It Speaks to Me: Steve Roden on Lorser Feitelson’s 1936 ‘Life Begins’ at LACMA

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I think this early Feitelson is one of the most wonderfully awkward paintings I’ve ever seen — in terms of how the shaped canvas and the three images fit together. The elements look like they were placed on a square canvas. On first glance, the peach pit, the doctor scene and the cosmic image all fit the title: “Life Begins.” But the images are so distinct from each other, they slowly begin to suggest less literal readings. The blue background suggests a sky behind the sky, and the peach pit seems as if it has fallen into place from the image above it. It feels like the painting has its own internal meaning. On some days it feels as hermetic as ‘outsider art,’ and on others it seems the most experimental painting he ever made. I’ve been visiting this work for 25 years, and I still don’t understand it. I really love that.

— Artist Steve Roden, as told to Jori Finkel

Lorser Feitelson’s Life Begins, 1936. Oil and collage on masonite. At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Courtesy Lorser Feitelson Estate.