Sandra Shashou ‘Broken Reborn’

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Strategically smashing fine china to rebuild something new.

“I had no idea I would end up doing this crazy thing”, she laughs. The Brazilian artist based in Primrose Hill did her degree in painting and actually used to be a successful portrait artist who made a name for herself by aiming to capture the deep essence of her sitters, well-known British and international individuals and icons of public life. Her portraits were large scale, extremely zoomed in and she understood them as a tribute to the person, often researching a story or biographical narrative through piles and piles of newspaper article cuttings that are integrated into the portrait. “Already, I was tearing up things”, she is now aware.

A first venture into the destructive side of her art happened when she painted a self-portrait and, not feeling it represented her real personality, started hacking at it with a knife. Once it was slashed and scarred and imperfect, she could see herself, someone who lived, who had scars and experiences.

And just like that, Shashou’s practice has taken a turn into sculpture with “Broken Reborn”, a new body of work comprised of arrangements of smashed fragments of vintage fine bone china tea sets, Russian Lomonosov porcelain, Spanish Lladro and Nao ballerina figurines or German bisque Kaiser nude, dating back to the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

I Love You, You’re Perfect!, Silver Royal Worcester, Windsor, Winton, Art Deco and Bavarian Fine Bone China, Jesmonite, Acrylic Paint, Aluminum Panel, 2016 (c) Sandra Shashou

She cites Ori Gersht and his exploding still life videos as a possible influence, however unconscious, but it is not destruction that fascinates her, it is the subsequent rebuilding. Hers are positive works that express fragility and bravery, and transformation into something new and stronger, like rebuilding yourself after a broken love.

In order to find her new working material, Sandra Shashou has become an obsessive collector, seeking for handpicked treasures, destined to be broken: “It never stops”, she laughs, “I wake up and bid on things on ebay or go to my dealers at Portobello Market.” It is exquisite precious porcelain she smashes. But the emotion behind it is not anger or aggression: “I am breaking these pieces with love”, she says and pulls out her ‘lucky hammer’, which is small and precise. The destruction is not arbitrary, the fine hammer allows her to get the exact shards she wants to layer like a painter for the final art work. Together these fragments create something bigger and stronger, but lived through, with a story to tell.

At first, she wasn’t really sure what the message was or what the work was really about, she just knew that they were positive, happy pieces. The individual titles of the installations make playful references to love and relationships. Smashing crockery is, after all, a time-honoured feature of the lovers’ row. There is also the association with kitchen utensils. Is it undeniably ‘female’ art? The final installations are very feminine, the source material is feminine, but breaking the china, Sandra assures, is strong work that simply feels like freedom.

What Now! I (c) Sandra Shashou

Smashing cups and saucers is one thing, but what does it feel like to take a hammer and hit a delicate porcelain ballerina on the head? Sandra agrees that it feels different breaking up a human form, more like mutilation with their “little fingers flying everywhere”. When she is done with them, they are definitely beyond repair. But Shashou sees a beauty in destroying their perfection and exposing the insides of the little figurines, open and undisguised. “I see great beauty in vulnerability and fragility, in truth that is how we reveal ourselves and really connect. In a society seeking an image of perfection, ‘Broken Reborn’ has no flimsy facades”. The little ballerinas are a female form, they are perfect and whole and she smashes them. “I don’t like perfect.”

Raising The Bar, Nao, LLadro Signed Porcelain Ballerinas, Jesmonite, Acrylic Paint, Aluminum Panel 2017 (c) Sandra Shashou

She is aware however, that especially the ballerinas provoke extreme reactions: “My brother can’t look at them”, she confesses. But for an artist, any reaction - positive or negative - is rewarding.

Sandra Shashou was in conversation with Candida Gertler, OBE of Outset.

Broken Reborn is at Bel Air Fine Art, New Bond Street .