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 Bella Feldman  (1930 - )

About: Bella Feldman


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Lived/Active: Arizona      Known for: installation sculpture-bronze rats, blown glass

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from the artist: Bella Feldman

My work is a reflection of my experience of life in the 20th Century.  I was born in the Great Depression and lost relatives and friends in WWII, the Holocaust, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

Nothing seems stable; there is an underlying danger in the seemingly innocent and/or banal. Beauty, seduction, and pain seem intertwined.  The press of a button can extinguish the world as we know it.  Humor, albeit black humor, seems for me a necessary counterbalance to a frank look at life, as well as a way to understand it.

Though my work is not overtly realistic, I think of it as an essence of reality.  I use forms from daily life---machines, carts, tools, etc.but use them in such a way that ordinary expectations are subverted to provoke an emotional response.  The phrase coined by the critic Rosenberg "anxious objects" is an apt description of my work.  Despite the many shifts of media and themes, anxious sensibility tempered with humor appears in my work consistently.

Since the beginning of my career as a sculptor I've worked in steel, often in combination with other materials.  Steel/iron carries many associations from domestic and industrial life, which is useful in enhancing viewers understanding of the work.  The title of this show, "Iron Maidens," is an example of historical associations that also accompany this metal.  In addition, steel as a material is flexible, forgiving, relatively inexpensive, and strong.

Biography from Tucson Museum of Art:
by Julie Sasse, Curator of Contemporary Art, Tucson Museum of Art

Bella Feldman is a contemporary of the women artists who rose to prominence in the United States in the 1970s. Feldman creates engrossing welded steel and blown glass sculptures that act as commentaries on war and aggression. Witnessing the effects of war throughout her lifelosing family and friends in World War II, the Holocaust, the Korean War, and the Vietnam Warshe initially focused on installations of biomorphic bronze rats, a combination of both wit and horror.

Two years spent teaching in war-torn Africa in the 1960s also had a profound effect on the outlook of the artist that became reflected in her work. After joining the faculty of the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland in 1965, a position that she still holds, she continued the animal series with cast resin anthropomorphic turtle shapes that embodied heavy overtones of the effects of chemical warfare and genetic tampering. By the 1980s, Feldman had embraced a new sense of delicacy, creating a series of large, translucent fiberglass works that resembled the skeletal structure of sea forms, winged shapes, and ladders to the sky.

Feldman returned to fabricated steel and wood at this time. From this change of medium emerged forms relating to weapons, utility and architecture. In these works Feldman expresses the duality of themes of nurturing and the seriousness of weapons of destruction. To Feldman, while instability is a way of life, humor is a way to deal with it. As she explains, "There is an underlying danger in the seemingly innocent and/or banal. Beauty, seduction, and pain seem intertwined. The press of a button can extinguish the world as we know it. Humor, albeit black humor, seems for me a necessary counterbalance to a frank look at life, as well as a way to understand it."

This dark humor continued through the 1990s, as is revealed through the elegant, yet ominous Suspensions, 1994, resembling tools and weapons hanging from imposing leather straps, and the smaller scale War Toys, from the early 1990s, created in reaction to the Gulf War, that reflect the futility and absurdity of modern war. Are these merely playful puns on childrens toys or do they tell a story of how easily society conditions its children to accept destruction and killing as a way of life? Beautiful, yet menacing, Feldmans satirical works serve as visual metaphors for social conditioning and psychological states of being.

Other themes addressed by Feldman reflect an opposite sensibility, expressing images of balance, and shelter. In the late 1990s, she created the series "Civilian Goods," which made mechanical reference to utility and futility. Meridian, 1994, a large-scale pulley form rolls back and forth with determined force, yet one cant help but muse that while ominous-looking, it could also be merely a pizza cutter for the gods. Evoking house forms, Feldman created a large installation, Polarities, in the late 1990s. In this piece, door knockers hang from planks holding small glass sculptures that take the shape of houses, a reminder of the symbol of security and place.

Her most recent work expands the relationship between materials. Referring to the compelling qualities of glass juxtaposed with the constraining qualities of steel, as in her Flasks of Fiction series from 2000, Feldman addresses feminist concerns of fragility and strength/ entrapment and seduction. Throughout the decades, Bella Feldman has observed her world through humor and sophistication of form. Putting Horatio Greenoughs famous statement, "form follows function" to the test, Feldman playfully retorts through her work that, "form follows dysfunction." Through all the contradictory messages and visual puns, however, emerges an underlying sense of transformation from despair to enlightenment.

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