Bridgehampton, Jul. 2013: Carole Feuerman can safely be called one of the most preeminent hyper-real sculptors. Over the course of four decades, her work has earned international acclaim from the art world as well as the attention of a good number of prominent collectors, including the Clintons, His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, and Henry Kissinger. Her piece Generals Daughter recently won the People’s Choice Award from the Smithsonian and five of her pieces, including her latest, The Golden Mean, are currently on display at the Venice Biennale.
Since the 70s she has worked on a series of bathers and swimmers, molding seemingly perfect human forms from bronze, resin, and steel. Beautiful girls doze on colorful beach balls. Strong men lunge out of the wall towards invisible finish lines. In each of her pieces she brings an incredibly acute attention to detail, spending years on a single piece. She also thinks big, with many of her pieces towering above her small frame (she recently unveiled a “miniature” of one of her pieces that is about as tall as she is). Indeed, not just in size, Feuerman is known to break the mold and push sculpture beyond its limits. She’s known for a new technique she calls “painting with fire,” in which she sprays molten metals onto her molds.
The results are extraordinary; they are charming and playful. But one can also sense something much deeper going on in her work. Perhaps in the expressions of her subjects or the form of their bodies, it becomes clear there are more accurate adjectives for her subjects: balanced, determined, purposeful. Indeed, in her active sculptures, she captures that part of the human spirit that drives us to persevere beyond our apparent limitations. Her latest piece, aptly titled The Golden Mean, is an incredible sixteen-foot-high diver, with two tons of steel resting on just several inches of the diver’s wrists. Her diver is frozen in the moment right before he dives, when having perfect form is the most critical. In this position, he must reach upwards and back, upside-down. Should he shy away from going all the way, he’ll fall forward, yet should he strive beyond his limits, and he’ll fall the other way. It is in this place, that Feuerman’s diver finds Aristotle’s golden mean, the perfect balance between two extremes.
I caught up with Feuerman in the Hamptons, right after she returned from Venice, and on her way back to the city to begin work on her biggest project yet: a thirty-six-foot-high, four ton sculpture of double divers, upside-down.
Carole Feuerman, working shots of Double Diver; Courtesy of the artist
Max Nesterak: You’ve been fascinated with swimmers for over four decades. Where does this fascination come from?
Carole Feuerman: I always loved going to the beach. I think it’s the water that fascinates me, even though I don’t really like to go in it. I always tell people that and they’re always shocked. I like watching people go in the water. I like the patterns of water on people’s bodies. I love everything about the water. I think it’s universally something that everyone needs. It gives life; it’s healing. I learned a while ago that water carries messages, that water won’t crystallize if there’s a bad experience. When the bomb went off in Japan, they couldn’t make crystals in the water. People came down by the water and prayed and they couldn’t make it crystallize. Only where there is peace and goodwill, will water crystallize. It’s pretty interesting that water can carry feeling.*
MN: Your latest piece, called the Golden Mean, references the mathematical ratio for perfect balance and beauty. We see that a lot in your work, this tendency towards perfection. Do you think your subjects are perfect?
CF: No. Nobody is perfect. I don’t even think my art is perfect. With the golden mean, which is my latest piece, if he leans too far over, he’s going to fall, so that’s why you should strive to accomplish – that little bit more – but you have to hold onto yourself.
With my earliest work, Catalina, people would ask, why doesn’t she have arms? I had this idea that what if I lost an arm, or what if something happened to me? Would I still do my art? I almost lost my hand, and I almost lost my finger. As a sculptor, things happen. I would absolutely still do my art. There’s this movie about this girl who’s a surfer and a [shark bit off] her arm. It’s hard enough to surf, god knows, I could never do that. This woman is breaking through the wall; she’s coming through and going to achieve. It’s been so hard to achieve in the art [world as a] woman. I had a really tough time. I was a single parent, raising three children: one child was handicapped, my other child had breathing problems, my other child had other problems, and it was seriously hard. But I still did my art no matter what. It’s about striving and determination.
Carole Feuerman, The Golden Mean as installed in its permanent location at Riverfront Green Park, Peekskill, NY; Courtesy of the artist.
MN: Some incredible people have collected your work: His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and Mikhail Gorbachev. Is there anyone you’ll be adding to that list you can tell us about?
CF: It’s always nice to sell a piece, but I don’t really think about that. I want my work to be with people who love it. The town of Peekskill just bought a piece. They bought the diver. They didn’t have enough money to buy it for the price it sells for, so at first I said no, but the museum put up the money to install it and the town raised some money to buy it and even though it was significantly lower than what I would have sold it for, the people loved it so much I said yes. The reason people should have your work is because they love it and it brings joy to their lives. If 20,000 people a week see this piece when they ride the train along the Hudson River then it belongs in this location right along the Hudson.
MN: Tell us what you’re up to now. You’re doing something new with your latest work, aren’t you?
CF: I’m working on this new piece. I just found out about it last week, so I have to figure out what I’m going to do. My competition is myself. This double diver is going to be all poured molten metal. Thirty-six feet in the air. I’m using poured wax. This is not painted with fire. This is a new thing. If I did the painting with fire, the bronze would be too heavy and I was afraid [about that] with four tons of steel. The engineers said it could only be a certain weight, and I couldn’t control the weight so I came up with, once again, a whole new system that no one in the world ever did. I’m painting with wax. I melted the wax until it was liquid instead of bronze and then splattered and splashed it into the open mold. It’s never been done.
*With all due respect to Feuerman, I was skeptical. I can get behind finding spirituality in water, but attributing a change in its physical property to a lack of crystallization to nuclear waste than ill-will, but I did a little research and there is a scientist who claims that human feelings affect water crystallization. Japanese scientist Dr. Masaru Emoto, chief of the Hado Institute in Tokyo, performed research that shows that water may crystallize poorly in polluted water and in clean water that is surrounded by bad emotions.
ArtSlant would like to thank Carole Feuerman for her assistance in making this interview possible.