Yisrael Feldsott’s paintings might evoke something familiar at first glance. Crows, wolves, bones, the human figure and other archetypal images make frequent appearances in Feldsott’s large-scale mixed-media work.
“The pool of collective memories that we share as humans is my interest,” Feldsott says. “These memories tend to be symbolic, and exist cross-culturally. You find similar stories of creation all around the world. These don’t belong to one group of people; they’re shared amongst all of us.”
Feldsott’s latest work is on display in a show called “Still Standing,” which opens with a reception Saturday at the Paul Mahder Gallery in San Francisco and runs through May 28.
Currently a resident of Bolinas in Marin County, Feldsott is originally from Chicago, but after meeting some artists from California in his late teens, he felt a tug to move to the West Coast.
By his early 20s, Feldsott attracted the attention of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and became one of the youngest artists featured in a group show. In a few years time, he would take off for Guatemala, which would change the course of his life.
“I got there and I felt like I was home,” Feldsott says. “I couldn’t speak Spanish. I didn’t have any intellectual basis to understand the culture. There was just some feeling about it.”
Having become less interested in the traditional career track of a commercially successful artist, Feldsott immersed himself in the traditions of the indigenous communities in Central and South America, and became a liaison in complex environmental issues in the 1980s.
“I spent a lot of time in villages trying to bring large conservation groups to the table, trying to get them to understand that these weren’t parklands like Yosemite,” Feldsott says. “These were lands that were vibrantly connected to the people, and the solutions of deforestation had to include these communities, their traditions and land practices.”
Feldsott worked with local nongovernmental organizations throughout Central and South America, and co-founded the Forest Island Project, which aimed to protect some of the last remaining acres of rainforest in Mexico. A portion of Feldsott’s art sales goes toward conservation nongovernmental organizations he supports in Central and South America.
Although Feldsott returned to California, he still feels a strong resonance with the artistic culture of Latin America in contrast to much of the contemporary art scene in the U.S.
“A lot of people in our country don’t even understand what artists are doing anymore,” Feldsott says. “It’s so much more of an elite circle of people who can make sense of what’s going on in the art world.
“Latin painters give voice to the people and to the struggle of life’s challenges. The paintings act as inspiration and some kind of leadership, like the work of Diego Rivera and the Mexican muralists. Coming from an activist background, the idea of showing my paintings and presenting my work publicly is my individual act of activism.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Paul Mahder Gallery, 3378 Sacramento St., S.F.
When: Opens Saturday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays; closes May 28
Contact: (415) 474-7707, www.paulmahdergallery.com
Note: An opening reception runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday.