The Sculpture of Carole A. Feuerman
by Eleanor Munro
The full sweep of Carole A. Feuerman’s creative life so far has been, in her own words, “about relationships . . . the essence of people. What people are about.” As a sculptor in the vivid postmodern idiom of hyperrealism, she wants it understood that her quest has always been for images that elicit feelings. She believes, and her works bear her out, that to see a replica of the human body poised in frozen motion is to be suddenly, sometimes overwhelmingly, struck by the commonality of people’s experience. As one reviewer of her work put it, Feuerman’s sculptures expose the “secret body language with which the animal communicates.”
This idea may seem surprising applied to sculptures that exist, in most cases, as isolated, even fragmented figures — though some do form family or amorous groups. But even Feuerman’s single athletes, and portions of bodies of dancers and lovers, can be taken as she wishes — that is, as representative of excitement or pleasure, love or need. Athletic triumph is one of her favorite themes: “the exultation of the champion swimmer.” Other works describe people responding to one another, reaching out, embracing, whispering in loving ways. They show how the face lifts when it reflects affection and pride. Some fragmentary works illustrate, as Feuerman explains, “what happens to the skin when you touch a person.”
Feuerman composes her works of body parts cast from or modeled and carved after the living model. She has a magic touch with a paintbrush, applying dozens — sometimes hundreds — of coats of oil paint to create realistic flesh tones. Other works may be left in a neo-Victorian faux-marble plaster or stony whiteness. Populating her imagined world are cool, slim individuals with classic Anglo-Saxon features. They serve the artist’s intention in the way much hyperreal art can be said to serve both the makers and the appreciators, at least according to the Italian philosopher-critic-novelist Umberto Eco. “For the reproduction to be desired,” Eco writes, “the original has to be idolized.” As if in support of that idea, Feuerman’s lovers and grandmothers, children and grandfathers faithfully reproduce their adored or at least greatly admired living models, people linked to one another and to Feuerman herself by family ties, romantic desire, or mutual fondness for a sport or the dance.
Along with this charge of emotional empathy, Feuerman has a remarkable talent for both abstract form and brittle, descriptive detail, and she has not hesitated to combine these usually contradictory sculptural manners in a single work or group. That is to say, she has introduced into certain works sweeping curves of plaster, stone, metal and molded plastics; she has also turned out hyperreal passages individualized by wrinkles, body hair and cotton-weave clothing.
Her method of working is also energized, eclectic and pragmatic. To achieve the expressive end she wants, Feuerman may hand-model or carve the plaster forms — the fragmented body parts — that emerge from the mold. She may then focus on the fragment as her subject, painting its ragged edges in a way that points up its unreality. She may mount the fragment on a wall as if it were breaking through the surface, appearing on it like an apparition. But however the work is mounted or displayed, Feuerman wants the viewer to know her intent is subjective and, in that sense, narrative: “My subjectivity pulls the viewer into the work, to complete its story.”
Feuerman speaks with self-revealing fervor: “I come from an emotional place in everything I do. It just matters if you touch somebody.” When she switched from a commercial career as an illustrator to the fine art of sculpture, some thirty years ago, she found surfacing into the world of art galleries and museums not entirely easy. There were shocks and disappointments, but also quick progress and a zestful raising of sights from there to here. And all along, making art was for Feuerman what it is for all those who love what they do: a strategy of survival so that, today, with some three decades of work behind her, many national and international shows, respectable sales and five-figure auction prices, she has mustered a self-image of considerable strength, a survivor’s kit of self-encouragement. In sum, in the ferment of late-twentieth-century art, these sculptures by one of the few women to work in this particular realist vein retain an appealing emotionalism. So do her ingenuous remarks. The bright eyes of her figures make a clear bid for the viewer’s sympathy. And though the now three-decades-old category of hyperrealism to which they belong is an art-historical rubric with implications of philosophical density, Feuerman’s swimmers, divers and dancers, her children whose tidy bodies echo those of their elders, and even her early erotic works, seem more lightheartedly outreaching than ironic or confrontational. They are images of consensual enjoyment, drawn from the collective imagination of a body-obsessed culture in a way that is remarkably “friction-free,” as some people say of global computer transactions.
