Born in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1918, Feiler fled to England from Nazi rule in 1933, and from 1936-39 studied at the Slade School of Art alongside Patrick Heron and Bryan Wynter. His childhood experiences proved significant—the effects of light and shifting perspectives when mountaineering in the Alps; a visit to the Market Gate of Miletus in the Pergamon Museum; glimpses of colonnades on a trip to Venice in 1947. Feiler trained at the Slade School of Fine Art, having abandoned a nascent medical career. However, he hated the traditional training of the Slade, despite enjoying the more social side of the course. During the war, Feiler was interned, and received his diploma from the Slade (then allied with the Ruskin) in absentia. In 1941, he was employed as an art master at Eastbourne College, then, in 1946, as a teacher at the West of England College of Art. At this time, he had a steady string of shows – at the Royal Academy, the Leicester Galleries, and the Redfern, amongst others. He married June Miles in 1945, with whom he subsequently moved to Bristol.
In 1949, Feiler’s visit to Cornwall inspired minimal, painterly abstractions of the local landscape. Here he met up with schoolmates Heron and Wynter – with whom he exhibited at Bristol Art Gallery in 1949 – and was introduced to William Scott and Peter Lanyon. In the 1950s, Feiler, amused by the palindrome of his surname (FEILER-RELIEF), used collage, cutting out and overlaying vertical strips of gessoed board onto the painted surface, allowing a more advanced exploration of pictorial space. Later, a growing sense of mysticism was shown by the use of gold and silver le
After a successful solo show at the Redfern Gallery in 1953 (and a fruitful trip to Italy in the same year), Feiler moved to Kerris, near Penzance. He began teaching at the St Ives summer school started by Terry Frost, and his work was included in group shows alongside that of Wynter, Lanyon and Scott (who became great friends with Feiler). His heavily encrusted surfaces, likened by Scott to the paintings of Nicolas de Staël, immediately distinguished Feiler’s work from that of his St Ives contemporaries. During this period, Feiler’s paintings were selected for inclusion in important group exhibitions, such as the British Council’s British Abstract Painting, which toured to Paris, Milan, Montreal, and Melbourne in 1957, and British Paintings in the 1960s at the Tate Gallery in 1961. In 1964, Feiler showed alongside Lanyon, Roger Hilton and Alan Davie at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol.
However, Feiler was uncomfortable with the idea of being part of a group, and so in the late 1960s, his work took a quite different turn; inspired by the lunar landings, he began making simplified compositions of circles and vertical bars, reminiscent of Malevich’s pure Supremacist studies. Feiler was inching ever closer to his quest for capturing ‘elusive space’, and in 1969, he painted a series of concentric squares, at the centre of which a circle was enclosed. This was the first of his so-called shrine paintings, which he spent the next four decades developing and refining, taking inspiration from early sights of classical architecture. The delicate colour gradations also hark back to his Cornish landscapes, even if the paint by this time was applied in flat, meticulous strokes. His work had won the support of the art historian John Steer, and a solo exhibition was organised by the Scottish Arts Council. Curated by Bryan Robertson, it toured England and Germany from 1980 to 1981.
From 1995-97, Feiler worked on the ‘Janus’ series, which took on the patterns of his earlier ‘Sekos’ and ‘Aduton’ series, and were painted in extreme, dark colours. The following series, ‘Janicon’, introduced brilliant gold. In 2005, Feiler showcased his new work in The Near and The Far, an exhibition at Tate St Ives that juxtaposed his own work with works chosen by Feiler from the Tate’s archive – Cézanne, Malevich, Turner, and de Staël, amongst others. From 2008 until his death in 2013, Feiler broke new ground with a series of ‘Square Reliefs’, where the collaged composition incorporated both painted and Perspex elements, before being enclosed under a Perspex frame.
Paul Feiler’s Estate is represented by the Redfern Gallery.