The 94-year-old painter comes to terms with her surreality in a new retrospective
"I worked with him for 20 years. He was writing books; I did research for him, and then I did drawings for his books, in ink, of historical subject matter, so it was like I was studying the history of the world all over again then delineating it for him. That's like a secret part of my life nobody has ever mentioned."
At the same time, Fein managed a successful career as a painter. By the mid-'50s, when monumental abstraction was in, she was working nearly in miniature, painting tiny landscapes and seascapes. Nothing could have been less fashionable, but she still sold well on both coasts. Yet in the early '70s, she began a 30-year hiatus from painting, as she wrote and self-published two books inspired by her work with Schaefer-Simmern, Heidi's Horse (1976), an analysis of her daughter's drawings of horses between the ages of 2 and 16, and First Drawings: Genesis of Visual Thinking (1993), a related account exploring the development of visual logic in children, primitive societies, and other artists. Only in the early 2000s did she return to painting, in time for rediscovery by curator Robert Cozzolino, who staged a show of the '40s magic realist group, "With Friends," at the University of Wisconsin in 2005. This show led directly to her inclusion in the 2012 LACMA exhibition.
While both "With Friends" and "In Wonderland" focused on the '40s and '50s, "Surreal Nature" is the first opportunity to see Fein's present work, even as the curators have done an excellent job of contextualizing it in terms of her overall development. One need only juxtapose The Lady with the White Knight with her most recent series of memorial "trees" for her husband Bill — who died in 2013 after some 70 years of marriage — to see how her own version of surrealism has transformed from an image-based style to a more directly experiential art of brushwork and materials.
"It sure is flowering in my late age," Fein remarks. "I'm so lucky that's happening. You can't make yourself do this." *
Jan. 18-Feb. 22
Thu-Sat, noon-6pm and by appt.
480 23rd St (side entrance), Oakl.