Feuerman comes naturally, that is, by background and training, to this postmodern esthetic. As a high-achieving student at New York’s School of Visual Arts in the early 1970s, she excelled in inventing images to deliver the message. At the same time, an older, more traditional, classic — or, better yet, humanistic — subtext gives the work its narrative charm, and gives the artist her language of self-revelation. In other words, what she has aspired to through the past thirty years of hard work and self-positioning has been the creation of a world of emotionally charged images, a sort of family of her feelings, which provide continuity in the shifting world of the 1990s, in which so many families break up or disappear.
So the span of Feuerman’s work in its quixotic variety offers more to the mind than a simple gloss on American social behavior, a description that fits the work of hyper-realist artists like Duane Hanson and John De Andrea today — those painted simulacra of working-class Americans and socially unclassifiable, buff-naked females seen often in the advertising pages of art magazines. Those other artists, Feuerman explains, want to create the illusion of a “real” body present in the “real” space of an ordinary room. “But I don’t want the presence of a body in a room,” she says. Something else, that “essence” she speaks of, drives her. “You may ask of my piece — is it real? But it has no arms! Or: where does the leg end? Or: in an embrace, who is giving, who is taking? What is expressed in a ‘real’ face may not be what is actually going on. But if I can touch a person so they can answer the question of what is actually going on . . . ” No deeper question exists in art theory than the one of the relationship between an image and its meaning — “what is actually going on.” Every artist working in a more or less realist vein has to find a way to bring these two categories of “the real” into coherence. All the sciences of realistic reproduction stem from this exercise: anatomy, perspective, color, representational pose and expression. And the labor has paid off, so that by now “the earth groans with works of art that bear witness to humanity’s hunger for convincing images of what the mind conceives”: the painted gods of Greece, the saints of India, the Christs of Spain and Peru, the Madonna’s of Brooklyn. Modernist ideas forced art in another direction, but in the past four or five decades, interest in the many modes of realism has revived, running the gamut from the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp to the felt-wax-stone works of Joseph Beuys to Hanson’s costumed figures. Not so long ago, the critic Robert Hughes gave up trying to cover the field in a magazine article and ended by simply reminding his readers “how deceptive the surface of ‘realism’ can be — what complexities of decision and paradoxes of insight it must assimilate.” Feuerman was clear about these matters when we spoke one day in her Manhattan studio. “Hanson worked with everyday people. His interest was to capture exactly what they are. But I’m not doing that. I’m working more in the classic tradition: creating something that isn’t. It’s either more or less beautiful than the reality. After all, beauty lies in the mind.
“I love the contradictions in this kind of work,” she continues. “Between soft flesh and hard material, or half-abstract, half-real. I want to have something of a contradiction. Take the figure Reflections. To make it appear not real, I had to stand it on a pedestal. That’s why I always display full figures on pedestals. There has to be some element that is not real. Once the figure is on the floor, it’s a ‘real person.’”Still, even as Feuerman creates new editions of past works for new collectors today, she is aware of the contradictions in an idiom that forces the particular and the ideal together. Therefore, as she explains and demonstrates below, she is beginning to test the edges of individual sculptures, fanning and fraying them in search of new ways of representing the essential living body. Indeed, she looks back at the trajectory of her career as a process of self-formation. “When I began in the late seventies,” she continues, “I had wanted to move toward Surrealism. But I put the idea aside and started making the fragmented figurative sculptures. Now I’m picking up the thread. No more extreme realism. I want to experiment.” She wants these new pieces to be taken as archetypal images and calls one Psyche. “You can see it’s shredded, the material spreading out, like life itself, where things are always changing, cracking, tearing.”
Feuerman’s way through life began in Hartford, Connecticut, then Brooklyn, and finally, Hollis Hills in Queens, before she was six. She was one of three children born to Sue and Milton Ackerman. Already, in Queens, memory situates her in the artist’s role. It is commonplace that, later in life, one listens at the door of the past for clues to what one has become. In Feuerman’s case, a deep-laid memory is of her best childhood friend, Laurie, who developed leukemia and died after a long illness during the course of which she lost her hair.
