Donald Fels

Indian Cardboard Pieces

2005, Distemper paintings on cardboard on wood

Fels worked in the godown studio in Cochin over several years, with a group of billboard painters. He worked up the initial designs for the pieces that they painted, together they negotiated changes and additions. Realizing this would involve a good amount of give and take, the painters insisted that he be there all the time to consult as they painted.

Fels soon realized that there was plenty of time and space in the huge studio for him to work on smaller, more intimate paintings while the large enamel pieces took shape. One day he saw a recycler pushing a cart down Bazar Rd full of cardboard which had previously served as covers for accounting books. Fels bought the bundle of cardboard. Around the same time his friend, the artist Oreste Casalini, visited from Rome. There was ample space for Oreste to work in the godown as well, and he began his own painting project there. When he returned to Italy, left behind was a tin of white paint he had bought at the paint store across the street to use as primer. Labeled ‘distemper’, when Fels opened it, he realized it was casein, which he had first used in Italy twenty years earlier.

He went across the street to the paint store, got more distemper and some liquid pigments and began mixing colors and painting on the cardboard covers, which he stapled to the walls of the godown. The series was done for his own amusement, as a way of playing with the fabulous colors he saw around him everyday in south India. Returning to Seattle, he decided to mount the cardboard pieces on wood, and they were displayed with the billboard paintings in their first gallery exhibition. He brought back distemper paint with him as well, and has been using it in his Fall City studio ever since.