Together with a loosely allied group of young, like-minded American painters – including Jules de Balincourt, Daniel Dove, Tom McGrath, Lisa Sanditz, and Angela Dufresne – Jacob Feige’s work explores the threshold that divides and binds mimetic and abstract painting. Unlike his peers, however, many of whom whimsically move back and forth between conventional depictive strategies and passages of pure facture, Feige adheres to a more structural programme. Experienced en masse, the conceptual rigidity of this approach can become a little monotonous, but if this is a shortcoming of Feige’s latest outing, it is mitigated considerably by the simple sumptuousness of his paintings.
Feige’s fondness for 19th-century Romanticism and the sublime landscape tradition in particular is evident in almost every canvas. Rendered with an airy, atmospheric touch, these grand, unspoiled vistas do not dominate the pictorial field, but rather occupy the background, while the foreground is given over to gestural abstraction and/or hard edge, Technicolour geometries. The spatial implausibility of these modernist elements inscribed upon Feige’s often idealized landscape depictions yields far more harmonious compositions than one might expect. Nevertheless, his paintings retain an edgy, propositional quality.
Inner Accelerator (2008), for example, is an expansive seascape rendered in saccharine shades of peach and rose. Encroaching on this scene from the left is a mass of floating geometries and unruly drips. Although the drips and spills appear to be completely autonomous gestures, untethered from the free-floating yellow and pink, Buckminster Fuller-inspired geometries, together these elements suggest the nascent stages of a Utopian – perhaps hallucinatory – architectural project. The painted gestures could be seen as providing the provisional form for a building that lacks physical structure. The distinction between Feige’s bravado paint handling here, and his more reserved treatment of the landscape, signals his commitment to painting as a process that goes beyond mere illustration to instead give rise to questions and problems for which there is no acknowledged form: a medium of ideation, of impractical invention that marries possibility to reality.
Like Fuller’s less practical flights of fancy the currency of a painting such as Early Clearing (2008), does not lie in the relative plausibility of the imagined world Feige presents but in precisely the opposite: his understanding of painting as a medium of conjecture, where, if an idea, however outlandish or hallucinatory, can be resolved formally, then it can exist as a proposition worthy of reflection.