“We played together every day. One day when I went to her house, her parents simply said she wasn’t home. They said the same thing every day. Weeks passed, and my parents told me not to ask where she’d gone. Many months later, I sat my parents down and said I just had to know. They explained, and then they banished me to sleep-away camp. And I was still under six.” The sight and even the touch of her suffering friend was oddly inspirational. “I liked the way she looked, being bald,” says Feuerman. “I used to touch her head.” Not only would Feuerman’s studio one day be populated with life-size figures of girls and women on their way to resurrection with long falls of real hair, but the artist would name her first daughter Lauren.
When Carole was thirteen, the nuclear family moved to Great Neck, New York. Five years later, she began her college education at Hofstra University. At eighteen she became engaged and transferred to Temple University, married the next year and, with that step, assumed the responsibilities of full-time domesticity. Her first child, Lauren, was born when she was twenty; the next two, Sari and Craig, in the next two years. In the same time span, she transferred to the School of Visual Arts in New York City. “And all those years, while I was studying, finishing my B.F.A., I was working at night to pay for my education. I was so hungry to learn.
“I was always working, and so was my husband. We were working from six in the morning until ten at night. It was hard.
“I wasn’t sure, in those days, whether to go into fine art or commercial. But my teachers sent me to their clients, and that helped me pay the tuition, and pretty soon I was signing myself ‘Carole Jean,’ with a career in commercial art.” She chose that byline, as she explains, “in order to save ‘Feuerman’ for when I’d be free to do fine art, later on.”
In time, Carole Jean produced some twenty-two record album covers and many other striking graphic designs. Her first “really personal work,” she considers, was a drawn and airbrushed pullout poster, Snake, for an Alice Cooper tour album in 1971. For that image, she received the American Society of Illustrators Award of Excellence, and the image was included in a show at The New-York Historical Society — her first work exhibited in a museum. Two years later, she designed a poster for the Rolling Stones, and it too was shown at The New-York Historical Society.
“In those days,” she says, “I was casting faces and bodies in wax and painting them. One of my pieces that went into an exhibit at the Society of Illustrators slid off the wall and broke, so I decided if I was going to show work in the future, I had to find a permanent medium. I decided to use resin. So I went to work in a mannequin factory on Canal Street and just trusted someone would teach me.”
Thinking she would become a painter or draftsman, Feuerman hadn’t chosen to study sculpture at the School of Visual Arts. Her innocent eye may have saved her from the long drama of influence and revolt that can sap the energy of an emerging artist. Yet some of the more striking inventions of Pop and other post–Abstract Expressionist styles were proceeding in the field of sculpture. The Expressionist works of Edward Kienholz, Nancy Grossman and George Segal; the phenomenological explorations of Eva Hesse; the machine art of Harold Tovish and Ernest Trova; the large-scale ceramic work of Mary Frank — these were in the art world consciousness when Feuerman was beginning, and there was a sense of a rising tide into which newcomers might step. So that when Feuerman was in her early twenties, moving along with her commercial career, people began to urge her to try her hand at work to be shown in galleries. “I was offered the opportunity to be represented by Ivan Karp,” she remembers. Karp had just left the Castelli Gallery and was setting up his O.K. Harris Gallery in SoHo. “He said he would show my work if I gave up illustrating to make a body of fine art. He encouraged me to come back when I had decided. But by the time I did so, he had already taken on Hanson.” In 1982, Feuerman would have a one-person show at O.K. Harris West in Arizona. But back in the 1970s, she recalls, “I could have been the one.”
All in all, Feuerman’s point of view about art making, her use of materials, her choice of images, and such intangibles as her instinct for the aggressive stance needed by artists in this society, were forged in the late 1960s and early seventies, and her early work is to be understood in that context. Some of the post-abstract Pop artists, like Andy Warhol, came out of a commercial art background that sharpened their sense of the iconographic gesture and high-intensity colors and shapes. Other Pop artists like Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein were fifteen years into their careers when Feuerman was beginning. But whereas the contrast between commercial art and their own self-designated higher goals gave work by these male artists it’s ironic or satiric spin, Feuerman had a good time in advertising and graphic design, and her work still communicates admiration, even love in some cases, for her subjects. Also, working hard in a highly paid trade gave this young woman her first taste of economic clout and confidence in her talent and staying power.
