47 Carole Feuerman

Carole with her work, 'Survival of Serena'

"My sculpture combine both reality and illusion. I'm idealizing the human form, it's not life as it really is. It is more dreamlike, a magical state of how I want it to be."

Carole Feuerman from NYC is one of the world's greatest living sculptors, and arguably one of the greatest of all time. She's the most prominent and popular sculptor of the Hyperrealist movement which she helped found in the 1970's. Carole works in bronze, steel, resin, and clay. She molds silicone and plaster casts directly from live models to capture every detail and contour of form, and then transforms the resulting plaster copy through a variety of traditional and digital media to create statues of varying scales (from life-size to monumental) and styles. Her projects have tested the limits of physics and modern technology, as she put together a team of engineers and assistants in two studios, one in New Jersey, and one in New York. She's the only artist to have realistically painted bronze statues for outdoor installation. She's experimented with dripping molten bronze on her statues, and using hardened steel alloy armatures to create incredibly strong figures in impossible poses. She also works in resin, using transparent droplets to represent water. Her unique projects have led her team to develop skills specific to her art, similar to the way Wes Anderson tested the limits of stop-motion animation, and how the Lord of the Rings trilogy demanded a whole set of blacksmiths and designers to forge unique weapons and armor. Carole has created a whole new type of art, and the industry required to realize it.

'Christina', 2013

So far as accolades, Carole Feuerman has one first prizes at the Vienna and Florence Biennales, as well as at the 2008 Olympic exhibition in China. She won best in show at the Beijing biennale. She's won a Museum Choice Award from the Save the Arts Foundation. She has had six retrospectives at major museums, including the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Venice Biennale, the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, the Archeological Museum of Fiesole, the Kunstmuseum in Ahlen, Germany, and the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. Her work is owned and collected by numerous major galleries and museums. Carole Feuerman has been elected to the Board of the Int. Sculpture Center and the Int. Women's Forum. Carole has taught art at Columbia University, as well as giving lectures and workshops at the MET and the Guggenheim in NYC. She also has four monograph books devoted to her art. In 2011 She began the Carole Feuerman Sculpture Foundation to support under-represented artists with yearly exhibits, scholarships, and internship awards.

'The Message', 2014

Carole Feuerman was born in Hartford, Connecticut, but grew up in Hollis Hills, Queens. In an interview with Amanda Olivar (Curator, 2017), Carole says she was always an artist. At the age of five, she drew a plan for her home by spray painting it on the lawn. By 5th grade, she was teaching her class art lessons. Despite this, her parents discouraged her choice to be an artist, refusing to pay for college. Carole paid for schooling by working as an illustrator. She studied at Temple University and Hofstra University, before earning her BFA from the School of Visual Arts in NY. While there, she worked as an illustrator for Time Warner Records, painting thirteen album covers, for artists including Alice Cooper, Aretha Franklin, and the Rolling Stones. She spent ten years as an illustrator, earning ten awards of merit in that time and a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators.

But, it wasn't her passion. Carole explains, "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." Carole says, she made this transition in 1974, but it was in the works long before. In 1970 she won her first award for sculpture, the Betty Parsons Sculpture Award. It was through her hard work and devotion she was able to create these two different bodies of work at once, building up two entirely different skill sets.

'Kendall Island', 2014

Not everyone is familiar with the Hyperrealist art movement. It is an offshoot of Photorealism which is in turn a development stemming from Pop Art. Pop art made acceptable the use and appropriation of mass culture and advertising from every day life, to be incorporated into art objects - it elevated the mundane. Andy Warhol used many famous photos, corporate logos, and products (often kitsch) to make ironic artworks that reflected and satirized the modern world. This was a philosophical departure and rejection of America's biggest preceding art movement, Abstract Expressionism.

Photorealists also rejected Expressionists like Pollack and deKooning, and can best be seen as the flip side of the coin of Minimalism, as both movements took different approaches to experiment in new forms of conceptual art, testing the bounds and definitions of art. Photorealists generally tried to faithfully copy photographs (either their own, or from wherever) with the aim of capturing all the effects and feel of the photo, only on a much larger scale. They tried their best to omit any personal interpretation or style - directly counter to realist painters of the past. They wanted to capture the anonymity of their photos, that the figures in their art could be just anyone, anywhere, doing nothing at all. The effect was precise, but not Trompe-l'œil, which is meant to fool the eye - Photorealist painters wanted you to know it was fake, like a photo. They also avoided politics, narratives, and emotions in general. The overall effect is like any old photo of people you don't know - a ghost of the past, now a mystery, only on a monumental scale. They saw their work as a commentary on the rise and abundance of photography in popular culture. It was like Pop Art, only replacing the humor with nostalgia.

