contrarian mind, I said screw that.” Unwilling to settle for the cultural norms of art at the time, Feldsott continues, “At the moment where most artists get recognition and have people buying work in collections, I said, I’m done.”
Feldsott left the art scene and embarked on an inquisitive but long journey of self-reflection and healing. He says that there were two pivotal places where he began his learning. He traveled outside the United States, getting caught up in what has been described as “a world of drugs, politics and an Indigenous uprising” that eventually turned into “a spiritual quest” and learning medicinal practices and traditions from communities in Mexico and South America. “I went to Southern Mexico to help establish health clinics and be of some service to some of the communities that needed it,” says Feldsott.” It was there that people took me in and recognized something in me, having to do with my woundedness, and started to help me as an individual to restore and reclaim myself.”
Feldsott leaned into these communities, which would eventually inspire 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,” recalls Feldsott, “and I told him I’m quite lost, I’m far from home, and I don’t know why I’m here. Can you help me? The next day, he took me somewhere in the South.” With this guidance, Feldsott visited an exhibition by 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 in 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 States. They focus on murals, painting from the spirit of the people. The work has more legs, in which it is deeper in the culture. It acts as inspiration and a different space that the artist occupies.” With his shifted focus from the commercialization of art he witnessed in the 70s to this newfound purpose of connection, Feldsott decided to show his art to the world again, effectively ending his sabbatical.
Feldsott tapped back into his long-standing inspiration with the primordial beyond cultural idiosyncrasies, further expanding his aesthetic into the idea that art is a form of medicine and it is meant to be shared. “The family traditions that I was exposed to and exchanged and ultimately mentored” showed Feldsott a path toward spirituality. His practice became about taking what he felt he lacked, his wounded being, and utilizing the works to heal himself as well as the viewer. Feldsott insists, “I want to contribute medicine into the world. If that medicine is useful to the world, it will hopefully shift somebody in a way that is positive. To me, medicine is about healing.” In the spirit of his restoration, Feldsott says of his work now that it is “more primordial.”
When asked about his East Coast contemporary Jean-Michel Basquiat, Feldsott feels a kinship. “I didn’t know about Basquiat and likewise. But it’s interesting to see two artists doing similar things, curing some problematic wounds, somehow in a synchronistic way that we started on the same journey. It wasn’t until years later that I encountered his work. There’s definitely some kind of connection there. We’re both somehow tapping into some type of vein and it makes sense to us.”
Feldsott continues to tap into that vein, using archetypal images and influences from the Beat poets and jazz musicians of the 1970s while also examining the issues of our current moment, including the Covid-19 pandemic in his Covid Diaries series. Works from this series as well as others exploring socio-political themes will exhibit at SUNY Westbury’s Amelie A. Wallace Gallery in a new solo exhibition this September.
In times of strife, Feldsott has found aid and solace through communities outside of the one he initially started in. Since his time being away from the art world, Feldsott wants to pay it forward, saying, “The work has now been about having a dialogue with my community.” He wishes to address the art space but also the world at large and its need for collective healing. Feldsott’s work and practice demands that we tap into our consciousness to acknowledge our limitations while also celebrating what we are capable of and engaging with each other to heal.
Mariepet Mangosing is a bi-coastal writer and graphic designer from Jersey City. She has worked in brand packaging, web and print design for the past decade. Her feature length screenplay The Batholiths has been shortlisted in the Macro x Blacklist Feature Screenwriting Incubator program. In her work, she advocates mental wellness and accurate cultural representation in film, television and other media. She examines relationship dynamics through a first-generation immigrant lens. She has her BA in Visual Communications from Ramapo College of New Jersey and is an MFA candidate in Screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University.
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