American Art Collector, "David FeBland, New York Stories
Bureau of Arts & Culture, Summer 2014 / Interview with Joshua Triliegi
"The City as His Canvas", By David Masello
Artists & Illustrators, "David FeBland, Exploring America in oils", Steve Pill
BrettBusang.com/blog/557 David FeBland: collideAscope, at the Fraser Gallery, Bethesda, MD, Brett Busang
The Washington Gazette, "FeBland Paints the Ironies of Life in the City", Claudia Rousseau
Art in America, "David FeBland at Fraser", Joe Shannon
Art Lies / The Texas Art Journal, "David FeBland", Joel Weinstein
The Dallas Met, "City Lights—David FeBland Stands Out At Valley House", Bret McCabe
Catalogue Essay, "David FeBland: Fact and Friction", Linda Jones Gibbs
American Artist Magazine, "The Observable World: Paintings of David FeBland", Elizabeth Forst
UC Alumni Magazine, "Master of urban realism", by John Bach"
The New York Times, "Reviving Painting as a Viable Medium", Dominic J. Lombardi
Frankfurt Darmstadter Echo, "Realismus Verkauft sich Gut", Claudia Buchenauer
NY Arts Magazine, "David FeBland at Woodward Gallery", Joyce Korotkin
Cover Magazine, "Gothic City Counterpoints—David FeBland at Caelum Gallery", Rachel Youens
The Philadelphia Inquirer, "A City in Motion", Edward J. Sozanski
Capital District News, "David FeBland at Fulton St. Gallery", Rob Longley
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "New York Life, Through Two Painters' Eyes", Jerry Cullum
Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Packing The Lobby Walls with Artistic Punch", Roy Proctor
BRETT BUSANG FINE ART "David FeBland: collideAscope, at the Fraser Gallery, Bethesda, MD", Brett Busang, September 30, 2006
It is a fine thing to have a painter in our midst. The run-of-the-mill Washington exhibit is more about conceptual muscle - the right to hack away at boundaries others have successfully breached (and carted off joyously to other places.) Look at any exhibition calendar; DC is fairly lousy with the stuff.
David FeBland started out not as a painter, but as an illustrator. His technique is gorgeously developed, but, as all technique should be, in perfect tandem with the content it most agreeably serves. Even so, FeBland is a direct descendant of the Boldiniesque tradition which seeks to wow the spectator with painterly moves. Yet FeBland's capacity to impress with bravura alone is held in check by his ability to hang out on a limb and strike at the heart of who we are and how we manage in urban environments that are out of step with human needs, yet irreducibly private. He has taken a brutally pre-emptive world and populated it, not with grinning lunatics, but people with urgent needs and obsessive yearnings.
In his earlier paintings, human connection appeared somewhat implausible, as pools of bright tarmac and smouldering red brick sloshed together. The FeBland of this recent show has found, if not love, then a certain amiable lubricity. His women are fully in possession of an earthy, albeit cosmetically enhanced, sexuality - reminiscent of the Venusian babes Reginald Marsh could do without trying. (FeBlands Redhead could be "High Yaller" in a better neighborhood.) His people are often elongated, exuding a wild energy that seems to be slightly ahead of them. Caught in the snags of our alienating infrastructures, they make ecstatic bids for affirmation even as they burrow into their private worlds. The quintessential FeBland figure is on a skateboard - fitting for a guy who'd been a bicycle messenger. But FeBland isn't always running around; he has lately discovered a strain of simple humanity that has been largely absent from his work in the past. His picture vendor (Laws of Physics) has given up, but is willing to go through the motions. In Path of Escape two Hasidic Jews stand before a high fence puzzling over a post-9/11 scenario. An enraptured luddite has taken "his last cassette" to an open field to admire its wind-borne destruction . FeBland's unflappable technique, however, goes a little haywire at times. In artists with smaller repertoires, it's easy to stick to tried-and-true formulas and keep on doing them at least indifferently. FeBland has to contend with such a well-tempered instrument that he sometimes has trouble reining it in. Subterranean, for all of its superficial graces, is eye-candy. Kaaba is a kind of girly picture surrounded with wink/wink quotation marks. We understand that we might be in somewhere in the Middle East. On its sandy bosom a man prostrates himself as some possible Americans observe or try not to observe him. But the babes the focus of the thing and we have to decide whether we can live with her callous narcissism, which may be a stand-in for All of Us. FeBlands larger narrative paintings lack, as a whole, the intriguing ambiguity that sets his work apart from the illustrative chatter he has, for the most part, eschewed. The exception is Keystone, which shows a robbery in progress, with the thief only a few paces ahead of his well-heeled pursuers: the lady incredulous; her boyfriend hopping mad; the long-coated felon trying his damndest to get away. You look at it and think somebody has taken that soft-focus picture of a sophisticated couple, fast-forwarded it a frame or two and - voila! - we have a situation! FeBland's claim to our minds and senses consists in his persistent willingness to take the old picture and run with it - run well past our conventional expectations toward a place where the rulebook is held up to ridicule after it has been consulted on a fine point of construction.
THE WASHINGTON GAZETTE, “FeBland Paints the Ironies of Life in the City”, Claudia Rousseau, October, 2006
David FeBland's recent paintings of urban subjects are now at the Fraser Gallery in Bethesda, Maryland. This is the gallery's fifth solo exhibit of the New York-based painter whose impressive international exhibition record is matched by an equally impressive sales record. As some local art bloggers are commenting, FeBland is clearly doing something right.
The paintings, most of fairly modest proportions, fall into three categories: views of rather ordinary looking people struggling to get on with their lives, often in stark contrast to the urban glamour that surrounds them; somewhat darker views of city life, particularly in the subway; and lastly, ironic, even faintly humorous, scenes, which might suggest some ambiguous philosophical commentary. If one lets a nervous laugh escape when viewing a painting like ''Keystone” - a large canvas showing a purse snatching in garish colors and melodramatic gesture - an immediate queasiness about it will follow. This odd sequence is even more pronounced with pictures like ''The Last Cassette,” a strange narrative that involves a pair of bicyclists. The man in the foreground holds up a tape cassette that is coming apart, the tape flying around in the wind. One can identify with the frustration - we've all felt it - and the characters in the painting are so like us, the girl looking at her sport watch concerned only with all the time they're losing.