'Leda & the Swan', 2014

Hyperrealism was a term used to describe Photorealists as early as 1973, and there is some overlap between the movements. However, artists like Feuerman helped steer it in a different direction, as a movement of its own, with a new emphasis on story telling - naming the figures, showing emotional states and expressions, and with Feuerman primarily instilling a sense of hope, inspiration, and triumph of the human spirit. Where Photorealism is often drab, tight, hard edged and quotidian, Carole's sculptures are anything but. Carole says in her artist statement:

"Through my sculptures I convey my feelings about life and art. It is far easier for me to express my emotions through sculpture than through words. I portray the inner life of each image I create in order to capture the passion and sensuality of my subject. In this way, my work speaks to the viewer, evoking both an emotional and an intellectual response."

She explains further (Olivar, 2017):

"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."

'Next Summer'

In one of her videos on Youtube, Carole explains how she became inspired to sculpt her first swimmer, the 'Grande Catelina', "I was inspired when I went to the beach in the '70's, and I saw a woman coming out of the water. She was proud, strong, she showed accomplishment. And, I identified with her. I saw myself as her, and it led me to create my first swimmer."

Water is a constant symbol in Caroles work. She explains (Olivar, 2017):

"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. "

'Grande Catelina', 2005

"My work doesn't just mimic what the human body can do. I want the work to take the body to another level. . . . When I pose the model, I want the model to portray the story . . . You know that you can do a cast of a person, but you have to get the emotion right, because in the end you can sculpt the detail, but you cannot sculpt the emotion."

'Infinity', 2014

Being a prominent post-modern sculptor, whose works are so large, monumental, highly detailed and accurate (pretty much perfect), you may wonder about Carole's process, and the questions of authorship and credit. After all, other conceptual artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst are infamous for coming up with ideas and then hiring factories to produce them, without the personal hand of the artist. This was one of my big questions while researching this artist. But, rest assured, each of these sculptures is in fact the personal work of Carole Feuerman. She does have assistants for digital mapping (where required), structural engineers, welders, and crane operators for the heavy lifting. But Carole's art isn't merely conceptual, she's a master craftsman. She makes all her life casts herself (click here for video):

She uses these molds to create a plaster copy of the figure, which she carefully cleans and details herself (see video here):

For larger works, like 'The Golden Mean', a digital rendering of the cast is required. This is where she relies on assistants, to turn the digital model:

 into large foam pieces which her team rebuilds into a larger-than-life figure:

Here, once again, Carole goes over the figure, fixing and adding details, bringing back everything that was lost in the transference of the original:

"When I get the foam back, you still have to sculpt it. You only get foam and the foam has no detail, no fingernails, no lines. It's at this point that I make changes in the pose, variations in the gestures, and also add all the little details to the entire piece."

Then, the foam version is used to make another mold, this time larger, that can be used to produce a hollow wax copy of the figure:

The wax pieces are cast separately and then checked, to make sure each part fits together:

The pieces are then used to make another mold, this time for bronze casting. And, while Carole often works as a supervisor to her assistants, she's a master caster, having done this herself for decades:

Once cast, all the bronze pieces are welded together to make the final artwork:

A structural engineer constructs a hardened steel armature to fit within the sculpture and ensure its strength:

Once constructed, Carole Feuerman paints her sculptures herself. Some works are painted, while some use patinas, but it's always her hand and vision that complete the work:

Carole describes her process (Olivar, 2017):

"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."

Carole's most impressive outdoor monuments include her 'Golden Mean' (2013), a diver doing a handstand on display in Poughkeepsie, New York, and the  'Double Diver' in Sunnyvale, California. 'Golden Mean' is over sixteen feet tall (4.9m) and 'Double Diver' is 26 feet (7.9m) high with only six inch wrists at the base.

'Golden Mean'

"Conceptually, the biggest challenge is to portray the strength of the human spirit, from his emotion to his whole body. The feeling of the pose is perfection, all elements that make it a wonderful piece of art, and not just a man jumping off a diving board."

