Hello Carole. Thank you for joining our conversation.
I want to start by asking these questions. How would you relate to the word “realism” and how would you like the viewers to relate to your work in that regard?
I do love realism but how real the sculptures look is a secondary issue. The most important matter for me is the message that the work delivers. The common messages I want to convey through my works are perseverance, serenity, survival, balance, etc.
What would you say is a difference between real lifeand realism inyour artworks?
No matter how real my works look, they cannot be real human beings. But artworks can take the viewers to another level of reality by allowing the viewers to stare. With more time to explore, people ponder, meditate, and feel.
So, you are capturing the specific moments of the swimmers in order to deliver certain messages to people inviting them into contemplation of their life. What drew you to create swimmers in the first place?
That’s a common question I receive. Doing my first swimmer was like a vehicle that helped me to move forward. The time when I did the first swimmer, I was going through a crisis in my life, afraid to move forward and feeling weak. Then, I saw a swimmer coming out of the water with water dripping down her face. She was brave, strong, and confident, moving forward without fear. I thought I should make a sculpture that looks like her, hoping to identify myself with someone like her. You can read more details in my bookSwimmers.This was my first swimmer, which was bought by Malcolm Forbes and sent to Fiji Island. I really liked the piece and wanted to show it to other people, so I decided to make another swimmer. Then I did one after another. Eventually, I was invited to do a book on swimmers. I have done other themes like dancers, relationship theories, erotic theories, but swimmers are the most loved by people and it has become almost like my branding. I think that there is something about water that unites us all. I wonder if the universal connection with water is what makes everyone feel understood and drawn to my swimmer sculptures.
Your swimmers are definitely much loved. I noticed that you have different scales of them. How do you decide on the scale? Does it depend on the location?
Well, I love doing these large pieces but the problem with them is that they cost a lot of money and you need a place to store them. Also, you need huge crates to ship them to places. But I try to make at least one or two a year which is a lot. I had to buy another studio to just put these big crates in and to store them. But it is nice to play around with three different scales: tabletop size, life-size, and monumental size. Depending on the scale, the work looks and feels different. People are wow-ed by the big sculptures, but there is a practical side to small ones. It can be easily moved and displayed at homes. Different scales definitely draw attention when something we know is enlarged or shrunk, creating a surrealistic 4th-dimension.
How do you capture such details?
I decide on the details depending on the story that I want to tell. Sometimes it comes from the lives of others I work with; sometimes it comes from my life experiences. For example, when I was working on my artworkContemplation, I had a model who was supposed to come for posing. She contacted me wanting to cancel our meeting. I found out on a phone call with her that the reason she did not want to pose was because she had gained weight and she did not feel confident and beautiful. I convinced her to come to my studio and when I saw her, she was not heavy; in fact, she was very thin. In our conversation, I learned that her body shape was a big concern for her because she was doing nudes and pornography. I asked her if that was what she truly wanted to do. I told her that she is beautiful and asked her to contemplate her own beauty and her life while posing for my sculpting. And that is how the workContemplationcame to life. The work calledBalance came out of my hope for more balance in my life. My motto is “If it is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” And so, I overdo most things that I care about. But, I found that maintaining balance in life is vital for me. So, when I decided to do this piece, I searched for someone who had a very balanced generic face and could sit in a yoga position for a long time. I tell stories that are universal. Everyone thinks and explores themes like contemplation, balance, harmony, perseverance, etc. I want the details in my work to tell the stories and to speak to the world the message that I want to deliver. Without those messages, my works would be insignificant. I do not want to do hyper-realism for the sake of hyper-realism. I want my works to make people think.
I enjoy listening to the story of how each work came to be. For the future, is there any particular site you want to exhibit your works?
I haven’t exhibited in Spain or South America, so I would love to exhibit my works there.
That is wonderful! I hope that soon, you will have an opportunity to exhibit your works in many more places. Let’s move a step back and look into the big picture, what is ART to you? What do you wish to communicate to viewers?
Art to me is LIFE. Without art, I am not me. Art is also a form of communication. It should make you feel something. I want my works to speak specific topics to the viewers, but depending on who the viewer is, the message will differ. To one person “balance” would speak out, to another “perseverance”. Even “perseverance” can mean different things to different people. Certainly, the perseverance of someone who is obsessed to accomplish something and the perseverance of another who is following a recipe is different. I want each person to think about their own life.
Definitely, your works invite viewers to contemplate life. Talking about life, do you remember when and why you decide to follow your path as an artist?
The first memory of art comes from my early childhood. My parents left my siblings and me with a babysitter. My mother was not an artist, but she had an oil painting set gifted to her. While my babysitter was busy with other kids, I took the oil paints and squeezed them on the kitchen floor which was white. Then, I put my hands on the paint and started finger painting without knowing exactly what I was doing. Soon, I realized that I made a mess and did not know how to wipe up the paint. I abandoned the “crime scene” and hid in the basement. I don’t remember what happened when my parents returned but that is my earliest memory of art. Even when I did not know what I was doing, touching, feeling, and making something with paints appealed to me from a young age.
In junior high school, I came up with a technique of drawing the nude human body with one line. One day, I got caught teaching a boy next to me how to draw in class. The teacher called me to the front of the classroom and when she saw what I was drawing she immediately sent me to the principal’s office. But, I think the principal noticed my talent, and as a “punishment”, she made me teach a class on how to draw. Of course, I could not teach how to draw nude people and I chose tigers as my subject. In two weeks, I taught everyone in class how to draw a tiger with one line using chalk. The principal was very satisfied with my teaching and let me teach once in two weeks. In high school, I was already selling my paintings to people. Being an artist was my calling.
It is hard to imagine that your principal gave you such a great opportunity as a punishment! What an amazing story. And what motivates you to move forward as an artist daily?
I would say that art itself motivates me to move forward. As you know, COVID-19 has changed a lot of things and the biggest change for me at the beginning was that I could not go to my studio to create work. I had all my supplies in the studio, so for two weeks, I was home cooking, cleaning, throwing things away, and living without creating any work. I noticed that I was getting depressed. I could not concentrate on anything. I knew that it was because I could not do art and I needed to because I am an artist. So I decided to go to my art studio in Brooklyn. I drove to my studio and started to do art all alone. And immediately I felt alive. Depression fled. I could concentrate little by little. At this time, I created a work calledEyes Open, portraying a swimmer with her eyes closed. I experienced that with my eyes closed, I could see better. During this COVID-time, my eyes were open to what was going on, what I was feeling and thinking.
That is very insightful. Art itself is your inspiration and motivation. You had quite a journey as an artist. What has been the happiest moment and the challenging moment living as an artist?
I had many challenging moments in my life. My parents did not support my calling as an artist, so I had to find my way alone, paying for my own way to school. I also lost my best friend to leukemia at six. The saddest moment I recall is when I had my first show and not one artwork was sold. In fact, they closed down my show after one day because nobody who lived in Fortworth, Texas, in the late 70's wanted to buy or even look at my erotic artworks. It was a defeating moment for me. But, two years later, I had my happiest moment. When I did my first swimmer, Malcolm Forbes came to my show two days before my show ended. He was known as a big art collector and he bought all of my erotic art. Every single piece.
Then, I had many good moments: publishing my first book; showing my monumental pieces at the Venice Biennale; people lining up to kiss my works, etc. Having so many people follow me on Instagram and Facebook and supporting me is like living a dream because I didn’t have anyone believe in me until I was about 50 years old. I am enjoying people’s support and love for me and my works.
I believe that your beautiful stories within each work will continue to touch many people’s hearts. I am honored to have this conversation with you.
Thank you, Carole.