These works are like mini-mirrors of our contemporary lives that illustrate - as in ''shed light upon” - those uncomfortable feelings that accompany daily life, particularly in the urban ambiance. Analogies to Norman Rockwell come to mind, and in many ways, they are justified. Much as the great American illustrator made images that still typify the pre- and post-WWII era, FeBland's images capture something of the peculiarity of early 21st century urban life, with all its strangeness, diversity and artificial glitziness. But also like Rockwell, these images don't address big questions. As the artist states, they ''are all about the small idea.” They speak directly in a simple vernacular. But unlike Rockwell's, these narratives are played out in a pictorial world that is ultimately unsettling, even faintly threatening. I believe this tension is the secret of their appeal.
FeBland's best works are those where the narrative element is strongest. ''Watching You” is a good case in point. The view is into a New York City subway car. Seated on the dark red plastic benches that line the sides of the car is a woman in a low-necked short black dress, hanging crystal earrings and bracelets, high heels, long painted nails and heavy makeup. Her knees press together, hands rest on a small evening purse in her lap and she gazes at the floor. She's going somewhere. In the corner of the otherwise unoccupied car, a man, the sleaze just oozing out of him, looks furtively over at her. We can tell she knows he is staring at her, but is trying not to let him know. Presto! By this point, FeBland has you.
Also interesting, in a slightly more subtle way, are images such as ''Laws of Physics” and ''Path of Escape.” The former, in more gritty tones than many, shows what appears to be an artist standing in front of an office building packing up dozens of canvases. The latter shows two Orthodox Jewish men in shirtsleeves and yarmulkes, standing between the picture plane and a tall wrought iron fence. Beyond the fence is what appears to be a helipad near the edge of the river, with helicopters taking off toward the skyline in the distance. The implication here is obvious - the men are trapped in their Brooklyn community and are contemplating what escape might be - but the characterization is superlative.
Works like these account for the analogies that have been made between FeBland and the early 20th century New York Eight or Ash Can School painters like Robert Henri and John Sloan. In fact, with regard to subject and technique, there are affinities with these artists, many of whom were artist-reporters, and like FeBland, commercial illustrators turned painters. FeBland's neo-impressionist style is most reminiscent of Henri, where forms have pointy ends, and sharp edges are blended in feathery strokes. Like the Eight, FeBland is not painting from direct observation; his works are all invented and finished in the studio, often from memory. And, also like them, FeBland's strength is in depicting figures in motion and portraying the psychological nuances of gesture.
But unlike Henri, whose views of New York streets were dominated by the city's gray tonality, FeBland's canvases are full of saturated color. There is a strange prevalence of pinks, yellows and light blues in these paintings - perhaps more Miami than New York. And often the backgrounds are covered with neo-expressionist drips and splashes (like ''Carefree,” a small painting of a young woman walking with an iPod-like device stuck in her ears). Sometimes this play of paint is distracting to the image. It calls attention to itself to the detriment of the narrative. FeBland writes of ''falling deeply in love with the act of painting” and speaks of this disjuncture as a subversive trick to seduce the viewer into his pictures. And, his painting can be lyrical at times. See, for example, the wedge of deep blue depicting the office building fountain in ''Plaza” that forces the working types taking their cigarette breaks into the small dark area above.
Not as seductive visually as they are illustratively, I see more of the reporter's coolness in FeBland. There are no didactic social messages here, beyond a feeling for the way men and women adapt to the alienating conditions of the modern city.
ART LIES / THE TEXAS ART JOURNAL, “David FeBland” (Valley House Gallery/ Dallas, Texas), Joel Weinstein, Summer 2000
New Yorker David FeBland paints scenes from the lovely, exasperating melodrama known to denizens and tourists alike as Manhattan. Oddly for that imposing, dingy realm, Mr. FeBland's creations are intimate and as sunbaked as the Turkish coast, and the main plot twist in his bright, blurry theater is the collision of souls.
Within each canvas, some disturbance, often quite small but always piquant is unfolding. In Sanctuary, we, the viewers, are entering headlong into a taxi cab, and yet through a trick of perspective typical of the FeBland method, we can see all around. Silent, threatening personages surround the vehicle cadging change, bent furiously over the windshield, or just peering in while the driver inexplicably turns upon his huddling passengers as if about to scream, blaming them for everything.
There are far greater calamities in the pictureóan airliner plunges from the sky in flames in the far distance, but they seem completely incidental to the out-of-whack hugger-mugger at hand.
Mr. FeBland's tendency to offer us nearly photographic tableaux of highly unlikely coincidences lends his work the wobble of fever dreams, and strongly suggests that, as much as it all looks sort of New Yorky, we are getting to know the lay of a distinctly interior land.
We tag along with the artist past his inventions: street corners, elevated trains, shoeshine stands, corrugated factories. And we get the kind of wide-eyed view that comes from suddenly spinning around at the sound of squealing tires.
Rendezvous is the most distilled of Mr. FeBland's practice of adding up the small, plain facts to make intricate fancies. It features a great expanse of sidewalk, so fetchingly pink and scumbly that it might be the painting's star attraction. The supporting cast includes a boy ding a wheelie with a stroller as he runs by a listless doorman having a smoke.
Meanwhile, around the corner we spy a man running full-tilt toward usóand the unseen lad with what is unmistakably a filched purse held high. He is what weíve come to know from television as a perp. We can be certain of this by his ditty-rag, baggy, calf-length sweat pants, and fallen victim, who lies dazed on the sidewalk showing us the bright yellow moons of her rear end.
The impending crash won't be found in the tabloids, yet it is a supercharged dose of what makes living in Manhattan worth it; or not so, depending on whether you identify with the perp or the perpee.
For a more psycho-sexual brand of excitation, Mr. FeBland gives us Pan Bimbo. Pan Bimbo is the Wonder Bread of Latin America, but a bimbo of a different sort dominates this scene, a baleful amazon in a red dress who regardsóor more likely looks right through a man dragging himself and his fleece-lined coat out of the subway, much diminished by his experiences. There are the usual warpages here, especially the incongruous figure of an early Disney Mickey Mouse at the woman's side, squatting like a ratty companion. Mickey is either graffitied on the wall or decorates a trash can, but in any event he gazes with much more generosity of spirit upon the wretch who comes from below.
