Carole A Feuerman is an American Hyperrealist sculptor and author. She is one of the three major artists credited with starting the Hyperrealism movement in the late 1970s and is the only woman to sculpt in this style.
Her career is highlighted by iconic figurative works of swimmers and dancers. She has been included in exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Venice Biennale and Palazzo Strozzi Palace in Florence, among others.
Her art is held in private collections and 20 museums worldwide and her public works have been displayed across the globe.
Carole, tell us about your journey to becoming a sculptor.
Carole A Feuerman: From 1965 to 1967 I studied illustration at SVA because they did not teach sculpture. Even though I was on a scholarship, I couldn’t pay the tuition. I took a job after school as a salesgirl in a dress shop, but at $5.00 an hour, my take-home pay fell short. One day after school, I went upstairs to a neighbour’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 was in the record business and suggested I give him a call. Maybe I could do record covers for him to earn extra cash? I started making record album covers and painted 22 for him. In exchange for painting record album covers, he paid my tuition.
In 1974, I began the transition from illustration to fine art. I decided that it was time for me to create work that came from my feelings instead of illustrating 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 erotic artworks.
What is your sculpting process?
Carole A Feuerman: Producing sculpture is complex and time-consuming. It can take six months to two years. The process starts with an idea. Next, I pose a model to portray my story. I cast their hands, face and feet and take a 3D photograph in the position I want. This gives me an STL file that is sent out to make a prototype used to make a mould. After getting the first cast piece, it needs to be detailed and cleaned up. The positive now needs to be primed and painted. When finished, eyelashes and eyebrows are painted, and wisps of hair are added.
You are known for your sculptures of swimmers. What inspired this?
Carole A Feuerman: I would go to the beach with the kids to find inner peace and calm my nerves. One day while I sat on the beach, I wrote in my sketchbook, “I sat on the beach and visualized a swimmer coming out of the water; water drops streaming down her face. She looked proud like she had just accomplished something great. I thought to myself, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.”
That swimmer gave me the idea to make my first swimmer sculpture, Catalina. That swimmer was me. She was proud and brave in all the ways I had imagined myself to be and a much more refined and stronger version of myself. On that day, in the summer of 1974, I made the life-changing decision to completely give up illustrating and to start making hyperrealistic sculptures.
My swimmers have their own personalities and their stories are my stories, sometimes autobiographical and sometimes stories I need to tell. While their outward appearance is often of beauty and tranquillity, these elegant faces mask a deeper meaning of heroism, triumph, and liberation.
What is it about the water that captivates you?
Carole A Feuerman: 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 detail how the water droplets covered my arms and face after a swim and the patterns that formed on my skin. I noticed how the human figure radiates a healthy glow while in the water and coming out. The water seemed to rejuvenate the body while instilling a sense of harmony, both internally and externally. For these reasons, I started drawing swimmers in the second grade, and in the fifth grade, I had asked my parents to sign me up for private art lessons on Saturdays. Both the swimmers and the water kept my attention from the beginning and still do.
After 42 years of creating swimmers, I continue to be fascinated with the figure in the water. I love the mechanics of water and its presence as an enduring symbol for life.
The symbolism of water is far-reaching and profound. Water cleanses and purifies. Water touches all people, animals and things. Water connects one land to another.
How much experimenting did it take to become the hyperrealist you are today?
Carole A Feuerman: The answer is my entire life. I started in the mid-’70s. In 1975, I made my first hyperrealistic piece. It was used for the cover of National Lampoon Magazine, and it was called Nose to the Grindstone. It was also my first life-casting and a bridge to my transition to Hyperrealism. By 1978, I stopped illustrating, and sculpture was now my full-fledged career.
At that time, it was great to be a hyperrealist, and no one in the world did the same thing. I learned about the artist Duane Hanson in 1984 when I was trying to get my work into a New York gallery, and I went to O.K. Harris. Ivan Karp, the owner, told me he represented Duane Hanson, a sculptor working similarly.
Hyperrealism was not in style, but I was never deterred. I learned things the hard way, trial and error.
After 43 years, it’s only in the last ten years that my work began to sell. My work sold for very low prices until 2006, when John T. Spike asked me to make Catalina and Survival of Serena in a mini-retrospective he was curating during the Venice Biennale. He wanted them in monumental size. Exhibiting outside the gates to the biennale in Giardini was a breakthrough for my career. Almost 600,000 people saw the pieces. They were the talk of the show, and the syndicated press called them the “mascot” of the Biennale. One fan even kissed the Survival of Serena sculpture and that was the photo used on the cover of Vernissage.
How did it feel to be internationally recognized?
Carole A Feuerman: At first, the experience of becoming famous gave me joyous feelings. I was finally being recognized and warmly embraced in Italy. When I got back to the US, I was very disappointed that the art public didn’t recognize me at all. Then I asked myself, do I want to be famous, or do I want to leave a legacy? I knew the answer. For me, I wanted to leave a legacy. I set out to make every sculpture better than the next one. I would give 110% of myself.
Striving to be a famous artist is only asking to be beaten down. You must enjoy the journey regardless of the outcome. Becoming successful and beating the odds reminded me that I am doing what I was born to do and that great things are done by a series of small accomplishments.
As I became more well-known, more was expected of me. They also must be perfect. When posed with a challenge, I always rise to the occasion. I do whatever is needed and never give up.
How does it feel to know that your work is out there in the world in such beautiful settings?
Carole A Feuerman: It gives me great pleasure to meet my collectors and see how they display my art in their collections. I also love to go to museums, to pretend I am a viewer and watch people’s reactions to my work.
In 2011 you founded the Carole A. Feuerman Sculpture Foundation. Can you tell us about it?
Carole A Feuerman: I formed The Carole A. Feuerman Sculpture Foundation to generate passion for the arts and award deserving artists with exhibition opportunities, internships for college credit and education/research grants.
The foundation plans to foster innovative artistic expression and the creative process by organizing yearly fine art exhibitions that showcase the work of under-represented artists. The foundation will invite a guest curator to select the artist for the exhibition for each show.
Tell us about your autobiography, My Hyperrealist Life And Legacy.
Carole A Feuerman: The world knows me as a sculptor but few know about my life. This book will take readers on my journey of inspiration, determination, and faith to reach where I am today. It dives deep into my experiences and highlights my struggles to survive the odds through balance, perseverance, and independence on my journey to fulfilling my true calling. Art has always been my saving grace.
What drives you and keeps you creating?
Carole A Feuerman: Art is me, and I am art. Even the people closest to me have difficulty separating me from my art. I get physically sick when I’m not creating. My art has saved me throughout my life. Whether it was an abusive relationship, or a deadly pandemic, creating art has always been my saving grace.
What gives the greatest pleasure in your life?
Carole A Feuerman: I love my art, and I also love my family. They both give me great pleasure. I also love to go to the studio and create new pieces. I could not exist without art, and I would not be me.
Follow Carole A Feuerman on Instagram at @carole.feuerman.author_ and on her website carolefeuerman.com for regular updates on her work. Carole’s book is available to read and purchase here and you can find advice for achieving success in her Spotify podcast.