The Church of Ian Felice

By Drake's

2024년 5월 3일

The Church of Ian Felice

Hillsdale, NY is down the road from Hudson, NY, which is a couple of hours away from New York City, but it feels like a long way from anything. A few lonely clapboard houses, a general store, meadows, forests and streams, the Catskills somewhere off to the west. Farm Country; frost still flanking the roadside after a late season weather front. 

There’s a methodist church there that—if you believe the stories, and who are we not to believe the stories—was built in the 1800s by an 18-year-old with his bare hands. The congregation long-since departed, today it’s owned by Ian Felice, who has turned it into his own studio, a remarkable place to paint in solitude. We’ve been to a lot of different studios and met a lot of different artists, but this is a first.

We meet Ian outside of the church, the sky hanging low and grey. He’s joined by his dog, Sammy, an enormous Great Pyrenees mix the colour of New York snow. Ian lives in a blue wooden house up the hill with his family. Each morning he takes the short walk to his studio and he paints; gauzy, colourful canvases, often imbued with a strange, fairytale quality. Crocodiles and elongated men in tuxedoes, bruised purples and dark blues against night skies and the deep sea. 

“I get that a lot—dreamlike,” Ian says after I refer to one of his paintings as dreamlike. “I don’t really know what I’d call them. I guess they can seem a little strange.” 

In the notes for his first solo show, which was held in early March at New York’s Half Gallery, Ian expanded on some of the ideas around his work. “I often can’t tell why a painting works. In the best cases, it begins to have a life of its own; it is autonomous and no longer needs me. Not only that, it eludes me and makes me dizzy trying to understand. The images need to possess a sort of mystery that invites further investigation. At one point there were dancing skeletons in a hot air balloon in this painting, hovering in the sky. The figures are still visible through the paint, and why shouldn’t they be? Many things in the world are half-hidden and the skies are never empty.”

Along with his painting practice, Ian is also part of The Felice Brothers, a long-running group filled with siblings and friends. After taking a break from art school, Ian and the band started out busking in New York, which lead to record deals and global tours. He grew up in the Catskills, and there was something about the area that always called him back. “I lived in New York City for a bit,” he says, “but I never had any ambition to move to LA or anything like that. It’s not a type of life that appeals to me. I like to be alone, and around my family. Peace and quiet.”

“Sometimes people mistake humility for insecurity,” says Bill Powers, who co-owns Half Gallery. “Because we live in a world that’s increasingly about self-promotion. Ian is content to let his work -  whether it be music or painting -  speak for itself. When we hosted a small show of his paintings, he spent most of the vernissage (a private viewing) out on the street talking to visitors because he wanted viewers to have their own experience without him standing over their shoulder.”

After his first real exposure to the world of galleries and private sales, Ian is back in the church, exploring new strands of his peculiar, folky and maybe slightly dreamlike paintings. The band has just released a new album and he’s due to head out on tour again. He says he’s trying to make the most of the time and the space. The quiet days where the sun pours through the windows that may—or may not have—been placed by a 19th century teenager. Sammy the dog curled up on the creaking sofa in the corner. Paint and canvas and ideas. I ask him if he dreams of elite art world success? Bigger shows? More? 

“Those are Murky waters,” he says with a deadpan wit. “I try to keep my head down and paint.”

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