The latter two paintings are recent works, and if quietude can by any stretch be attributed to Mr.FeBland's artistry, they are quieter, yet more disturbing, than grandiose compositions of yore like Sanctuary. The vicissitudes of race and class remain, but not the careening jetliners or the more obnoxious scumbaggery of the street. Mr. FeBland, like Rudolf Guliani, has cleaned up the old neighborhoods, but strife still freewheels just out of sight. He seems to be reaching deeper for the refreshing angst of the true metropolitan, and maybe the painting itself is taking over, lending those stretches of asphalt, concrete and steel which stand for hardnesses within us a texture that is pretty and bright and hazy enough to stand.
AMERICAN ARTIST MAGAZINE, “The Observable World: Paintings of David FeBland”, Elizabeth Forst, September, 2000
David FeBland’s paintings reverberate with the energy and intensity of urban life. Elevated trains rumble overhead, and passengers emerge from the cool dark of subway stations. Yellow cabs and bike messengers weave in and out of traffic. Buses roar by. Pedestrians of all shapes and sizes, races and ages – all seemingly oblivious to the noise, traffic and people around them – pursue their own agendas.
Although there is a definite narrative element to FeBland’s paintings, the tale is never explicitly told. Reminiscent of Garry Winograd’s or Robert Frank’s black-and-white photographs of the ‘50’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s, the paintings say something about American life, but the story is archetypical, not personal. The images resonate with the unconscious, like a message revealed in a dream.
Photography is an important element of FeBland’s work. He carries a camera as he bicycles through New York City – his home for the past 20 years – and photographs whatever incites his imagination. His paintings are not about New York however; the City is simply a convenient place to observe life and the way people interact. The artist sees his camera as a tool to catalogue information but doesn’t rely on it to do his compositional work for him.
Nevertheless, FeBland believes that much 20th century pictorial art has been influenced by photography. “The camera imposes an arbitrary frame upon a scene, and it has made it possible for us to view the world that way. As photography became widely used as a form of journalism, it rewrote the accepted rules of composition,” he explains. “My work, for instance, is not comfortably contained within the shape of the frame. Subjects and objects are cropped or move out of the picture plane in ways we learned only after the advent of the camera”.
What separates his work from many contemporary figurative artists, he says, is his paintings’ consideration of both his exterior and interior lives. They’re very much about me, of course, but they’re also about the world I perceive – the observable world. Much of the work being produced today is either iconographic or subliminal in nature, and though what’s happening in my life at any moment has great impact on my work, there’s another compelling story as well. The great struggle that pits man against his physical world is endless and ongoing and provides for many countless subplots of both constructive and combative behavior.”
If FeBland sounds at times like an enthusiastic reader of college texts on urban theory, it is because this was once his course of study. In fact, FeBland didn’t set out to be an artist at all, and although he was well schooled in modern art, it wasn’t a formal education. “My mother was an artist and an ardent modernist”, says FeBland. “I was dragged to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as a 6-year-old. Instead of a Bible on a stand, like you see in some homes, we had a book called American Art after 1945. Before my 7th birthday I could differentiate the works of Robert Motherwell from Franz Kline. I could tell you more than you wanted to know about the Abstract Expressionists, and I was familiar with Hans Hoffman and the Drip Painters when I was 8 or 9. I’m sure I was in college before I discovered Rembrandt.”
FeBland was a political science major in college and after graduation spent a semester at the University of Manchester in England studying town planning and design. He later earned a graduate degree in landscape architecture at the University of Virginia. After completing his education, he worked as a landscape architect in Boston until he was laid off in the recession of 1974-75. “Working as a landscape architect, I found myself attracted to any application of images on surfaces we might have been designing at the time”, he says. “In graduate school, I wanted to spend more time on the presentation than the design. It was the triumph of form over substance”, he now says wryly. “ After I was laid off, I decided to pursue what I was struggling to achieve anyway and began exploring shape, color and form.”
He applied to the M.F.A. program at The Boston Museum School but was not admitted because he already held a graduate degree. He attended another art school, and after 6 months of drawing from plaster casts, he flunked out. He started and ran a business for a year – a large retail store selling Christmas decorations – and then convinced his wife, Lynda, to quit her job and move to New York City.
“I assembled a portfolio of wildly over-painted and ill-conceived work and dragged it to every magazine and advertising agency that would see me,” he recalls. “I began getting editorial assignments, spot illustrations for $50, and all the while I was teaching myself to draw. It was a sort of elective, Post-modern G.I. Bill for artists.”
“Strangely, I didn’t yet see myself as an artist – I wasn’t expressing anything personal. What I was trying to do was produce commercial images and find a market for them.” Over the next 10 years, he developed an illustration practice producing high-contrast, black-and-white images and logos for agencies on three continents.
“At the age of 40, I looked for a studio out of my home, to leave a claustrophobic work environment”, he explains. He found a spacious, affordable loft in SoHo (this was 1989) with several other artists and took it on impulse, even though it was highly impractical for an illustration practice. “There wasn’t anyone to take packages, and it was filled with dust. I had copy machines, faxes, things like that, and I was working in a very precise way, so I certainly didn’t need shards of 19th century debris falling around me, but I rented it anyway.”
“When I took the studio, I decided there were several things I wanted to break away from in the way I approached my illustration work,” he recalls. “Primarily, I began to work non-objectively. I also made a dramatic change of scale and began working on 7 and 8-foot canvases.”
FeBland had been painting in gouache for several years before renting the studio space. “I’ve traveled abroad almost every summer for the past 25 years, the last 15 of them on a bicycle”, he explains. “Because I usually went to warm climates, the gouache washes I found myself experimenting with glazes as well.”
Today, his inspiration for paintings comes from various sources. Sometimes a direct observation initiates an idea, but, as FeBland explains, “When people ask me the origin of my ideas, they are really asking wrong question. More crucial is the examination of my state of mind to be receptive to ideas.” When he begins a new painting, he does a very quick sketch and proceeds to canvas from there. He can spend anywhere from days to months on a painting, but he doesn’t work on the same painting every day. “Sometimes weeks will go by. I’ve even come back to a painting after several years”, he adds. “The important thing for me is not to work on the same painting every day but to work every day.”
