Sunday, April 8, 2018

Live at Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens: Carole Feuerman

To hear Carole Feuerman tell it, she almost killed the first model for what would become her groundbreaking hyperrealistic sculptures. Back in 1975, Feuerman was a recent graduate from art school working as an illustrator. She was hired by National Lampoon to create cover art for the magazine's work-related issue entitled "Nose to the Grindstone."

Feuerman persuaded the magazine's art director to serve as the model for the image. It was her first lifecasting. She vividly remembers the straws sticking out of his nose to enable him to breathe and the difficulty she had removing the plaster. She said her goal had been for him to pretend he was in pain. No acting was required.

It was a somewhat ironic start for an artist who told me, "I didn't want to do people with limbs cut off; I wanted to do something beautiful." (No offense intended to the Venus de Milo, I'm sure.)

"Bibi on the Ball"
Today Feuerman is known as one of the pioneers of the genre of hyperrealistic sculpture. Her works are owned by the likes of Malcolm Forbes, Bill Clinton and the Emperor of Japan. And here's the kicker -- four of her sculptures are currently on display at the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens in Punta Gorda.

Feuerman was on hand for the unveiling of her "Bibi on the Ball" and "Next Summer." The commissioned works were delivered to the Gardens directly from their stint at the Venice Biennale, where the Tetrault Foundation had allowed them to be displayed while the Gardens got up and running. Feuerman said with a laugh, "These sculptures have passports. 

Detail from "Bibi on the Ball"
As Feuerman surveyed her sculptures in situ, she talked a bit about the genesis of her work. She recalled being at the beach one day with her kids. She was not in a happy place at the time. She remembers watching an older woman emerge from the water, her arms back, head up, with water streaming down her face. She looked to Feuerman like she had it all. Feuerman's bathers recall this woman's strength and contentment.

"Bibi on the Ball" was the first stop on our tour. Bibi proudly perches atop a beach ball. Its spherical shape represents the world. The ball was made from stainless steel rather than resin at Roger Tetrault's request. It is a nod to Sir Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" in Chicago.  While the work was created before the #MeToo movement, Feuerman feels the sculpture makes its own contribution. Overall, though, Feuerman said she intends her bathers to be a reminder to enjoy all that life offers. 

Carole Feuerman with "Next Summer"
Feuerman's attention to detail is one reason her sculptures are so successful. You might have noticed that Bibi has recently had a French pedicure. Bibi and the swimmer in "Next Summer" also have sculpted drops of water on their bodies and clothing. Feuerman noted the drops can only be found on her resin pieces -- she also works in bronze -- and that she no longer includes them in works intended to live outdoors due to the difficulty of restoration. She also uses human hair in some of her works, including "Bibi on the Ball."

While most sculptors of hyperrealistic works use real clothes on their creations and stuff them, Feuerman crafts her bathers' entire bodies and swimwear. As a result, it was easy to accommodate the Tetraults' request to feature a hibiscus pattern on the swimsuit in "Next Summer."  Punta Gorda is, after all, known as the City of Hibiscus. (For an example of a work using street clothes, click here to see Duane Hanson's "Tourists." I couldn't resist posing with this sculpture when I saw it in Edinburgh last year.) 

"Monumental Fire and Harmony"
While "Bibi on the Ball" and "Next Summer" were in Venice, Feuerman loaned the Gardens "New York City Slicker," another water-themed resin work, and "Monumental Fire and Harmony," a bronze. While we were admiring the dancer in her permanent grand battement on rond, Feuerman shared that she aspired to be a dancer when she a child. Her admiration for their balance and perseverance shine through in her sculptures.

It has not yet been announced whether "New York City Slicker" and "Monumental Fire and Harmony" will remain at the Gardens or travel the world. For now, though, art lovers have a unique opportunity to see four Feuerman sculptures in one place. Don't miss them. 

For more about the Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens, click here.

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