Carole Feuerman has no problems with her client list these days, counting former President Bill Clinton, His Majesty The Emperor of Japan, and Forbes magazine as just some of her collectors.
Thirty years ago, though, this illustrator-turned-sculptor had difficulty getting anyone to attend her first exhibit, aside from family and a few gallery janitors.
Carole had created 13 erotic sculptures of body fragments in a series called Rated X. “But I hadn’t realized the gallery was in Bible Belt country,” explains Carole of the Fort Worth, Texas location. “Nobody came to the opening, and the show had to be taken down the next day.”
This is devastating for any artist, more so for one with an already successful career doing illustrations for ABC, NBC, and other top-shelf record companies. “But when I got back to New York, I couldn’t go back to illustration. I worked for a few years, using up all the money saved from my commercial career and receiving no returns at all,” she says. “I decided if the world wasn’t ready for the erotic pieces, I’d create the least erotic subject I could think of, namely sports.”
Carole’s swimmer series was unveiled in a sophomore exhibition in 1980 in New York’s Hansen Gallery. But it was her original erotic pieces, all but hidden in the back room, which made the exhibit an unbelievable success. “For the first two weeks, nothing sold. Not a single sale. I was down to selling off the rocks from the pond piece for five dollars each,” recalls Carole. “Then, a couple of men came in. The older of the two ended up buying all the erotic pieces and my first swimmer. He was Malcolm Forbes.”
I knew I wanted to be an artist before I went to preschool.
My mother received a box of oil paint as a gift. So when my parents left that evening, I opened them and did my first expressionistic painting on the kitchen’s linoleum floor. During high school, I would go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art every Saturday and memorized the location of every sculpture and painting that I loved. When I had that down pat, I went to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and memorized the locations of the masterpieces in their collection.
I attended my high school reunion recently and reviewed my yearbook quote for the first time in decades. I wrote: ‘Time passes, art alone endures’. Even back then, my mind was set on being an artist.
My mother did not want me to be an artist, nor did she want me to even work. Her idea of success was to be taken care of by a rich man. My grandfather once asked how I planned to support myself as an artist. I told him I wasn’t worried. If my work was good enough, someone would buy it—and that’s how I would decide if my life course was correct.
My first sale was actually the year before I graduated high school.
I sold a painting to appreciative neighbors who paid me $300—more than I asked. Many years later, they also started collecting my sculptures. But when I was 18, I got married, left home, and moved to my own apartment in Queens, New York. I had two more years of college tuition to pay. My neighbor’s father was in the record business, so I asked if I could do record covers and if he could pay me. He told me to make my first cover, and then he’d decide if it was good enough to use. He wanted me to do a painting of Hugo Montenegro.
I told my drawing teacher at the School of Visual Arts, and he hired flamenco dancers to pose for my album. Not only did he hire the dancers, he also critiqued my work. When I brought the finished painting to Time Records, my neighbor’s father was delighted and said he would pay my tuition for the rest of the year if I would paint an album cover once a month.
By the third painting, my school found out. They told me I was doing better than my teachers and there was no reason to finish that semester since I was already a professional. I was graduated immediately, but the album covers went on.
Bumping Into Elton John
A few months later, I took my work to MCA Records. While I was backing up to look for the entrance to a room, I accidentally fell into Elton John’s birthday cake! That’s how we became friends. Elton invited me to a jam session at Neil Sedaka’s apartment, where I met the leading artists of that time. It was at that party that I was asked to do a painting for the centerfold poster of The Rolling Stones’ new tour book. From this point, my illustration work was in demand by NBC, ABC, and other record companies.
You can’t find me when I’m not working. Even when I’m not physically in the studio, my mind is on art.
My first pieces were paintings and I always thought of myself as a painter. Even to this day, I look at sculptures as a three-dimensional canvas, painting both accessories and the body to look real. My decision to create erotic art was due to the fact that the only college assignment to ever stump me was when my professor tasked us to do erotic drawings. He said every famous artist did erotic work at some point in his or her career. This led me to ponder eroticism. My first erotic work was a small piece taken from an impression of my hip. I planned the piece so the viewer wouldn’t know what body part the piece was cast from. It became the viewer’s story—they had to fill in the missing parts.
A Tough 1994
Both things have to do with fire. In 1994, I injured my hand while working with bronze, and my apartment caught on fire. The break in my hand gave me an opportunity to do something different. I moved towards a more organic, free type of style—using molten metals as paint, which I called ‘painting with fire’.
I lived on Long Island and started a family when I was 19.
I had three children by the time I was 24. It was difficult to create art with young children to take care of, but I managed to work at night when they were sleeping. The living room became my art studio and models started to roam freely, as I did my first erotic body of work.
Then, my husband took off for Manhattan, leaving me to raise three children by myself. I could not afford to pay my housekeeper after my husband left, but the woman that worked for me, Lena, said if I adopted her daughter, who lived in Honduras, she would work for me for free for the rest of her life. I thought that sounded like a wonderful idea, since there was conflict in that country—Lena had lost everything and I didn’t want her to lose her daughter, too. We brought her daughter, Betty, out of Honduras after two years. Together, Lena and I raised four kids. And I learned Spanish.
I do sculptures of people comfortable in their own skin.
At first glance, they are beautiful, classical, healthy people. But I want my public to question the thoughts inside the mind of each sculpture. No one can ever know what pain we carry inside, or what one is thinking. The works are not just beautiful people. They do portray the feelings inside of me—difficult, happy, playful, joy of life, health, strength, vulnerable, etc.
In America, museums and public places have a problem with pieces that are not just nude, but even suggestive. This is laughable to Europeans and people in other cultures, but we also have the Middle East, where things are even worse and women are covered up.
Keeping a Schedule
I arrive at my studio at 8:00am and try to finish up at 6:00pm. This is seldom accomplished when I am working on an exhibition or new work. I try to keep regular hours, but often, when I have concurrent projects, I will not go home until late! Music helps keep a good pace. And I’m usually with one or more assistants—I employ a full-time carpenter, as well as several part-time freelance artists and interns. It can take up to six people when we cast from live models. Each piece evolves at its own rate. For instance, a commissioned piece may be completed in three months or up to two years. Depending on scale, intricacy, and concept, the progress of some pieces has spanned over a decade.
I must have my iPad or my computer, definitely my Blackberry, and my makeup, which is like my paint. I never wear it except when I have my openings. I like to have my velvet jackets, which I collect. I also always have an eye mask to keep out the light, and memory foam pillow so I can sleep. I really like books and I speed read—I read everything. I can’t spell for beans, but that’s what we have computers for.