What is it that captures his attention? FeBland is interested in structure - social and spatial. “Manhattans’ grid was established in the early 19th century, and today it supports a microcosm of world culture”, he says. “ It’s a wonderful observation lab.” “I like to take the guy no one remembers and build a world around him,” FeBland explains. “I separate him from his subculture and cast him in a starring role.”
“My paintings reflect the insights we have all the time but often can’t find the language to express. I’m luckier than most because over time I’ve developed that voice to articulate these ideas. In fact, I’d say that my paintings are all about the small idea. If my work is successful, if it has resonance, then each painting represents a building block which, when seen over the life of a career, serves a greater purpose, a larger idea that is expressed in the fullness of ones’ project.”
Elizabeth Forst is a New York City-based freelance writer whose subjects frequently include photography and art
ART IN AMERICA, “David FeBland at Fraser”, Joe Shannon, February 2000
David FeBland's new work reflects in no small way his background as a commercial illustrator; this is not necessarily a negative. A fleeing red train leans steeply in Above and Below, distorted to convey speed in the old comic-book mode -- whoosh! The big city under the el train is a riotous tangle of people racing around after other people, and of people felled by blows. FeBland does a kind of Ashcan School at a raw hip-hop pace.
Real or implied violence is everywhere in these pictures: parking lots, shopping malls and, of course, the streets are presented as sites of alienation and danger. Typically, FeBland paintings depict a sense of baroque and confusing movement -- a boy pushes a shopping cart at full sprint in the distance, a man hurriedly packs groceries, others enter and leave. West Side Romance, 1999 shows a tall and attractive, mini-skirted and jacketed businesswoman, talking on a cell phone, walking swiftly. She pointedly turns away to avoid looking at a street person struggling with a laundry cart overflowing with stuff. A businessman on the right looks at his wristwatch.
FeBland's paint can be lush, aptly thick and vividly colored, but it is his critique of urban America through his subject matter that carries the work. Those wary, nervous scurrying participants, raging and fearing in the tumultuous city, empower the paintings. Take the weird Play the Game, 1999, set in a parking lot: several men and a woman jog with awkward intensity, exercising their fancy show dogs. The effect is gratuitous and surreal -- unforgettable.
© Copyright 2000 Art in America
THE DALLAS MET, “City Lights—David FeBland Stands Out At Valley House”, By Bret McCabe, May 24-31, 2000
The paintings of David FeBland, who makes his first appearance at Valley House, are robust. FeBland’s oil-on-canvas and –linen works are on the small side, but in this tight space he conjures scenes that mix urban realism with Baroque, expressive brushwork. In Feast of Lights (2000), three Hasidic Jews walk down a neighborhood street along which Christmas trees have been left for garbage pick-up: The street and sidewalk are achieved in a matte, eggshell white and muted gray that accents the season implied. In Holland Tunnel Vision (1998), a man briskly walks across a street carrying bags as orange-vested workers attend to the far curb. The blue cab of a truck enters from the left side of the canvas and off in the top left background, the dark recess of the Holland Tunnel peeks out of the composition. It’s a dynamic work, with bodies, objects, and shadows moving your eye around in a bustling motion that heightens its kinetic activity.
Color, light, and activity are FeBland’s pawns in his provocative evocations of city life. Together they conspire to achieve realistic-seeming portrayals of New York City life with rhythmic ripples that conjure the experience they depict as well. FeBland writes that his paintings aren’t transcriptions of observed events. They’re compendiums of scenes and ideas witnessed in his roams through NYC – he gave up his car 20 years ago for life as a pedestrian and bicyclist – that he mentally cuts and pastes together and realizes in his studio. Some of FeBland’s visual strengths are indebted to his 18-year career as an illustrator (he turned to painting at 40); his figures reveal an economical eye that captures the swiftest of movements with the slightest of gestures. But the situations he arranges are informed by his involvement with the living, breathing organism that is modern New York.
FeBland combines all these elements to celebrate the curry of cultures and peoples sharing space in the city. His color choices mix the high and hot for objects that normally would be rendered in duller tones and hues. In the alley scene of The Fallen (2000), a dog drags some downed object in the foreground while in the background two African-American streetwalkers pass by in short skirts, high heels, and bikini tops. It’s an image that makes you wonder who the fallen are, but there’s no moral judgement being passed because his palette and compositions don’t conform to traditional readings. FeBland also exploits the dramatic shifts in light a city produces: One building can cast a dark shadow that explodes into scintillating, blood-red orange sunlight of late-afternoon in a city in which light bounces off all the surrounding’s shiny surfaces. Here, the dog is clouded by shadow while the women bask in the glory of the sun, confusing any straightforward, singular meaning into whorls of complexity.
These images are disarmingly involving. Though FeBland’s work has been compared to the Ashcan School of Robert Henri and John Sloan – with nods to George Bellows and Edward Hopper as well – his ability to instill strongly emotive elements into his work also hints at the more graphic work of Ben Shahn and Diego Rivera. It suggests an evolution of socially conscious realism that both Ashcan artists and Shahn flirted with, a very American response to Soviet socialist realism that embraces its more expressive elements. Realism per se has accrued such a slovenly reputation since then that artists who wish to explore representations of reality fight an uphill battle. Surprisingly, the late-‘70s and ‘80s spawned a generation of artists – visual, cinematic, and literary – who recognized that realism’s vocabulary had grown tired and ineffective. In an effort to get closer to how things really are, they turned to all the unrealistic tools at their disposal to produce a kind of social surrealism. It’s a quality that gives the movies of Spike Lee their poignancy, and it’s a spirit that FeBland’s works achieve better than his contemporaries.
CATALOGUE ESSAY, “David FeBland: Fact and Friction”, Linda Jones Gibbs, February, 2004
It has been just over a century since a group of artists in New York known as the Ashcan school broke with the gentile subject matter of late nineteenth century American art to depict city life. These artists, led by the charismatic Robert Henri, immersed themselves in the teeming and sometimes unseemly life around them and painted it with a somber palette and vigorous brush strokes. Their interest in both the aesthetic potential of the city and the endless narratives played out within its confines has been forcefully revisited in the compelling images of David FeBland.