'Double Diver'

In this interview with Meagan Meahan (Blasting News, 2016), Carole lists some artists that inspire her: Michelangelo, Anish Kapoor, and Degas. She also discusses her process:

"I paint most of my resin pieces using oil paint. It takes hours of labor and over a hundred layers of transparent paint gradually built up to create the look of flesh. They only look hyper-real when the eyelashes and eyebrows are perfected and the last water drop is set."

Her advice to young artists is, "Do what you love and believe in; don’t give up no matter how many galleries reject you."

'Balance', 2010

Carole talks about the foundation she created (Olivar, 2017):

"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."

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Carole Feuerman has been so kind as to answer some questions exclusively for this blog! So, I'm very excited to post our interview:

1.  My first question has to be what large works you’re planning to make next. I’m fascinated by the process and the sheer beauty of these monumental works. I’d love to see them everywhere, and I’m sure many cities are clamoring for more.

"I’m making a sculpture called “Eyes Open”. The picture is attached [see above].  As the saying goes, 'Eyes are the windows to the soul'. But meditation and stillness, with eyes closed, allows us to think and see more fully. Dreams and desires, these are the stuff the mind is made of. “Phenomena” means all that you see, all that you experience. ... Material phenomena, psychological phenomena, spiritual phenomena — they are all the same. ... aware of the dream, your quality of consciousness will have a new flavor to it. Sometimes, to be able to see, you have to close your eyes and open your heart. Only then will you be able to discover what’s truly important, what really counts. Because when you open your inner eyes and satisfy your soul, your horizons will widen, and new possibilities will arise. When I teach a child to see, first I ask him to feel. When you feel an object, you can see it better."

2.  I read that you were a gifted artist as a child, and I’d love to hear more – about the art you made, where it went, if you still have it, and also why your parents didn’t support you more in your choice to be an artist. What were they most afraid of?

"From a young age, I knew I wanted to be an artist even though I wasn’t sure what kind of an artist I would be.  When I was five years old, my parents moved from Brooklyn to Hollis Hills, Queens. One day, when I was left with a babysitter, I drew my first painting on my parent’s kitchen floor with shoe polish. I couldn’t erase it even though I tried so I decided to embellish it. I took my mother’s oil painting set for my project. I had my eyes on that set for a long time and my mother never used it. I squeezed out beautiful colors from their tubes and using just my fingers, I painted my masterpiece filling in the lines I made with the black shoe polish. Although I loved the painting, I started to get nervous that my parents would come home and not find it as beautiful as I thought it was. I took a dishtowel and tried to get the paint off my hands and clothes, and then I rubbed the paint, but the colors wouldn’t come off the floor. After repeatedly trying to fix things, I thought it best to hide in the basement behind the furnace for good. I couldn’t remember my punishment, but my mother liked to get a strap and threaten me.

"When I was in fifth grade, I was drawing line drawings of the human body. I perfected the technique of drawing the body with one continuous line. Quietly I showed the boy sitting next to me, in the back of my schoolroom class, my technique. The teacher noticed and called me up to her desk. Furious, she sent me to the principal. My punishment was to teach my class how to draw, but not a nude. I choose a tiger for my art lesson. The situation backfired, and the lessons were so successful that the principal started inviting a different class each week to sit in. Between painting on the floor, teaching art at school, all at the age of ten, I convinced my mother to send me for private art lessons. My first painting was a bottle of wine and grapes, and next a still life, then a nude and a landscape that I gave to my grandparents as a gift.  I was now a professional.

"My parents were probably a product of the times and their culture. My mom did not work for a living. My father worked for his father in the taxi industry. He retired when he was 50. In those days, woman only went to college to meet a rich husband that would take care of them. That is the way they felt."

3.  I know this is personal, but I hope that you and your parents get along well, and that they’ve realized their mistake? I’ve heard many stories from actors and comedians who suffered similar experiences defending their career choice to their parents. In one case actor Jimmy O Yang described how, once his dad saw he’d become a success, his father insisted it must be easy, and quickly started his own successful career as an actor. So, I’m curious when your parents came around and apologized, and what that was like?

"I don’t think my parents ever came around in their lifetime. My mother first became nice to me when I told her that I thought my father might have been proud of me at some point. Luckily, I had the encouragement of my grandparents who raised me." 

"I lived with my grandparents weekends and summers and spent a great deal of time with them while growing up. My mother suffered from bipolar disorder and wasn’t able to handle raising her three children alone. She never wanted me to be an artist. The only support she gave me was sending me for private art lessons when I was 8 - 12 yrs. old. That was the greatest help and I loved it."

