INTERVIEW WITH CAROLE FEUERMAN
“No matter how many times you get rejected, you must believe in yourself and do what you love, if you are lucky enough to know what that is.”
By Amanda Quinn Olivar
West Coast Editor
With a prolific career spanning four decades, Carole A. Feuerman is considered one of the world’s most prominent hyperrealist sculptors. She sculpts and paints miniature, life-size, monumental and public works in bronze, resin and marble. Carole has distinguished her skill in each by defining and recreating the human condition. Meticulously rendered, her resin sculptures employ her signature and realistic style to give the viewer the impression of a living, breathing human being.
Along with six museum retrospectives, Feuerman’s work has been showcased in numerous exhibitions and is in the permanent collections of over fifteen museums, such as Art-st-Urban, the Bass Museum of Art, the El Paso Museum of Art, the Tampa Museum of Art, the Lowe Art Museum, and Grounds for Sculpture. Carole has taught, lectured and given workshops at many institutions, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, and Columbia University. In 2011, she founded the Carole A. Feuerman Sculpture Foundation.
Amanda Quinn Olivar: It was interesting to discover that before becoming a sculptor, you drew album art for music acts such as Alice Cooper and The Rolling Stones. Can you tell us about that period in your career?
Carole Feuerman: As a child growing up in Hollis Hills, Queens, I made a commitment to pursue art as a career. At the age of five, I helped my grandfather design our home by spray-painting an outline of each room on our lawn. My fifth grade teacher affirmed my skills by asking me to give weekly drawing lessons to my class. While in high school, I sold my first painting to appreciative neighbors. I felt that this made me a professional. Later I studied at Hofstra University, Temple University, and the School of Visual Arts. I worked as an illustrator to pay for my education at SVA, and ultimately earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1967.
I continued as an illustrator for the next ten years, and received four Merit awards from the Art Directors Club and six Citations of Merit from the Society of Illustrators. These included the highest international award for an illustrator, the Award for Excellence in 1971 for a painting I made for the Rolling Stones. They used it as the centerfold poster in their World Tour Book. After that, I was hired to make a painting for Alice Cooper’s World Tour Book. It won a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators. It was later shown at the NY Historical Society.
In 1974, I began the transition from illustrator to fine artist. I decided that it was time for me to create work that came from my feelings, instead of making work to illustrate someone else’s ideas. I started my fine art career with the topic of “Erotic Art”. For the next three years, I devoted myself to creating a body of works.
AQO: You define your work as hyper-realistic. What does that mean to you, and what drew you to that movement?
CF: I am recognized as a pioneering figure in the world of hyperrealist sculpture. Together with Hanson and De Andrea, I was one of the three leaders that started the movement in the late seventies, by making life sculptures that portrayed their models precisely.
Underlying the realistic daily activities depicted in my sculptures are common threads of experience that connect us to one another. The realism in my art stems from a desire to demonstrate real emotions and physical states of being, from peaceful serenity to energy, equilibrium, and vigor. My realistic style allows me to present a universal moment to which every viewer can relate. I explore emotional dimensions where the sculpture depicts not just one frozen second, but an infinite and universal state of being.
AQO: What important lesson did you learn as a young artist?
CF: No matter how many times you get rejected, you must believe in yourself and do what you love, if you are lucky enough to know what that is.
AQO: How did your upbringing influence your path?
CF: My upbringing influenced my path because my parents didn’t want me to be an artist and didn’t encourage me. I had to pay for my own education, and make my career into what it is today.
AQO: Can you describe your work and give us insight into how you go about constructing a sculpture?
CF: I sculpt the human figure in plaster, and then I make a resin from the plaster, and paint the resin to look real. It is the resin casting that is chased and detailed to finally become the work of art. I paint the surface with over a hundred coats of paint adding veins, sun spots, freckles, and individually rooted hairs. The bronze sculptures are made in metal foundries with a process called lost wax.
AQO: You have been exploring installations which incorporate video projection and water. How do these mediums alter the perception, narrative and interpretation of your sculptures?
CF: I am the first artist to combine hyper-realistic sculptures in this manner. Through the use of video, the total piece of art has a more edgy effect. It brings another dimension to the work that is very exciting. In one of my pieces, Brooke’s Play, I put the piece on an interactive pool of water. When the viewer puts their hand over the water, the heat activation of their hand sends a ripple through the water. This also happens when you walk on the water.
After 56 years of creating swimmers, I continue to be fascinated with the figure in the water, with water patterns on [it]. I love the mechanics of water and its presence as an enduring symbol for life. The symbolism of water is far-reaching and profoundly deep. Water cleanses and purifies. Water touches all people, animals and things. Water connects one land to another. Water moistens and revives. In another installation I did, I projected an interactive waterfall that changes colors and spills onto the floor. This is intriguing to the viewer. The video and the sculpture combine together to create irresistible interactive experiences.
AQO: In 2011 you founded the Carole A. Feuerman Sculpture Foundation. Can you tell us about your initial concept for the foundation, and how it has developed and grown over the past several years?