FeBland, who lives in New York City, is not, however, interested in mere reportage. In contrast to the Ashcan painters’ somewhat detached vision of the city as a site of human spectacle, he forcefully probes the urban psyche, exploring such complex issues as individualism and mass identity, isolation and inclusion. While strong draftsmanship from his early years as an illustrator remains throughout his work, FeBland’s images are not literal slices of life but what he terms “invented reality,” often phantasmagoric constructions which embody broader metaphors. He uses the complex and multi-faceted environment in which he resides to explore sociological aspects of the urban scene.
One recurring theme in FeBland’s work is the presence of transitional spaces that lie between the public and private spheres. Unlike the suburbs, where there are clear demarcations of private property, the urban experience encompasses many accessible yet undefined areas shared simultaneously by a variety of people. FeBland frequently uses passages of dark and light to suggest these transitional spaces as in Wonderland. In this work, a broad white field is punctuated by a cavernous construction pit, the darkness of which also fills the distance. The contrast of dark and light is also repeated in the skin tones of the two figures seen walking across the expansive plane. This space itself is ambiguous as is the sexual orientation of the two women who are holding hands. Are they lovers or friends who are reaching out to one another for security? They do, indeed, seem just as vulnerable in the empty and open arena in which they stroll as they would in the shadowed background. Their soft feminine forms accentuated by their revealing attire also stand in stark contrast to the hard-edged “masculine” machinery with its claw-like appendage that has penetrated the ground.
The frisson within transitional urban space is also evident in Where is Love?, an unusually poignant image in Febland’s oeuvre. A tall attractive woman stands silhouetted against the glow of a setting sun. She is surrounded by shadow in which we can see signs of degradation both in the buildings and the inhabitants who lurch into the fleeting daylight. Dark flames from a small bonfire add to the sense of dilapidation. She holds a bouquet of roses, a universal symbol of love, but they are turned downward as if she doesn’t have the heart to keep them upright in a world that seems to be overtaken by darkness.
The sexualized females who appear in Wonderland and Where is Love? are a recurring motif in FeBland’s imagery. Reminiscent of the curvaceous figures who populate Reginald Marsh’s paintings of the 1930s, these tall, leggy, and buxom women pose, stride, jump, and literally swing through his cityscapes. In the brilliantly colorful Jalapeña a dark haired young woman wearing an alluring red dress strikes a provocative pose despite her pronounced pregnant state. Everything from the title of the work to the woman’s suggestive posture to the palette of deep red, orange, and a complementary blue is HOT. She stands out against a wall of slap dashed graffiti. This passage of beautiful abstraction contradicts the artist’s stylistic rejection of a modernist aesthetic. FeBland’s delight in the pure tactile qualities of his medium is inarguable.
FeBland’s archetypal women literally take a different form in Reflections. They appear as store front advertisements for women’s underwear. The pose of the full length figure in the poster image recalls that of Jalapeña. Foremost in the window display are two limbless female torsos, updated versions of antique statuary sporting the latest in sexy undergarments. Peering at the three artificial forms are three “real” women seen from behind whose figures in no way resemble those on view. The meaning of this work is certainly more obvious than many of the artist’s more ambiguous subjects. The women are being shown something that is unattainable; they can purchase the merchandise but despite the fact they have ideologically bought into the notion of a physical ideal, it is something they cannot acquire.
FeBland is interested in the ironic fact that a wide variety of city dwellers live and work in close proximity yet remain emotionally and culturally distanced. Tension and unease are an integral part of much of his work as, indeed, they are a part of negotiating the terrain of city life. Buildings don’t stand quite straight, perspectives are acute, people and objects are out of scale, facial features are distorted, and colors sometimes harsh. In New York Midgets no one is marginalized despite the fact that some figures are rendered in miniature. Everyone is literally thrown together, woven into the urban fabric – the man and woman in business suits, the construction worker, the delivery boy, the child in her stroller. There is some unseen order to the chaos that prevents a collision and each retains their psychological separateness within this frenzy of forward motion. The man whose head rises just above the lower picture plane sticks one finger in his ear as if to attempt to block out the surrounding maelstrom of human energy but the look on his face (as a figure careens down his forehead) tells us his is a futile effort.
In much of FeBland’s work the imagery is cropped, obliging the viewer to engage in open-ended narratives. There is a sense of a continuous moving image but unlike the large panoramic paintings of mid-nineteenth century America that were literally rolled on a large apparatus for the viewing audience, we are not privy to the whole story. Along with the artist we become a voyeur, an incognito observer who catches but a glimpse of an ongoing serialization. This is especially evident in such broad horizontal works as Everything I Love About the River. The artist himself often rides his bike along the river path to get to his downtown studio and thus becomes part of the ongoing scenic scenario which here includes a woman running in work clothes and jogging shoes, a child on a bike racing in the opposite direction, and functioning as comparatively static book ends to this moving picture are a pair of lovers and their antithesis, two men involved in a brawl. A similar river front setting appears in the striking work Mastodons. In place of prehistoric creatures, large red and white derricks set against a brilliant blue sky dominate the riverfront. Industrial order reigns over the array of people that transverse the horizon.
By representing vignettes of human drama and interjecting them with highly personal ideological viewpoints, FeBland ultimately resurrects his own selfhood within the urban masses. His view of the city as a microcosm of enclosed cultures existing side by side and their mingling within the multitudinous but undefined public arenas has particular significance as we sit poised at the turn of yet another century. The society we face today is far more global than the one that confronted the Ashcan School a hundred years ago. The World Wide Web is simultaneously a very private sphere yet unfathomably far-reaching. Thus the questions raised by the work of David FeBland in terms of our place in the twenty-first century, our capacity to connect with the universal Other while retaining our individuality, seem more relevant than ever.
Linda Jones Gibbs is an art historian and independent curator based in New York
NEW YORK TIMES, “Reviving Painting as a Viable Medium”, D. Dominick Lombardi, September 12, 1999
Painting, a mainstay of traditional art making, has fallen out of favor many times, especially over the last 30 years or so. Representational painting has had the toughest time, in part because it is not considered progressive enough to keep up with the latest innovations in technology as evidenced by the popularity of video, film or sound installation, machines and robotics, performance art and computer-generated or enhanced images.