But a real difference between much women’s art of the time and that of the men lies with what Lucy Lippard once described as Pop’s “growing disdain for sentiment, and even for sensitivity, which, with anecdotalism, was a platform for the so-called humanist schools.” These very values — sentiment, sensitivity, anecdotalism and human interest — are the ones Feuerman appreciates. She is not alone. For better or worse, many women artists have lacked the detached disdain that marked Marcel Duchamp and conditioned much of American art of the 1960s and seventies.
Furthermore, women artists in the 1970s were still relatively removed from the main currents of the art gallery world. Men, as always in history, had their bonding rituals and places out of which came attention-getting esthetic collectives. But for a woman, especially one heavily involved in family, the course of self-invention in those years was slow and hazardous.
There were ideas in the wind, new artistic uses of the human figure, with which Feuerman would find an affinity when she began to consolidate her move into the fine art field. For example, in 1960, George Segal’s wife, at his direction, had wrapped and cast his seated body outside one of the chicken-coops on their New Jersey property. His future work, in its monochrome dead white, would amount to a project that would be authentic and, in a revolutionary sense at the time, humanistic. As Segal would later explain to critic John Gruen, “The human being is capable of an infinity of gestures and attitudes. My biggest job is to select and freeze the gestures that are most telling . . . I hope for a revelation, a perception [of]...a subject’s gravity and dignity . . . ” Feuerman remembers first seeing his work when she was a student at the School of Visual Arts. At once, she realized, “I could relate to his fragmented forms and environments.”
So progress was made, often through hands-on explorations with materials. Early on, Feuerman had used resins and also cast some works in bronze. After it was recognized that the resins caused cancer, she moved on to other materials: plaster, bronze, paper. “I’ve always worked with everything,” she says. In fact, postmodern sculptors have explored the most unexpected materials. Promising substances for hyper- or surrealist sculptors today are those perilous resins, as well as plaster, various marble-dust mixtures, latex and silicone. Who knows — perhaps for Carole A. Feuerman, Ana Mendieta’s raw earth or Magdalena Abakanowicz’s wrapped burlap may lie ahead.
Feuerman’s first successful exploration on her own may have been inspired by an assignment at the School of Visual Arts. Students were shown erotic work by Picasso and other Western artists and by the Japanese, and then were instructed to make their own.“I started with the only homework assignment I had trouble with . . . what is erotic art? We were told all great artists dealt with this subject. I was always interested in the figure. But technically, I did my pieces because I wanted to start working with small shapes I could handle. I loved the beauty of the body, looking at the whole shape but focusing on just a small section.”
Working at home without access to a model, Feuerman began casting small areas of body parts. “I like the idea that my figures encourage the viewer to look closely at what stands before them. I want the viewer to complete the story.” In time, the idea would generate a series of small, sexually charged wall pieces. The focus is close and sharp. There is a plethora of groping hands, hirsute flesh and twisted bikini panties. From a technical and formal point of view, however, the interest of these pieces was in the treatment of their edges. These were painted white while the centers of the forms were rendered in realistic detail. “My original idea, thirty years ago, was for the broken edges to be white because the edges weren’t supposed to be real. I sprayed the edges with the light color, and the light blended in.”In fact, a quantity of art-critical rhetoric has been generated over the past decades by the idea of the Edge as a line of demarcation between real and unreal. Discourse has run from the literal (geographical and historical) to the metaphoric. In the seminal pre- and post-Pop work of Duchamp and Rauschenberg, a torn edge, a broken fragment, is meant to evoke the lost, discarded or only imagined whole from which it came. Thus, a visual esthetic provided a correlation to the fragmented sounds of John Cage, the truncated gestures of Merce Cunningham’s choreography and even — to push the idea further — the historical fact torn from its context by revisionist social scientists. In effect, the fragmenting, deconstructive program, under one or another name — from cubism to surrealism and even the disintegrative politics of nationalism — has been a theme through the twentieth century, and Feuerman’s plan to make “fine art” out of the human body deconstructed to its sexual impulse was in line with the times.
