Paul Feiler


Paul Feiler (1918-2013)

The artist in his studio, Kerris, c.1974

Born in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1918, Feiler fled to England from Nazi rule in 1933, and from 1936-40 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. While appreciating that the training at the Slade would stand him in good stead, he kicked against its traditional nature and pursued his own path. 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.

Paul Feiler with Eduardo Paolozzi at the Redfern Gallery, 1956

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.     

Catharine Armitage and Paul Feiler, with their children, at home in Kerris, c.1976

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.




Born in Frankfurt-am-Main


Flees Nazi rule - is sent to Netherlands, and then to Canford School, Dorset


Studies at Slade School of Art, London - fellow students include Patrick Heron and Adrian Heath


Interned on the Isle of Man, then in Canada


Returns to England and teaches art at Eastbourne college


Marries the painter June Miles, with whom he has three children


Begins teaching at the West of England College of Art, Bristol (is made Head of Painting in 1960)


Moves to Kerris, Cornwall, and begins teaching at the St Ives summer school. First solo show, at the Redfern Gallery, London - reviewed by Patrick Heron in 'New Statesman'


Teaches at the St Ives summer school initiated by Peter Lanyon and Terry Frost


Selected for the British Council touring exhibition 'British Abstract Painting'


Solo show the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol; group shows include 'British Paintings in the 1960s' at the Tate Gallery


Group show at Arnolfini Gallery with his friends Peter Lanyon, Roger Hilton and Alan Davie


Marries the painter Catharine Armitage with whom he has twin sons


Takes over Bryan Wynter's studio near Paul


Retrospective at Tate St Ives


Second retrospective at Tate St Ives