In a recent interview with Deborah Rothschild, director of the Williams College Museum of Art, the video-mixed media artist Tony Oursler said, “For the technological capabilities of our time, painting is outdated as a means of communication and presenting information”. This simple pronouncement prompted the curator of the Krasdale Gallery, Sigmund Balka, to mount an exhibition “Making the Walls Sing”, at the Krasdale Gallery in the Bronx and here in White Plains.
“Making the Walls Sing” set out to prove that the subtle, albeit static properties of traditional media like oil, acrylic and tempera paint, when placed in the right hands, could still compete with alternative methods.
David FeBland’s oil on canvas “New York Midgets”(1998) goes a long way in making Mr. Balka’s case. The painted menagerie of parallel worlds incorporates many subplots in much the same way that a multilayered storyline does. One first sees two distinct levels of existence: the normal size, frenzied city dwellers and the toy-soldier-size out-of-their-minds-with-fright mini-dwellers.
Later on, one might spy the afterlife in the form of a medium-size, winged deliveryman. At the very top of the canvas, a mischievous skateboarded appears to ride the upper edge of the picture as an out-of –focus figure assaults the main figure, a distracted businessman, by grabbing him from behind. The whole thing adds up to a fertile dreamscape filled with fear and hostility rivaling most real life, big-city experiences.
Just to the right of “New York Midgets” lies what could be considered the polar opposite of Mr. FeBland’s vision: a painting depicting a quiet downtown street corner - a sensible place where local vendors arrange flowers as taxis calmly pass on the left.
FRANKFURT ARMSTADTER ECHO, “Realismus Verkauft sich Gut”, Claudia Buchenauer, 27.05.2002
Es gibt einen neuen Trend in der Kunst. Fürs Erste ist Schluss mit der Abstraktion, die Menschen dürfen sich in der Kunst wiederfinden - mit ihrem Alltag, ihrer Freude am Leben, aber auch mit ihren Sorgen und ihrer Einsamkeit. Die Amerikaner haben damit angefangen: Als neuen städtischen Realismus (New Urban Realism) bezeichnen sie ihre poppig-realistische Malerei, die meist Szenen aus der Großstadt zeigt. Dieser Stil ist nun auch in Europa angekommen. Neue bunt-realistische Bilder zeigen fast alle 184 Galerien auf der Kunstmesse Art Frankfurt, die mehr denn je einen Überblick über die neueste Kunst weltweit gibt. Damit löst sie ihren Anspruch, “Europas innovativste Messe für junge Kunst” zu sein, in ihrem 14. Jahr endlich ein.
Schlicht und poetisch sind die Bilder des 29 Jahre alten Wiener Künstlers Markus Reiter (bei Galerie Lang, Wien), der nur den die Figuren umgebenden Raum malt. Auf dem Werk “Mutter mit Kind” von 2002 hat er Bewegung und Haltung der grob umrissenen Figuren verblüffend realistisch eingefangen.
Zu den besten Werken auf der Messe zählen die plakativen, großflächigen Bilder des 53 Jahre alten New Yorkers David FeBland, der alltägliche Szenen mit Menschen aus extremen Perspektiven zeigt. Seine Bilder stellt Barbara von Stechow auf der Art aus. “Realismus verkauft sich derzeit so gut wie nichts anderes”, sagt die Frankfurter Galeristin von Stechow, deren Stand von Bildern im aktuellen Stil dominiert wird. Für abstrakte Werke wie die des Roßdörfers Gerd Winter oder auch Werner Neuwirth bleibt da nur ein Nischenplatz.
Damit hat sie die Zeichen der Zeit erkannt, wie auf der am Samstag eröffneten Kunstmesse abzulesen ist. Selbst die Darmstädter Galerie Sander, deren Schwerpunkt eigentlich die informelle Malerei der fünfziger und sechziger Jahre ist, zeigt in ihrer weitläufigen Koje auch realistische britische Kunst der vergangenen Jahre. Hochkarätige Namen sind dort vertreten: Vanessa Beecroft mit einem Performance-Foto und James Reilly mit zartfarbigen Bildern von Kindergesichtern aus dem Jahr 1996 mit dem hübschen Titel: “Random Acts of Kindness” (etwa: zufällige Liebenswürdigkeiten).
Fotografien, die wie gemalt aussehen. Während die Maler realistischer werden, arbeiten immer mehr Fotografen mit Techniken der Verfremdung, so dass die Fotos wie gemalt aussehen. Eine beleuchtete Fotografie des Schweizer Künstlers Christian Andersen (bei Maerz-Galerie, Leipzig) zeigt eine explodierende Mercedes-Limousine in der Nacht. Das Bild ist am Computer so bearbeitet, dass die Farben zu rotstichig und dramatisch sind, als dass sie echt sein könnten - wie gemalt eben.
Mit Wirklichkeit und Fiktion spielt auch Sonja Braas (bei Galerie Anita Beckers, Frankfurt). Sie fotografiert künstliche-Landschaften in naturkundlichen Museen und stellt diesen großen Fotos in der Natur aufgenommene Bilder gegenüber. Die in Darmstadt lebende Galeristin Anita Beckers präsentiert - wie 47 andere Galerien auch - ein Projekt: eine Installation, die üblicherweise nicht auf Verkaufsmessen, sondern eher in Kunstvereinen und Ausstellungshallen zu finden ist. In ihrer erweiterten Koje zeigt Beckers eine Gemeinschaftsarbeit der jungen Videokünstler Bjoern Melhus und Yves Netzhammer in einem Raum, der rot angemalt ist - passend zum Videothema Blut.