Before long, these early erotic works would attract the notice of people in the art and media worlds. In the mid-1970s, a Fort Worth, Texas, dealer saw a couple of them and suggested Feuerman get in touch when she’d made twelve or fifteen. It took two years to finish what would be “my first show as a fine artist.” In the fall of 1968, she shipped the work to Texas. The day before the opening, Feuerman, with her husband and three children, flew to Fort Worth and checked into a hotel, and there she got word that the city wanted the show closed. The work had been called X-rated.
“I hadn’t realized it was Bible Belt country. The dealer was thrilled and kept saying bad publicity would bring in a lot of people.”
But there were threats to her life, and she hired a bodyguard. “I took it seriously. I was scared. In the end, nobody came to the opening except a couple of the building’s cleaning people, and we got word that the show had to be taken down the next day. I wasn’t used to failure. I was devastated.”The emotional fallout was traumatic. “I’d switched from a successful commercial art career. I was making a nice living. But because I truly believed in my talent, I’d given all that up to concentrate on fine art.
“All this surfaced after the terrible experience in Fort Worth. And when I came back to New York, I couldn’t go back to illustration.
“I decided if the world wasn’t ready for my erotic pieces, I’d take the least erotic subject I could think of, namely sports.”
Feuerman’s first work of the new order came into her mind clear-cut, visible, in a leap of creative imagination: “I visualized a swimmer coming out of the water. With goggles, hair slicked back, water drops on her skin. I saw her step out of herself and come into a new reality. Then I figured out how to do it. And I did the first swimmer.” The work, as it was eventually titled, was Snorkel. Three years later, she would make Catalina, which would become her most frequently cited and reproduced work.Before then, however, in the spring of 1980, she showed a group of new works on leisure sports at a gallery on Fifty-seventh Street. That was the year the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted a huge show illustrating “The Figurative Tradition.” Included were modernist masters like Gaston Lachaise and Alexander Archipenko, realists of the American 1930s and forties like Reginald Marsh and Raphael Soyer, and a potpourri of those who would soon be called New Realists. Artists represented in this section ran from Larry Rivers to Alice Neel, from Hanson and Kienholz to Marisol and Segal.
Carole A. Feuerman’s parallel contribution to the 1970 “rediscovery” of realism was her three-week Fifty-seventh Street show. It included thirty-two sculptures as well as drawings. The show was, to put it frankly, a good deal more adventurous than the Whitney potpourri. It was titled “Fragments,” and for this young artist, it represented an all-or-nothing gamble. Because “by then, I’d used all the money I’d saved from my commercial career. I’d been working for five years for no return at all.“For the first two weeks of this show, nothing sold. Not a single sale. When there was only one week left of the show, the dealer said, ‘Bring in the erotic pieces. I’ll put them in the back room and maybe they’ll bring us luck.’”They brought luck.
Carole A. Feuerman is a good storyteller, and this one pleases her in the telling. A couple of men came into the gallery, one young and disheveled, the other older and well-dressed. “The dealer had told me that sometimes critics and collectors aren’t well-dressed, so be nice to everyone.“I was down to selling off the rocks from the pond piece for five dollars each. I was in the midst of offering one to the disheveled young man when the older man came up and said, ‘I want to buy eight of your pieces. Seven of the erotic ones and Snorkel. How much?’
“I told him to talk to the dealer, but he said, ‘No. I want to talk to you. Call me at 8:00 a.m. Monday and tell me your price. I’m Malcolm Forbes, and I only make good deals.’” Monday morning, Feuerman, “terrified,” made the call. In the end, Forbes bought all the erotic pieces and also sent his car to bring her to his townhouse to toast her first sale. As one might have expected, Forbes’s enthusiasm caught the interest of other buyers, and the show, Feuerman remembers happily, was a sellout.
