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James Feehan... The Man Behind the Cover Painting

by Marsha Mazzei

James Feehan’s riveting eyes and serious, articulate speech have an intensity that is mirrored in the precisely executed works which bear his unique signature.

Among these characteristics are the elegant finish and whimsical subjects seen in the cover work, “The Elephant Hotel”. This piece presents an interpretation of the lush landscapes and creatures of the Delaware Valley, but like other Feehan landscapes, it is much more than that for it is peopled with various animals and jester-like figures—a combination which clarifies his humanistic focus and the underlying mystery he observes in life’s interactive forces.

Classifying Feehan’s work as fitting any known genre is problematic for his work is clearly individual. Still, the artist acknowledges the impact of the Boston expressionists Jack Levine and and Hyman Bloom as well as Ben Shahn in shaping his artistic interest. A gentle satirical element pervades Feehan’s canvasses, and this ties him to these early influences and may account for the lighthearted but insistent social commentary woven subtly within his work.

This artistic vision may also derive from the time when Feehan was developing as an artist. He studied art at Boston University during the activist 60s when college campuses fomented revolution. “Civil rights activism, draft resistance were day to day life,” he says. Against this background, his social consciousness sharpened, but, he says, “I was always more interested in art which gave social commentary.”

One defining moment during these student days came when Feehan saw an “intriguing exhibit” of Hyman Bloom’s drawings at Harvard. Remembering the experience he says, “I just could not dismiss it. I was intrigued by his craft, the subject matter, its ‘other worldliness’.”  Happily for those who collect this artist’s fascinating studies, similar experiences during student days overcame his “nagging doubts” about choosing art as a career.

Feehan’s blue collar background in Syracuse, New York had offered minimal cultural exposure, so he “had a hard time treating art seriously. I kept asking myself, ‘Is this something I should do?’.”

Given this, Feehan resisted dedicating himself to his creative passion until many years after college graduation. Final capitulation came after being drafted to serve in the Vietnam Conflict and following a permanent move to Bucks County in the mid 80s. In between, he says “I worked at all kinds of things, but I was always painting.” Still, Feehan’s extensive list of one-man and group shows plus an impressive number of awards and recognitions coincides with relocation to this area and partnering with printmaker wife, Susan Roseman.

“I still feel guilty about my career path,” he says, but today he is a prolific artist with widespread recognition and respect. Part of his productivity, he believes, relates directly to this river valley which Feehan sees as uniquely nurturing. Not only does it have “terrific landscapes,” he says, but also “it has treated artists well since the early days of the New Hope School, and continues to draw artists of every stripe.” These artists have become “a very vital community that celebrates differences.”

Feehan and wife Susan Roseman have been at the center of that community for decades. Rosemoon Studios and Riverbank Arts are just two of the ventures they have evolved to support a vocation that is rarely lucrative. Both also teach private classes, courses at Solebury School and  together are responsible for Arts for the Manor—a successful art program for senior  residents at Neshaminy Manor recently awarded a grant by the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts.

Because both Roseman and Feehan freely give and have given so much to the art community, when Rosemoon Studios was destroyed by fire last January, fellow artists and community members mounted a huge movement to “Rebuild the Studio.” The effort generated significant sums to compensate for unclaimable losses but the studio is still in ashes. Reflecting on this, Feehan admits, “It’s been devastating.”

Despite this tragedy, Feehan has overcome the terrible loss as he has other obstacles in his journey as an artist. Today he is painting and teaching again in temporary space arranged in his home to maintain his own artistic fire and that of his students. With students, he tries to create openness by offering options. “I like to expose them to a variety of techniques to see which elicits the best response.”

“Eloquence of technique, ” a thing which early fascinated Feehan in Hyman Bloom’s work, continues today. Calling himself a “technique maven,” Feehan says “Drawing is the footprint” in developing a piece. “I draw until I get the right impulse down; then, I paint”. This aligns with his conviction that “Art is a process of discovery.” Feehan admits, “I rarely begin with any concrete image.”  Instead, he says, “I depend on the subconscious and allow my work to come out of the imagination.”

Elaborating on his process Feehan says, “I try to stay open and to have the energy for completion. I’m not sure where I’m going when I start, but I know when I am finished. Even so,  I'm not quite sure what the statement is.” Wryly he notes, “Other people are usually willing to complete the story.”  This, most importantly, is how the artist sees himself.

“I am a storyteller,” Feehan says, “and while I know what I am doing, I am at a loss to explain it. I just hope the honesty comes through.” To achieve that honesty, the cover painting  “chased him” through four treatments before he felt he completed the idea. Explaining he says, “The measurement by which an artist feels work has become what it needs to be is very personal. I’m in a caretaker role. I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel a sense of completion and so this provides the impetus to continue.”

Feehan’s work may be seen at Riverbank Arts in Stockton, New Jersey or by contacting  the artist at his web site: www.rosemoonstudios.com

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