Diese neu eingeführten Projekte sind ein Gewinn für die Art Frankfurt. Denn an den relativ günstigen Projekt-Kojen zeigen die Galeristen oftmals Video-Installationen, die ansonsten auf Messen wegen des engen Raums selten sind. Wegen solch raumgreifenden Installationen ist die Art Frankfurt weniger vollgestopft und übersichtlicher - ein Eindruck, den der neue Ort noch verstärkt: Im Obergeschoss der neuen Messehalle 3 ist wegen der hohen Decke und der Terrasse mit Ausblick viel Luft für die Wirkung der Kunst. Ein weiteres belebendes Moment: Die Art öffnet sich zum Osten. Während amerikanische und englische Galerien noch zu schwach vertreten sind, hat Messeleiterin Marianne El Hariri drei Galerien und Künstlergruppen aus Moskau eingeladen. Die Galerie “MM - Moscow Minimalism” hat ihren Raum überbordend dekoriert: Die Außenwände sind mit einer Rankentapete (ein Künstlerwerk) beklebt, in fensterartigen Öffnungen stehen Bücher, aus dem Inneren hört man die Töne mehrerer Fernsehgeräte. Diese erzählerische Inszenierung des Alltags erinnert an die russische Literatur sowie an die Installationen Ilya Kabakovs, der tatsächlich auch ein Weggefährte der MM-Künstler war. Kabakovs ins absurde reichende Darstellung des Lebens findet man auch bei der Moskauer Galerie, die das Innere ihrer Koje einem Obst- und Gemüsestand zur Verfügung stellt. So werden nun auf der Kunstmesse auch Spargel, Artischocken, Äpfel und-Bananen angeboten. Was den Eindruck ytrstärkt, die Kunst stelle das pralle Leben dar - ganz im aktuellen Trend.
NY ARTS MAGAZINE, “Still/Life”: David FeBland & Margaret Morrison at Woodward Gallery, Joyce B. Korotkin, May, 2001
“Still/Life” contrasts the paintings of action caught in mid-motion by David FeBland with the immobile moments freeze-framed in time by Margaret Morrison. Both artists take their subject matter from daily life but in uniquely different ways.
In direct opposition to the quiet of Morrison’s works are the noisily active, brilliantly colored paintings of David FeBland, who reconstructs reality by extricating random city scenes from their origins and placing them in invented narratives. FeBland’s interest in “the collision of souls in public spaces” is reflected in scenes in which there is always more than one incident happening at a time. Primary subject are captured jumping rope or twisting in mid-air, while alternative scenes such as detectives investigating a crime are going on in the background. His characters are always solely involved in their own activities, oblivious to what is going on around them. FeBland understands the way shifting light and skewed perspective intrinsically informs perception and makes metaphoric use of both devices; particularly that of late- afternoon light – the tremulous moments when objects and people are flooded with a golden radiance that will in the next moment fade into dusk. This dramatic lighting, combined with unusual perspectives such as that of dogs straining at their leashes to meet, seen from a human vantage point above, heightens the sensation of animation in the work, leaving the viewer on edge.
COVER MAGAZINE, Gothic City Counterpoints—David FeBland at Caelum Gallery, Rachel Youens, 1998
In David FeBland’s “City Stories,” the inaugural exhibit currently at Caelum Gallery’s new Chelsea space, there is both raucous action and the distance of urban hush. Often employing a fish-eye perspective, and utilizing an array of sources, FeBland creates the excitement, the clash, and the danger of the world just outside our door. His larger paintings carve out action scenes between outlaws striding toward their next move and bit players who traverse this grand melting pot – submerged in the anonymity lent by the street. We however are experiencing a New York as remembered as it is contemporary in the muted greys, purples, ochres, and thickly impastoed surfaces of FeBland’s palette. With its immigrants, thrill seekers and those defined by the confines of their existence, FeBland, like Malcolm Morley, is interested in the shoreline, street corner, or subway station – the Gotham City as a place where initiate and outsider collide and sometimes exchange places.
When the artist takes up this surge of extras, making them the subject as in “Queens Arabesque,” they gather a strong group identity that speaks more directly to the daily camaraderie of exile in a new land. Here, immigrant mothers wearing the local dress of their native country parade down the street with their strollers as though on a march for mothers’ rights.
“Hear No Evil,” on the other hand, was inspired by FeBland’s commute to his studio down the West Side Highway between warehouses and piers. This painting comes closest to a fairy tale, which the stable horse notices and the groom to his detriment denies. A couple of not-so-young outlaws in lumbering jackets fly through the air amidst the winding sightlines of the city in “Cuffed Thug With Aircraft Carrier.” FeBland’s fish-eye view wants to take the whole spectrum of height and depth in a Breugal-like scenario: his monumental outlaws attempt escape past the happy know nothing tourists and menacing silhouette of a World War II aircraft carrier.
Many of these paintings define struggle as linked to taking the next step. They also share both an element of the epic struggle of masculinity in George Bellow’s boxers or moments of intimacy among those with less as in John Sloan’s paintings. FeBland takes the idea of melting pot in the guise of multiculturalism and pits the differences of visual counterpoint as they reorganize the clash of action amidst a cluster of intentional and unintentional relationships.
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, Edward J. Sozanski, October 6, 2002
A city in motion. After five years in Princeton, Debbie Pringle has moved her gallery to Old City, where she has opened with an exhibition by New York painter David FeBland.
His 17 oils look like slice-of-life realism, but the artist says in a statement that the scenes are inventions based on observation. However much real experience the paintings represent, they do two things splendidly. They convey the incessant energy of urban life, particularly the constant movement on streets and sidewalks, and they invigorate the various human interactions that occur daily in a city like New York.
Like the "Ashcan" urban realism of a century ago, FeBland's tableaux deal in brief, mundane events. A young girl zips her scooter between two traffic wardens. A man leans on the railing of a subway entrance, watching a woman come up the stairs. Three female window-shoppers inspect a lingerie display. FeBland's devices for suggesting rapid movement, such as slight blurring and attenuating of limbs, aren't novel, but they're unusually effective because they suggest that the paintings were made on the spot rather than in the studio.
CAPITAL DISTRICT NEWS, “David FeBland at Fulton St. Gallery”, Rob Longley, Sept 30, 1998
David FeBland's paintings aren’t subtle. With their distorted perspectives, dramatic compositions, and gritty urban settings, these paintings have immediate impact. There is discomfort, violence, humor, irony and outright weirdness in these works. Even as they are narrative, they are not journalistic; these are not slices of life from a real city, but a slightly fantastic novel. But to be overwhelmed by their impact would be to ignore the subtleties that are there, subtleties that elevate this work beyond mere splash. Sanctuary shows two women sitting in a taxi. People outside appear threatening, a face grimaces on a billboard, a jet plummets from the sky in flames. A frightening landscape. The extreme distortion of the drawing of the cab sucks the viewer into a fear or menace. The near ground level horizon in Hoodlums makes the three tough looking kids in the foreground look almost like giants about to step on the viewer, aperception reinforced by the toy-like bus about to run down a tiny man with a walker below their feet. In back of them is a building with its roof in flames. People are falling off the building and in two of the windows are a person with a pistol and a person with a knife. Pastoral landscape painting this ain't.