Malcolm Forbes’s patronage opened doors and gave Feuerman the boost she needed. It was an auspicious time for her in other ways. One thing was soon obvious. In spite of her decision to abandon the erotic subject matter, some collectors were appreciating — and buying — her sport works as much for their sensuous charms as for their athletic reference. By 1985, she was making a series called Relationships, and in 1989, one on Generations. The Winner was one of these, a male athlete in marble, truncated at the thighs and top of the head. “People were saying my work was ‘so real,’ but I wanted to show it stood on its own merit without painting. So I didn’t intend to paint these works. I didn’t want people to see just the paint and not the concept. “I spent three years just conceptualizing these,” she explains. The most striking difference between these and her earlier works is their Segal-like monochrome whiteness and, in some cases, their dynamic formal abstraction. In a few pieces, she even juxtaposed materials like plaster and polished bronze, letting the forms devolve into sensuous hollows, pure workings-out of her instinct for the flowing line.
“Instead of capturing a moment in time, I was delving into timeless moments and universal emotions.
“We live in confines of time. But creative people have trouble with that. Time isn’t the same for us. Moments are larger than life. I was trying to explore feelings we get hit with again and again. Sometimes you respond differently, sometimes the same. If you always respond in the same way, you don’t grow.”
In those days, Feuerman tried hard to put her ideas into words. A big show at The Queens Museum of Art in 1987, including twelve of the new pieces, prompted her to do so. The effort itself was a product of the times. Artists and dealers often put their heads together to compose statements explaining shifts in style, and these flooded art-world mailboxes. Feuerman explained what she was doing this way: “The perpetual goal . . . is to achieve a fusion of reality and abstraction. The backs of some of the sculptures, which were left hollowed and unformed, represent life’s recurring uncertainties.”
In 1989, a major career opportunity presented itself when Absolut Vodka engaged Feuerman for its campaign based on work by vanguard artists. Since Sweden forbids alcohol advertising, a plan was developed to push the product elsewhere, and as the world knows, it continues today in the pages of top magazines. Andy Warhol was the first Absolut artist. Five years later, it was Feuerman’s turn. Manhattan and Los Angeles were treated to the sight of Absolut trucks trailing cubic, glassed-in displays of over-life-size figures in the round, posed in environments. Publicity generated by these events included feature mentions in Life, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Playboy and the Christmas issue of Forbes magazine, and helped double the sale price of her work.
In 1992, after a couple of high-profile visits to Absolut’s Scandinavian home, Feuerman made a life-size figure for the lobby of the parent company’s headquarters in Stockholm: a portrait of Edmund Camail, the gardener of Absolut’s Swedish vineyards. He had never left his fields until he flew to her New York studio to be cast in plaster for the portrait, which in time bred other portrait commissions, including one from the late Los Angeles collector Frederick R. Weisman.
Meanwhile, Feuerman had begun a series of figures of children whom she had coaxed into expressive poses. It touched her to see them making the same gestures, assuming the same expressions, as her adult models. Soon she had made a child companion for each adult piece. She would like to pair the works together in a show some day, old faces and young reflecting the same emotions: Catalina and Islamorada; Reflections, City Slicker and others.
As exhibitions in France, Sweden and major cities in this country brought Feuerman’s work to the attention of a growing public, she began to gather some intelligent critical comments. In 1992, a Vogue magazine critic, the late David Bourdon, mentioned the “upbeat” character of her athletes. The implication was that they differed in that respect from Hanson’s dour, inexpressive population. “Feuerman’s technical proficiency is formidable,” he wrote. To Steven Rosen of the Denver Post, she had earlier given a sharply considered interview about hyperrealism in general: “There is a certain amount of voyeurism — an inspection people do at close range to see if it’s a real person . . . and when you look at a fragment, you can complete a story. It’s almost like a novel, where you imagine what you’re seeing. It’s a way I can make people think for themselves.”
And Owen Findsen of the Cincinnati Enquirer described a problem he thought Feuerman might have met, and he predicted she would rise above it: “All that surface showmanship keeps us from considering the work’s real merit. Super-realist figures have been with us for more than a decade, and frequently they have been figures of women, but of women as seen by male artists. There has been a strong sense of voyeurism about super-realism. It has been a sexist art. But with Surfer, Feuerman has added something new by concentrating on the tactile rather than visual . . . She is in the midst of an exciting experience. She is feeling water and wind and speed, and she is totally involved. As viewers we do not invade her privacy, we share her exuberance.”
