Eugene Feldman was an American printmaker. He used the offset press as his art medium as well as his livelihood. As his day job, Feldman ran Falcon Press as a commercial printer, producing a wide range of printed material for corporations and for cultural institutions. The rest of his working hours were devoted to producing fine art prints & art books, and to teaching.
Feldman was born in 1921 in Woodbine, New Jersey to an immigrant Jewish family. He knew at an early age that printing would be his life. He set up a small letterpress at home by age 13, which he named Falcon Press. He attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Arts (later known at Philadelphia College of Art, now known as University of the Arts) and served in World War II making maps.
After the war he returned to Philadelphia, and in 1948 he started Falcon Press as a working business. He was soon on the graphics art faculty of Philadelphia College of Art, producing art books, and showing his work at The Print Center (1957).
In the early 1960’s he joined the faculty of the Graduate School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania, where he set up the first printmaking department. In 1966 received a Guggenheim Fellowship for research into Photo-Offset lithography. The press meanwhile was printing fine art catalogs for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Gene used the camera has his sketchbook. He pushed and pulled the photographic image, cropping, enlarging, and separating it into layers of abstract form. Then he printed the layers in amazing colors so that the photographic source of the image was transformed into a totally new statement. Years before the Pop Artists silkscreened images onto canvas, Gene was transforming images of everyday life into his own statements.
His prints show us places he loved: the Jersey Shore, Philadelphia’s West River Drive, and Venice. They show us people he admired: Rudolf Nureyev, Jackie Kennedy, and Louis Kahn. And they show us the world through his eyes.
There is an exhibit of 14 of his prints and 4 of his art books, now on view at the Print and Picture Hallway Gallery, 2nd Floor, Parkway Central Library, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA. The show will be on view until June 29, 2014. For information, call the Print and Picture Collection, 215-686-5405. For more information on Feldman, visit the website dedicated to his life and work at eugenefeldman.com.
The exhibition includes fourteen fine art prints that Feldman produced using offset lithography. There are also four of his limited edition art books printed at The Falcon Press.
As you enter the hallway, the first group of prints you see on the left is biographical. The first print is Self-Portrait, 1953. Eugene Feldman began printing with a letterpress in 1934 at age 13 when he started Falcon Press in his home in Woodbine, NJ. In this self-portrait, done at age 32, Feldman seems to be inviting us to see the world through his eyes.
The poster, Printer’s Eye, announces one of the earliest milestones in Feldman’s career – a solo exhibition in 1957 at the Print Club, one of the premier print galleries in Philadelphia, in which he exhibited experimental printmaking and paintings.
The next section is a group of landscape views. The first print is West River Night Ride 2, 1963. Falcon Press was located on Ranstead Street in Center City. Feldman lived just off City Line Avenue in Bala Cynwyd. This landscape is based on a view he would have seen every night on West River Drive through Fairmount Park on his drive home.
Next are two views of Venice. St. Mark’s Square 1966, is a view of the Piazza San Marco from an upper floor overlooking the square. Feldman places the pedestrians on the gridded pavement, like figures in a Renaissance cityscape.
Naegle’s View of Venice 1966 is a triptych view of a gondola gliding through the canals of Venice, demonstrating Feldman’s mastery of the technique, which gives this offset lithograph the appearance of a heavily inked intaglio plate.
Next are two abstractions from landscapes. Water Print 1 1965 is form a series of four variations, based on a photograph of moving water. Each variation is printed in a different palette of color, making them unique and part of a series at the same time.
Printer’s Cornfield 1956 is a colorful print that demonstrates some of Feldman’s earliest experiments with the offset process. Here, multiple colors are printed over texts, probably left over from a commercial print project.
The third section deals with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. From Friday, November 22, 1963, when he was killed, through Monday, when he was buried, the whole nation sat glued to our television screens. These prints were produced from photographs taken from the television screen of the funeral procession. Kennedy Funeral Caisson (Kennedy Funeral Riderless Horse) 1966 shows the horse pulling the caisson carrying Kennedy’s casket to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Friend’s Wife (Jacqueline Kennedy) 1964 shows Jackie Kennedy in her widow’s veil during the funeral.
Returning down the hallway there are two groups of prints on the opposite wall. The first group features prints of the Jersey Shore. Feldman was born in Woodbine, in southern New Jersey. He spent summers with his wife and children at the Jersey Shore. These views of fishing piers capture the quiet, lazy rhythms of a summer day near the water. Fishing Pier, 1956; Cape May, 1956; Three Fishermen, 1956.
In the cases below these prints are two of his books. The first is The Worlds of Kafka & Cuevas: an unsettling flight to the fantasy world of Franz Kafka, which pairs quotes from Franz Kafka and Rollo May with artwork by the Mexican artist Jose Louis Cuevas. The second book is Doorway to Portuguese, the first book Feldman printed, designed with the Brazilian graphic designer Aloisio Magalhães.
The next group of prints includes portraits of two figures from the arts that Feldman greatly admired: Louis Kahn and Rudolf Nureyev. In 1962, Feldman printed the first book to be published on Kahn, focusing on his architectural sketches, which is on view in the case below. This portrait, Louis Kahn, 1962, was done the same year. Kahn taught a master class in the school of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, where Feldman taught in the printmaking department. Kahn emerged as a leader of American architecture in the decade of the 1960s.
Feldman did a series of portraits of Rudolf Nureyev, one of the 20th century’s most celebrated figures in ballet and modern dance. Nureyev defected to the West from the Soviet Union in 1961. This one, Nureyev No. 11, 1968, was published by The Print Center.
In the cases below are two more books. New York: West Side Skyline 1965 is a fan-folded book that presents a photographic panorama of the New York skyline seen from New Jersey printed on several sheets that create a continuous image almost twenty feet long. The imagery emerges out of repeated overprinting of the images.
The Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn was the first book published on Kahn’s architecture. These pages shown illustrate Kahn’s ideas for rebuilding Center City Philadelphia. His concept of Viaduct Architecture would separate vehicular from pedestrian traffic in order to reclaim the city for people. At the same time, it would create opportunities for a new monumental architecture for the 20th Century. This is one of several planning studies Kahn made for Philadelphia, often without any client or commission. It was Kahn’s way of working out ideas about form that he later used in his designs.