4.       You got paid jobs working for Time Warner Records as an illustrator, while you were still in college. And you illustrated works for Rolling Stone, Aretha Franklin, and Alice Cooper… while you were still in college… How did you do that??? To get so successful so young, it’s almost like you didn’t need college.

“They did not teach sculpture at SVA, so I majored in illustration. Even though I was on a scholarship, I could not pay the entire tuition needed for my education. I took a job after school and on weekends as a salesgirl in a dress shop, but on minimum wage, my take home pay fell short. One day after school, I went upstairs to a neighbor’s apartment living directly above me, to complain about the noise her son was making. She invited me in and offered me coffee. After pouring my heart out to her, she said her father, Bobby Shad, was in the record business and suggested that I give him a call. Maybe I could do record covers for him to earn extra cash.

"At my meeting with Bobby, he said that I could do a trial album cover of Hugo Montenegro, and if he used it, he would pay for my tuition for a month. In school, I told my teacher in drawing class and he hired flamenco dancers for the whole class to draw. He critiqued my work and I brought it to Mr. Shad to be used as my first job. He loved it and gave me many more covers to do for him. He also paid my tuition. 

"In 1956 I started making record album covers for my friend Tammy Apatow’s father at Time & Mainstream Records. I didn’t realize that Time Records was a division of Time Warner and that Tammy’s father owned that division. I painted 22 record album covers. For the next ten years I also worked as an illustrator for many other companies. I continued working as an illustrator for the next ten years.’ I went by the name - Carole Jean, my middle name, saving the name Feuerman for after graduation, when I would become a fine artist. 

"Mainstream Records was an American record company and independent record label founded by music producer Bob Shad in 1964. Mainstream's early releases were reissues from Commodore Records. Its catalogue grew to include Bob Brookmeyer, Maynard Ferguson, Jim Hall, Helen Merrill, Carmen McRae, Jimmy Raney, Zoot Sims, Clark Terry, and Sarah Vaughan. Janis Joplin, with Big Brother and the Holding Company, first appeared on Mainstream. In 1978 Mainstream closed. Bob Shad died in 1985. In 1990, the label was restarted by his daughter, Tamara, and Humphrey Walwyn, the former head of BBC Records. It was bought by Legacy in 1993 and purchased back by the Shad family in the early 2000s. The label is now run by Shad's granddaughter Mia Apatow, with the help of her brother Judd Apatow. Judd Apatow is an American filmmaker, actor, and comedian. He is the founder of Apatow Productions, through which he produced and directed the films the 40-Year-Old VirginKnocked UpFunny PeopleThis Is 40Trainwreck, and The King of Staten Island.

"After a year of making record album covers for Bobby Shad, I was able to get work from other companies to do art. I always told them I would only do covers since I needed a thousand dollars a month. One day, in my third year, the school found out. They forced me to graduate a year early since they said I was doing better than the teachers I was studying from."

5. Of all the artists on my list, your life and work are, arguably, the most inspiring. I mean, few have had such difficult journeys, except for Laura Knight who was orphaned at age 15, with just a sister to care for. And then there’s Edmonia Lewis who was nearly beaten to death at Oberlin. All the artists I feature have struggled, but to make such a career from nothing, all on your own – is this why your artwork focuses so much on doing the impossible? You sculpt exceptionally beautiful people doing nearly impossible things, with a perfectionist’s eye for detail, focusing on activities such as sport and dance that take a lifetime of study, practice, and devotion. There’s a message here that resonates with your own life and work. Do you see your art as a kind of self portrait?

"My swimmers have their own personalities and tell their own stories. Their stories are my stories, sometimes autobiographical and sometimes stories I just need to tell.  While their outward appearance is often one of beauty and tranquility, these elegant faces mask a deeper meaning of heroism, triumph, and liberation. 

"Swimming and water have fascinated me for as long as I can remember, and as a result, have become the essence of my inspiration for my pieces. I loved the beach as a child and many of my fondest memories are of playing in the sand and jumping the waves at Jones Beach on Long Island. I remember with great detail how the delicate water droplets covered my arms and face after returning from a swim, and the patterns that formed on my skin captivated me. I noticed how the human figure radiates a healthy glow while in the water and coming out, and how the water seemed to rejuvenate the body while instilling a sense of harmony, both internally and externally. It was for these reasons that I started drawing swimmers in the second grade, and in the fifth grade, had asked my parents to sign me up for private art lessons on Saturdays. It was both the swimmers and the water that kept my attention from the beginning, and still to this day.