For a while in the mid-1990s, technical matters preoccupied Feuerman. In 1994, she made Angelica, her first work in vinyl. “I had to find a medium where I could root individual hairs, because I’d decided that glued hairpieces look unnatural. Angelica has real hair, singly rooted. I did this in preparation for a visit to the White House.” One of her works, Islamorada, had been bought in 1993 for the personal collection of President and Mrs. Clinton, and Feuerman began to have thoughts of making a series of sculptural portraits of presidents and their wives.
Angelica was pieced together from several sources. Its front surface was cast from one model; the back, hand-modeled; the face, cast from yet another model. “I did the front cast of a crouching woman. But then we had trouble. I got the model’s hands and legs. But I couldn’t get her facial expression.
In that same year, 1994, two disasters struck. Feuerman suffered a compound fracture of her right index finger — catastrophe for a sculptor. Worse, on October 24, a fire burned out her apartment. Once again, Feuerman had to call on her imagination to invent new forms of survival. This time, the forms sprang in full costume out of her knowledge of astrology, magic and the mystery figures of the medieval Tarot. “After the fire, I became more involved in metaphysical work,” she explains. “The kind that works to change reality. Meditation every morning, night and sometimes in the middle of the day.A few months later, Feuerman had salvaged what she could from the fire and moved into a new workplace. This one is an enormous warehouse area on the sixteenth floor of an industrial building, with windows looking over the Hudson River and the city, its piers and avenues. That is where she receives friends and interviewers. Industrial gray steel furniture, which she buffed to a high shine, gives the place a little of the look of Andy Warhol’s Factory. And ever alert to the dangers of the materials she uses, she has rigged up glassed, ventilated areas for spray painting and casting. She is proud of having designed and built this studio from empty raw space and confesses the image of it had been gathering in her mind for twenty years.
It may be that Feuerman’s muse will signal her from the edge, so to speak, of her present world. There’s a fragment on a corner wall of her studio that may show a trace of the muse’s face. It is a face in relief, over-modeled to heighten the fineness of its patrician features. The image resonates with a curious other life behind the surface one, which is cut away from the eye socket and lips to show a bit of the mystery face behind.
Then there are, in the big storeroom of the studio, where hundreds of old castings of body parts lie in organized drifts, specimens of thus-far unused images that might, one day, give rise to new ideas. There are, for example, some large oval medallions like Victorian mirrors or portraits. Partly cast, partly built, they are female faces with closed eyes. They could be images of girls sleeping or dreaming or floating in water. Long free-flowing hair curls around the expressionless faces. Instead of the literal narrative detail that sometimes overwhelms the form in Feuerman’s other work, nothing about these subjects is given, not their age, their time frame, background or occupation. They are generalized faces in a Pre-Raphaelite trance, their erotic nature suggested by their unbound hair and post-orgasmic lassitude. And in this case, the plaster surface makes its own reference, to china dolls and souvenirs from sentimental trips.
Then there are the Body Maps, Feuerman’s newest forays into deconstructed form. These skins-of-pieces are just that: body casts flattened and shredded as if a wind had blown across them, peeling and dragging the flesh in all directions. The effect is a little macabre (surreal, she prefers to say), but suggestive and so new it’s better not to try to define it.
All things considered, there may be a theme working its way into visibility in the studio these days. One work, The End of the World, is a globe with land features nearly wiped out, lifted on many hands. In a related work, the hands reach out of water to grip a weather-worn life preserver. Also, in a corner of the new studio stands one of several casts of Feuerman’s hyper-idealized work Shattered Reflections. This one is tinted the same mute gray as the industrial furniture around it, and its flanks are crisscrossed with cracks and fissures.
By contrast, a sign of things ahead may be a certain wall piece, unusual in the span of her work and singular in her 1996 Henoch Gallery show in New York. Its name is Lifeguard — a young male breasting out of water, pursing his lips like a Gothic rainspout or the figurehead of a China clipper.His vivid, questing eyes look to a far horizon.
This piece harbors a restless energy. It lifts the sights and opens the mind. If one were to try to define “far horizon” in a way acceptable to Carole A. Feuerman at this point, it might be full realization of her gift, in a world of vastly enlarged scope for the imagination.