Sandoval Signpost
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  Featured Artist
 

Stephen Feher

Bike Chain Lady #1, sculpture, by Stephen Feher

Bronze Torso, by Stephen Feher

Casting bronze in the studio

Signpost Featured Artist

Freedom within chains: the sculptures of Stephen Feher

—Oli Robbins

The human form features prominently in Placitas artist Stephen Feher’s current body of work. His mostly-figurative (and mostly female) sculptures appear to be the products of a highly trained and lifelong artist, but they’re actually the results of a man who spent many of his decades working with his mind rather than his hands.

Born in Brazil, Stephen moved to Dallas—which he remembers feeling like a very different country—at the age of 12. After the Air Force, he became a social worker in Taos and then Albuquerque, where he continued his education and transitioned into psychology. He enjoyed treating patients at a private practice until his retirement in 2010. His career proved fulfilling, though he now appreciates the essential physicality of art making. Stephen explains, “I know there was benefit to my previous work, and I could see it, but this work gives me something tangible. It’s a challenge to literally bend something in a different direction than it wants to go.”

When asked if his psychological background impacts his current work, he replied, “You can’t escape yourself. Whatever has formed me in my lifetime certainly goes into everything I do. I consider myself a recovering intellectual. But the aesthetic, you know, I don’t consider aesthetics an intellectual thing. I consider the perception of beauty to be something that involves the whole being—the body, emotions, and mind. And certainly the heart’s involved in psychological work, but the mind is more active.”

Stephen’s transition to art-making happened in 1990 at 36,000 feet, while reading an in-flight magazine that included an image of a stone fountain in the shape of a globe. It was part of an advertisement for a sculpture gallery in Santa Fe, which he promptly visited once back in New Mexico. “It was made from granite and had water coming up through the orifice. I was enchanted with the fountains there, but they were out of my reach financially.”

Just like that, intrigue and interest motivated Stephen to purchase the necessary materials and try his hand at large-scale sculpture. His previous artistic engagements were limited to the designing and building of a couple personal homes, but he found success in this early sculptural experiment. Says Stephen, “Soon I was making fountains similar to those ones I saw in the magazine. It likely would have been less costly to purchase one than to buy all the tools and materials, but then I would only have had that one fountain, and now not only did I have one, but several, and the tools and know-how to make more.”

In 1990 (the same year he built his Placitas home), Stephen enrolled in a six-session continuing education sculpture class at UNM and “just went from there.” Says Stephen, “I’m pretty much a self-taught person—certainly in art. But I had never before even thought about going into any kind of art. I’ve always enjoyed making things, though it really didn’t become apparent until I built a house in the 1970s, in Taos. It’s kind of a self-creation or evolution or something.”

Most of Stephen’s forms are made of metal, from steel slugs to bike chains to copper to coins. Before experimenting with the body as subject, his repertoire included animals and wholly abstract images. He refers to his first human figures as “crude,” shaped as they were from aluminum foil. He began working with copper sheet material, and invested in a 1935 wood lathe to make appropriately-sized mallets to shape the copper. He learned the ins and outs of copper brazing and soon moved on to steel. With a mannequin, he uses concrete to create a solid form within it, from the negative space. Steel slugs were “placed inside the forms and then welded from the reverse side so when the finished piece was removed from the concrete form the welds were invisible.” Due to legal issues, he couldn’t continue obtaining the slugs from a steel company, so he found himself introduced to a newfound material: bike chains. Says Stephen, “I work on the reverse side, so the welds are invisible once the piece comes out of the form.” He’ll use as many chains as will possibly conform to the shape he’s creating, but often has to go down to working with just one or two links—all of which demand hours of cleaning prior to use. Stephen recalls one viewer explaining that the forms “work” because of an inherent Yin-Yang quality. “I suppose the materials and the processes used are Yang,” says Stephen, “and the shapes achieved are Yin.” He began employing spotlights on the forms to create shadows, which Stephen perceives as “another manifestation of Yin energy” due to the lacy textures made visible in shadow. 

Last year was a productive and favorable one for Stephen, who was awarded first and second prize for two works entered in a regional veterans creative arts festival. First prize was assigned to one of his bike chain pieces, which then traveled to the National Veterans Art Festival where it again received first prize in its category.

Stephen lives with his partner, fellow artist Elaine Scott. The duo collaborates often, Elaine working with various materials and mediums including fused and broken glass, acrylic, mosaics, and sand casting. They’ve made many large-scale outdoor sculptures as well as the neighborhood sign introducing Placitas Heights. Stephen and Elaine will be celebrated during the ArtsCrawl, on March 4, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., as featured artists at SE-OC Right Brain Gallery, 3100 Menaul NE, where they will also deliver a short talk about their work. Stephen can be contacted by phone (263-3590) or via email (sfeher@deepinquiry.com). His pieces are also on view at the Corrales Bosque Gallery, and he and Elaine will participate in the upcoming Placitas Studio Tour this May.

 
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