"Since 1958, I have concentrated on swimmers and figures with water elements. Through my sculptures, I explore classicism and beauty, which are subjects that have been taboo in contemporary art. There is a conditioned, yet inaccurate, belief that "good" radical art has to reject something that is attractive and pleasing to the eye. I do not reject the concept of beauty but embrace it. I see it, create it, and portray it with my swimmers, who show emotion, joy, grace, tranquility, and sensuality. They are peace loving, and sometimes pleasure loving. They are satisfied with life and moreover, they are survivors.

"In 1979, inspired by the blue horizon of the Pacific Ocean, I envisioned a swimmer emerging like a phoenix from the sea with water droplets streaming across her face, which took form in my creation of "Catalina".  She appears as a proud survivor, beautiful, and strong. In 2005, I made a monumental version, “Grande Catalina”, which John Spike installed in the center of Florence, and that was the beginning of my major public sculptures. In 1981, I created "Innertube", a contemplative sculpture of a swimmer resting peacefully on an inflatable tube. This serene and meditative sculpture led me to create "Survival of Serena" for the 2006 Venice Biennale. She was named after the Island of Venice “the Serene Island” and was created in a monumental scale. One of my more recent pieces, "Next Summer", is named after a very special Island in Michigan called the Summer Island. I am currently working on “Double Diver”, a monumental forty-foot bronze male diver in a handstand with another Diver holding his feet. While it isn’t named for an island, it speaks of persistence and the will to succeed, exemplifying integrity, trust and teamwork.
"After 56 years of creating swimmers, I continue to be fascinated with the figure in the water with water patterns on them. 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. I observe, photograph and sculpt swimmers because we are all swimmers."

6.  How have critics responded to your work over the decades, and has it had any impact on your art?

"The art critics would say it is craft and not real art.  They would say it doesn’t ask and answer questions. In this article, the author [Sylvain Chamberlain] says, “ Art certainly requires skill, but skill is NOT art. This is similar to the problem of legitimacy that photography and indeed digital creation has. A computer and a camera do not produce “art”. A human being who is skilled at making images that look like a photograph has missed the goals of art.” I heard this for the first half of my career. And then one day in approximately 2012,  it came into style. By then I had already created a body of hyperrealistic work started in 1978."

7.   What do you tell someone who complains that your art objectifies women?

"I sculpt women and I sculpt men, but it seems that the public only sees the woman I have sculpted. Perhaps the sculptures of my female swimmers are more successful because they tell “my story” but if you look at all the facts, my “Double Diver” sculpture of two males broke the million-dollar mark and is owned by the City of Sunnyvale California. My sculpture “The Golden Mean” is the story of a male diver that is positioned in perfect harmony"

'Moran,' 2008

8.  What do you think of art education in America, particularly in K-12 schools? How could it be changed to be better?

"I think art is considered more important in all countries except America. When I traveled to Europe, I saw field trips with toddlers and kindergarten students in museums. It was quite common. Being an artist is respected there more than here. When Europeans ask me what I do and I say that I am an artist, they are in awe. When I tell an American that I am an artist, I think they feel sorry for me. During the [2020] pandemic, funding for the arts and for education for that matter, has been drastically cut." 

9.  What are some of the greatest art lessons you’ve learned, either from professors or from self reflection?

"From self-reflection I learned that we should do what you love in this life, and never listen to what others think. Believe in yourself. Love yourself. This is the way to find happiness. And, don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today. Life is short when you look back. My motto is, “everything worth doing is worth overdoing.” Do it with passion." 

10.   How do you define great art?

 "To me great art is art that speaks to the viewer. Great art breaks down these barriers by disturbing its viewers, evoking some sort of emotional response. It should stand the test of time and not the test of critics."

11.   What do you tell someone who thinks art doesn’t matter? 

The arts matter because we matter, and our stories matter. The art we express is timeless. People remember what they see. A world without art would be tragic.  Without art, life would be unbearable, and reality would never be known for generations to come.

“Art matters because it illustrates the human experience—the wonder of it, the bewilderment of it, the whimsy of it, and so much more. We would not be connected so deeply without the existence of art.” – Kathleen Dinsmore

“The arts matter because without them our strong emotions, our vital voices, our move-to-the-groove energy and necessary empathy and life-affirming connectedness and tendency toward complexity might all wither from disuse, maybe even destroy us through misuse. The arts matter because with them, we matter.” – Amy Stolls