On International Women's Day this year, a 50" tall bronze statue of a young girl was unveiled at Bowling Green in the Financial District of New York City. With her hands on her hip, her pigtails and dress fluttering in the breeze, the creation struck a defiant pose opposite that of a 11', 7,000+ pound Charging Bull. Quickly, the Fearless Girl, as the work is named, began to take on a meaning of empowerment, standing for women's rights and female visibility in a traditionally male-dominated arena. And for the artist herself, the work was a turning point.
"My whole life has been cauterized in place since we unveiled Fearless Girl," Delaware-based sculptor Kristen Visbal tells Creators. Since the March 8 unveiling, "I haven't touched anything in my art studio," she says.
A daughter of an artist, Visbal had been creative from a young age growing up in Potomac, Maryland. Even with that supportive environment she initially went to school for marketing in Arizona but after a transformative introductory clay 101 class, graduated from Maryland's Salisbury State with a bachelor's in art.
"I never took a modeling class in my life," Visbal says. "I strongly believe that 90% of being artistic is having that hand eye coordination and the rest of it is the creativity." Visbal had that coordination in spades, and in college, that creativity revolved mostly around abstract works. But as she began working through her three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship at Johnson Atelier Art Foundry that body of sculptures changed to realism, most notably in a piece called Age of Innocence depicting a young girl hugging her dog.
"Once I started doing the realism, which was a total surprise, everyone started to ask me to sculpt their grandkids," she laughs. Because of that demand, and her own personal love for the ocean, Visbal's portfolio of work quickly changed focusing on realism and nautical subjects, almost exclusively as portrait portrayals of animals (sometimes mythical) and people.
Of some of the sculptor's notable pieces are Sea Express, a bronze work of a boy on a dolphin erected on Jacksonville Beach in Florida, as well as its sister piece, In Search of Atlantis, of a girl on a sea turtle installed in Atlantic Beach. The two pieces also are a part of a growing portfolio of Visbal's public works.
"I really wanted to get into the public art market which was very difficult," she admits. "In my mind everything seems to be better the bigger it is; the impact is multiplied by 10 when it's larger."
Of those works Fearless Girl has no doubt had the largest reaction. The project was one backed by State Street Global Advisors who, in concert with McCann Advertising and Digital Atelier, were looking for a female sculptor working in bronze, and who was familiar with sculpting children. As Digital is a component of the Johnson Atelier, those familiar with Visbal's Age of Innocence piece from her apprenticeship put her name forward.
"State Street had given McCann a directive to shed light on the call for gender diversity in leadership and in business because there was so many studies that give testimony to the fact that inclusion of women in the decision making process result in better decisions and increased profits," Visbal explains. "Their reason was all business." But even with that, the sculptor maintains that this is not a commercial work.
Through the month of December, Visbal completed 11 sketches, rotating through five hair styles and three different sizes, eventually coming to the final concept that now sits in Bowling Green. Fearless Girl is scheduled to stand until February 2018 because of the outpouring of support for the piece, which was initially only meant to be installed for a week. Arturo Di Modica, however, the sculptor behind Charging Bull, which Visbal's sculpture faces, has called for the more recent piece's removal. According to him, Fearless Girl violates his rights by warping the meaning the meaning of Charging Bull in a way that's injurious to his reputation.
"I feel like to remove this work at this point would be to diminish everything that she stands for," Visbal says of the brewing controversy. "Really and truly when Mr. Di Modica placed his work in 1989 it became a public work just like Fearless Girl—it belongs to the public, and the placement of Fearless Girl is simply an expression of the right to freedom of speech."
"There's been some allegation that this is a corporate work but it really doesn't matter how we came up with the piece," she continues. "It was modeled from start to the completion of the piece by me and I utilized the same methods I use in creating any work. I'm sorry that Mr. Di Modica is not happy with the work—I asked him to join me at our sculptures twice. I think if he had taken the time to listen to how we view Fearless Girl and his work, maybe he would be embracing the women that the Fearless Girl represents."
Click here to visit Kristen Visbal's website.