Donald Fels



Spanish Print Project

With the support of Michael Dunev Projects, Davidson Galleries, and 45 subscribers, Fels worked in October and November 2009 with Spanish master-printer Eusebi Subiros at the Lupusgrafic studio in Girona Spain on the Costa Brava. It was in Girona that the Kabbalah was first published. With the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, the book made its way with them around the world. Working with Sebi, Fels created a series of monoprints that included chine colle and collage, found images, serigraphs, diagrams and drawing. The series pursued the intersection of the Zohar (the most important work of the Kabbalah) and Linear Perspective- the external and internal.

The Zohar grapples with the concept of infinity and looking deeply inwards. Linear Perspective and the concept of the Vanishing Point produced a system of projecting outwards into infinite space. Moving in opposite directions, the two bodies of knowledge developed simultaneously in Spain and Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries.

For some years in Italy and then in India, Fels had been researching the relationship between the art of perspective and the Voyages of Discovery, which the perspective system made possible.

The time spent in Girona offered the extraordinary chance to broaden his research to re-consider these developments in light of the life of the mind.

“Trajectories”, above, mixed media, 2009, 32”x9” is a study for the print project. It reproduces a 1521 diagram by Cesare Cesarino, itself based on Leonardo da Vinci’s ground-breaking work on perspective from 1492. In the mid-15th century, the funnel, as pictured in the piece, brought the French word trajectory into the English language.

Light Book view piece

In 2005, Fels was living in South India in Kerala, as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, based in the port city of Cochin. His primary work was the completion of a series of billboard paintings depicting the legacy of Vasco da Gama who had arrived there 500 years earlier.

To complete the paintings he rented a 300 year-old pepper warehouse (godown). It was pepper that da Gama sought on his epic voyage, then worth more than gold by weight. The large stone structure had no power, no water and no windows (the warehousing of dried pepper requiring none of the above), but it did have two large doors that opened to a courtyard, providing light when open, and two very small skylights, actually shards of glass each of which replaced a clay roof tile.

The building had a very high ceiling, so the two pieces of roof glass allowed long and piercing beams of light to enter the building. As the sun’s path changed during the day, the light shafts moved across the stone floor.

Fels was struck by the interplay of light and shadow in the godown, and began constructing structures with found pieces of wood and photographing what happened when the light beams moved around them.

The bright tropical sunshine also cast stark shadows outside.

On Bazar Road, down the street from the godown, there was a stencil maker who made metal stencils by hand for use in labeling the crates of tea that were shipped at the port. He and Fels became friends (he was almost blind from decades of working in another godown with no light). Once Fels decided to make a book of his light photographs, he approached the stencil-maker about producing the book covers in aluminum. The book was assembled and bound across the street from the godown where a shop made school notebooks, also by hand. They produced 30 copies of the book, each with a hand-made metal cover.