A life filled by art
Artist Paul Feldhaus is a man overflowing with art
Paul Feldhaus is surrounded by the art he has been creating for over 50 years.
The evidence of his long career as a creator of objects of beauty, mystery and humor dominates the room. Every available surface in his home studio is covered with the tools or the results of an artist’s labor. And the studio is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak Noticing our interest in a table covered with palette knives, pencils, paint tubes, pigment jars, and paint brushes, Feldhaus’ wife, Pat, interjects, “There are so many kinds of brushes, and each one has its own specific use.” To which Paul after a moment’s reflection adds with a slow grin and obvious relish, “Yeah. You load it up with paint and paint away.”
Not content with the selection of prints and paintings stacked, piled, propped and hung on and from every wall and table, Feldhaus walks slowly and with great deliberation into an adjoining room that is also crammed with the results of his incessant urge to create. The physical challenges of Parkinson’s disease have slowed the artist’s movements, but nothing can quell his enthusiasm for creating and sharing his work.
Pat, wearing her trademark red dress and exhibiting the patient good humor that exemplifies her character, follows in his wake, asking, “Which one do you want, darling?” as Paul begins excavating and unrolling a series of colorful oil paintings on canvas.
“He loves to look at his own work,” Pat says over her shoulder with a gusty laugh. “Is that the one, sweetheart? Should I bring it out?”
She takes the canvas from Paul and carries it still rolled back into the studio, where it can be examined in the better light. Unrolled, it reveals a still life done in a modified cubist style; the familiar shapes and bold colors are decorative and exhuberant, a veritable celebration of form and color.
Looking around the room, I can’t help but register the fact that a predominant characteristic of Feldhaus’ work is an element of joyous playfulness. Colors are bright and complementary; bright greens erupt across crimson planes; swirls of violet, yellow and turquoise intersect on a field of black; the compositions evoke dynamic harmony and rhythm with an uninhibited, childlike purity of intent.
As we further explore the pieces scattered about the room, Pat, inspired by looking at a painting of a desert scene done primarily in chartreuse and crimson oils on canvas, recounts a tale of how the family’s car once broke down on a camping trip—driving from Alabama to Alaska with their nine children—in Palo Duro, Texas. “Something good comes out of everything,” Pat laughs, hoisting the painting. “While we were stuck beside the road, Paul got out his paints and made this.”
Amidst the color and abstraction of the paintings, a few beautifully rendered black-and-white etchings attest to another aspect of Feldhaus’ career. From 1971 until his retirement in 1991, Feldhaus taught drawing and printmaking at Chico State University. Indeed, many people familiar with his art think of Feldhaus primarily as a printmaker, as his prints have been exhibited internationally and he has been awarded prizes for his work in that field.
Hanging on the door to the art storage room that he had been recently rummaging through are a couple of Feldhaus’ famous warthog prints, and I can’t resist asking how he became so entranced with the gnarly beasts.
“Well,” Feldhaus begins, leaning back a bit in his chair, “before I did them, there were no warthogs [being exhibited] on the West Coast.” But a trip to Barth’s Sporting Goods, a downtown store that was decorated with all manner of examples of the taxidermist’s art, led to the discovery of a stuffed warthog, which Feldhaus thought would make an excellent model for his drawing class. The store management allowed Feldhaus to “borrow” the stuffed beast, and over the years he did many studies of it. “I included warthogs in many situations,” Feldhaus said, “because they are so interesting to look at.”
Eventually he had amassed so many warthog-inspired pieces that he was able to mount an entire show of warthog art in the University Art Gallery, with the mayor of Chico going so far as to declare a Warthog Day and the participants in the show all decked out in screenprinted warthog shirts. Such is the confluence of whimsy, art, and humor in the Feldhaus world.
Currently the Feldhauses are organizing an art sale, to be held in their driveway, of paintings created between 1952 and 1971, the period when Feldhaus was teaching at Springhill College in Mobile, Ala.
The basement of the house is filled to overflowing with Feldhaus’ ever-expanding body of work, and Pat decided that it would be a good time to pass on some of it to the community at amazingly low prices—starting at $10. Waving toward the storage room, Pat said, “I’ve been hauling them up from the basement three or four at a time. There must still be a hundred left to bring up.”
You might want to let a bit of the art that overflows from Paul Feldhaus to flow into your home.