Painter, Teacher, Filmmaker
(1915 – 2003)
Painting for Sam Feinstein was a spiritual endeavor and a “stubborn necessity.” Working first as an illustrator and soon after as a revered and sought-after teacher, Feinstein maintained the freedom to grow and pursue his own art as a calling, free of commercial demands. He saw the creative process as the logical, human extension of Nature’s own creativity, of its endless mobility, continuity, order and beauty.
For over seventy years Feinstein painted as he explored and expressed the depth of his intelligence, empathy and soul. His work evolved from academic realism, then social realism through Expressionism, Fauvism and Cubism to arrive at his own personal style of abstraction, a richly-colored, radiant Luminist Abstraction. Feinstein’s ultimate goal was “to turn a rectangle into an evocation.”
Samuel Lawrence Feinstein was born in Russia on February 7, 1915 and came through Ellis Island with his family five years later. He was raised in Philadelphia and graduated with honors in 1936 from Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, where he later taught. At the age of nineteen, Feinstein was awarded his first one-man painting show at the Philadelphia Art Alliance and was invited to exhibit in the American Masters show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Feinstein exhibited both paintings and prints extensively throughout the 1930a and 1940s, and his work was selected for the permanent collection of the museum. His early career included work as a commercial artist in advertising, and eventually he taught and became head of the art department at Chestnut Hill Academy.
During WWII, Feinstein served as an illustrator for the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Here he began his work as a filmmaker. Following his military service, he earned honors as Art and Animation Director for documentary films, and continued his teaching career. While engaged as Supervisor of classes at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he photographed and became assistant director of the first art documentary produced by the museum.
As Feinstein’s painting turned increasingly toward abstraction, he chose to become a student once again. From 1949 to 1952, Feinstein attended the classes of Hans Hofmann in Provincetown and in New York. This experience led to his creation of a documentary film titled Hans Hofmann, co-written with Hofmann, filmed, edited and produced as a solo venture by Feinstein. Hofmann gave his full support to the project, calling it “a great film about my scholarly and artistic activity.” The film had its premier in 1999 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Hofmann quickly grew to respect Feinstein’s depth of esthetic understanding and his capacity to express this in writing. In 1952 Hofmann wrote “Mr. Feinstein is a highly gifted and versatile artist with a pronounced standing of his own…and with a deep understanding of the plastic problems in painting.” Hofmann’s hand-written essay on color was dedicated to Sam Feinstein for “helping to bring this writing into a better English.”
Feinstein became a Philadelphia correspondent and Contributing Editor for Art Digest during the early 1950s and wrote many reviews and features, including those of the Arensberg Collection and the Whitney Annual. He taught at Pratt Institute and began teaching his own private classes during this period. When Hofmann ceased teaching in 1958, he approached Feinstein about taking over the classes, but Feinstein declined. His own painting workshops, studio/samfeinstein, thrived for over 50 years in New York, Philadelphia, Princeton, Toronto and each summer on Cape Cod.
After exhibiting his paintings in New York, Provincetown and Philadelphia from the 1930s through the 1950s, Feinstein ceased showing and withdrew from the commercial demands of art. He rejected the gallery world of dealers and critics while he continued to paint and teach privately until his death on June 10, 2003 at the age of 88.
Sam Feinstein left a legacy of astoundingly beautiful and evocative paintings, many developed over a period of years. While his work reflects the cultural development of twentieth-century modern art in its evolution from realism to abstraction, his own personal search went beyond the ease or angst or graphic quality of abstract expressionism to arrive at what must be called Luminist Abstraction. Through his extraordinary, sustained exploration of color, he developed a classical form of gestural abstraction in which the hue and tone of each color-form is juxtaposed to create an ultimate, vibrating radiance.
Limited in its exposure during the last half of his life, Sam Feinstein’s art has yet to be fully discovered and recognized for its unique and magnificent contribution to cultural history.