But getting past the somewhat shocking subject matter, formal qualities appear that seem ironically at odds with the narrative, qualities that greatly enhance the paintings as paintings. FeBland maintains a feeling of loose spontaneity in his drawing and paint handling, yet he is precise. And his compositions are almost mathematical in their design, and work very well in giving a solid underlying structure to his antic, unpredictable city. FeBland's colors, which give the work a feeling of being suffused in cool, sometimes harsh light, are punctuated by carefully controlled, but somewhat shocking accents, as in the yellow hats and vivid blue shirts of Corn King. These, too, reinforce the ironic juxtaposition of control / out-of-control. This juxtaposition appears throughout the show. A careening train above a riot in Above and Below, the leering men in Logic of Broadway, the chained figures in Men in Shackles, all suggest a world of violent activity. Yet it becomes apparent that in the midst of all this near anarchy, there are islands of calm. The passengers in Sanctuary wear impassive, almost serene expressions; a woman, arms akimbo, leans against a storefront in Above and Below; a moose (yes, a moose) dangles limply from a parachute in Men in Shackles. FeBland does cross the line into an obvious social commentary in some of the paintings. A street person sitting on the steps of a church, ignored by the overfed parishioners in the doorway (Reflections on Providence) is a hackneyed theme at best. His ambiguity is preferable to his preachiness. Many visual artists today, attempting to appear contemporary, ignore solid fundamentals of good painting. I suspect that this is often because they actually lack those fundamental skills. David FeBland, though, employs those fundamentals skillfully, but transparently, and creates paintings that have all of the vitality of contemporary urban life.
THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, “New York Life, Through Two Painters’ Eyes”, Jerry Cullum, August 11, 2000
New York artist David FeBland’s wry glimpses of life in that city are so utterly characteristic that it’s hard to believe that the scenes in these paintings are created completely from mixtures of memory and imagination. But the realistic images of, say, a runner leaping above an overstuffed trash basket or a confident African-American couple strolling past a city newsstand are as fictional as the outright fantasies of pseudo-apocalyptic surrealism in which panicked people and vehicles of wildly varying sizes collide with one another as though in some urban update of “Gulliver’s Travels”.
FeBland makes the raw edge of city life more palatable with humor and wryly inventive ways of presenting realistic details, as in the case of Viewmasters, a line of tourists gazing through old-fashioned telescopic viewing machines. And though these wildly energetic, often blatantly comic pieces are often a bit much, the quieter studies of sailors on shore leave or his view of a rooftop helicopter pad capture the New York of countless movies, rendered with the faint irony of a longtime familiarity with the city’s many realities.
RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, “Packing The Lobby Walls with Artistic Punch”, Roy Proctor, February 11, 2001
Marsh Art Gallery director Richard Waller has come up with a neat twist on commissioning artists to create works for new public buildings.
When the George M. Modlin Center for the Arts opened five years ago at the University of Richmond, four large bays, separated by three pilasters, cried out to be filled in the Booth Lobby outside Waller’s gallery. Instead of commissioning an artist to create works the gallery might buy and place there permanently, why not commission artists to create works that would be returned to them after being shown in the space for six months? Waller wondered. That way, Waller could work the commissions into his annual operating budgets instead of scrounging for art-purchase funds, which, at the Marsh, are nonexistent. He also had a precedent. The Brooklyn Museum of Art, where Waller was chief designer before becoming the Marsh’s director in 1990, had a similar rotating project (now discontinued) on a much larger scale in its lobby. From a visitor’s viewpoint, Waller’s changing lobby project has been a big success.
But never more so than with “Twist and Shout,” the collective title for the four large acrylic paintings by emerging New York artist David FeBland that went on view January 18 and will remain in place through July 28. The British-born FeBland, who worked for 18 years as a publishing and advertising illustrator before devoting his energies full time to fine arts painting, calls his four paintings “Twist,” “Punch,” “Shout,” and “Flip.” The paintings fully live up to their titles as they recall the energized imagery in Baroque-era wall and ceiling paintings, but with a contemporary, often zany spirit. Each colorful painting focuses on a figure in the intense action indicated by the title. Elsewhere, cartoon figures – a formally clad man slipping on a banana peel, for example – cavort. All are shown in a richly worked void or vortex that suggests the heavenly abode of the Baroque-age rendering of the gods to which they refer.
FeBland may be a self-taught and Johnny-come-lately fine arts painter – he earned his degrees in political science and landscape architecture – but he runs through a large visual vocabulary with ease. He combines points of view. He thins his paint to wash consistency in some passages, lays it on thickly in others. In “Twist,” the focal figure finds her visual echo in a receding figure in a different posture. In “Punch,” the feet and arms of the focal figure are repeated and blurred to indicate motion. Elsewhere, FeBland incorporates his palm print into the commission like a signature. “Twist and Shout” is full of surprises. So is Waller’s entire lobby project. “We have a sense of what the artist is going to do, but we never know exactly until the work is on the wall,” Waller says. “So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the results.” The six projects so far have ranged from the calligraphic abstractions of British-turned-New York artist James Nares to the panoramic landscape paintings of New York artist Jackie Battenfield, whose continuous image across the four bays treated the pilasters as intervals more than interruptions.
Waller’s not ruling out sculpture or any other art, provided it will hang on the wall and not project into the lobby and impede traffic. He chooses the artists, whose commission includes a campus visit and a talk with art students. Each commission is negotiated separately. “Some have been artists I have known for a while, some have been included in exhibitions here and some have been referred to me by other artists,” Waller says. “David FeBland was the first artist to contact me directly.” Waller opts for emerging artists over established artists. “This is a great opportunity for an emerging artist. I haven’t had any artist to turn me down, but some have wanted to think about it for a long time. “An established artist might say, ‘Why don’t you pick out four of my paintings that you like?’ An emerging artist would see this more as a challenge, an opportunity to create four large works that are part of a series. The magic number is four.” Waller also finds another satisfaction in filling those 96-by-190 inch bays. “This is all art that wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for our project,” he says.