CF: I started this foundation because when I was in college I was always, you know… I was on scholarship and they graduated me early and I always got the A+ on everything I could do. But when I went out into the world to try to get into a gallery, the galleries wouldn’t take my work. They said that’s not what they show. It was my first real rejection with my artwork. And, um… I had a lot of confidence in myself and I really wanted to be in a gallery. So, I kept trying and trying and you know, it made me think that regardless of whether people like your work or they don’t like your work, or you get to show it or not… there are a lot of great artists out there.
So I started this foundation to exhibit artists that are under-exhibited, that I felt are really good artists. Because it’s really hard to get your career going. It’s not limited to sculptors… I have painters, mixed media, video. This foundation had its first show last year, and I had work from like fifteen different countries. A lot of artists through the years have said to me Can you help me get a New York gallery? I’m on the board of the International Sculpture Center and I show in all different countries, and I meet fabulous artists who have never shown in New York. It’s very hard to get a New York gallery. That’s why I gave them this show. I had four curators to judge their work. I made a little catalogue for everyone and we gave out four grants, um… monetary grants. My foundation gave a grant of $1,000. It was matched by two other foundations. Another foundation gave us the space to do the show and put in lighting and everything… That was MANA Contemporary. My grant was matched by the Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation. So I was able to give out three grants... three that the curators thought were best in the show. We didn’t do 1st, 2nd, 3rd; we did all equal. And then I had a people’s choice where everybody who went to the foundation show would select what they like the best. And then on the foundation website I did pictures of all the different artists and their work. So it gives them a lot of exposure, and there’s a videotape of the show too. It’s really helpful to give their careers a boost they needed.
AQO: You’ve exhibited several times at the Venice Biennale. In 2015, DurgaMa and Leda the Swan were on view at the Palazzo Mora. We would love to hear about these works and your experience there.
CF: My first exhibition in the Venice Biennale was in 2007 at the historical restaurant Paradiso (the stopping place of refreshment, solace and meditation for renowned artists, including Klimt, Kandinsky, Picasso, Rodin, and Warhol). I was invited again to take part in the Venice Biennale, which is often dubbed “the Olympics of the art world”.
Leda and the Swan draws on mythical context. It is based on the Greek myth in which Zeus, disguised as a swan, seduces Leda, resulting in the birth of Helen of Troy. The reclining female figure drapes her relaxed body across the back of the inflatable swan in an elegant curve that moves from the swan’s neck to its tail. She is simultaneously strong and serene in a vintage women’s bathing suit and swim cap. When the Swan left my NYC studio, the combined weight of the sculpture and its crate was over 1,000 pounds.
DurgaMa is an ascending beauty that represents the cycles of existence. The lotus symbolizes rebirth and spiritual awakening. The meditative figure sitting atop the opened lotus flower speaks to the purity of the artist’s inner vision. The lotus's strong stem carries it up to twelve inches above dirty water to bloom. It represents the soul’s journey from the mud of materialism to the radiant light of enlightenment. DurgaMa basks in that light.
AQO: What are you working on now? And what’s next for you… do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
CF: This summer I am having a solo show for Personal Structures 2017 in context with the Venice Art Biennale that will include seven sculptures. It will be open to the public from May 13th - November 26th, 2017 in Palazzo Bembo, Palazzo Mora and Giardini Marinaressa.
AQO: What do you want your work to say to the world?
CF: Most of my work has to do with water-related themes. I have been creating water drops on my sculptures since the late 1970s. I like to present a peaceful, serene moment, where the subject of the sculpture seems to be completely content. I play with the idea that ordinary activities—like cleansing or swimming—can put an individual in touch with deeper sentiments. The water droplets complement the water themes and also help to create a very physical presence. Each detail of my sculptures combines to complete the physicality of the form. Our bodies are made up mostly of water. It is a necessity for life—the earth could not sustain itself without water. It can have a spiritual aspect as well, in that it can carry messages.
My poured bronze works are also related to the theme of water and flowing liquid. The process I use to make these pieces, like Zeus and Hera, which is part of the GFS [Grounds for Sculpture] collection, has been called “painting with fire”. In many ways, I am “painting” and creating these magnificent pieces out of liquid.
AQO: What is your favorite art accident?
CF: So, I had an accident happen when I was moving my studio from Long Island to Jersey City, and the mover he broke all the pieces in three trucks. And as each truck unpacked the work, I saw that the whole truck--all the pieces were broken and the next truck they were all broken, and the next truck they were all broken.
AQO: Oh, what a nightmare...
CF: Yeah, it was traumatic for me and um, I didn’t know what to do. I started repairing; after I paid him, I started repairing a couple and then I thought, this is ridiculous... why don’t I just call it New Works? And um, and sell them with all the cracks in them as if, you know, nothing’s perfect and things start to age and crack, and that it’s OK. And um, for the concept, I saw them that way, and that was called my New Works. This was about 15-16 years ago. But it was like I had to really… being a Hyperrealist and everything always so meticulous and hyper-real, it really... I had to really just let go and take what the universe was telling me and work with that. And it was good.