In Conversation with Shona McAndrew: Her Body is a Wonderland

In Conversation with Shona McAndrew: Her Body is a Wonderland

Courtesy of the artist.

Courtesy of the artist.

Shona McAndrew is a vivacious French artist currently residing in Philadelphia. Her work explores all average aspects of her life, whether it’s playing with her cat or trying to get out that stubborn ingrown hair. Shona elevates the mundane by her cheery colors and by creating life-size sculptures of these ‘everyday’ scenes. What makes her work so universal is that she herself, and the women she creates in her works, are not thin models in magazines - but soft and curvy, - oozing with self-confidence and self-love. Shona shares her latest shows, inspirations , and an upcoming solo booth at SPRING/BREAK Art Show.

Alexandria Deters: You recently had two exhibitions on view at LatchKey Gallery and Galerie Manqué. How did you prepare for these two simultaneous shows?

Shona McAndrew: A lot of hard work, way too much planning, a generous and helpful boyfriend, and honestly good timing. When both galleries reached out to me, I had a lot pieces finished and in-process and felt ready to show it. A lot of my work is very time-consuming so it can be hard for me to just throw a show together, so yeah, good timing.  Also, LatchKey Gallery encouraged me to take the risk and put together my first installation.  Doing so, led me to my first non-figurative sculptures, which feels like it has opened many doors for me and my practice. 

Most of your work is about yourself and your daily life, including the intimate parts with your partner, Stuart.  What has it been like displaying that relationship to the world?  

It feels quite important to add to the very limited assortment of bodies seen together, something that was very limiting to me growing up.  I genuinely did not know that a fat woman could be with a thin man (or any man at all).  My experience of romance and intimacy was what I saw in movies or media, conventionally attractive with conventionally attractive, no exceptions.

To create an alternative to that model, to process this experience and to represent it to the world, has been, in a word, empowering.  My whole life, I had been taught that I would not be able to have a relationship like this.  When I found myself in one, I immediately had a hundred questions.  I hope my work asks similar questions of the viewer.

“It feels quite important to add to the very limited assortment of bodies seen together, something that was very limiting to me growing up.  I genuinely did not know that a fat woman could be with a thin man (or any man at all).  My experience of romance and intimacy was what I saw in movies or media, conventionally attractive with conventionally attractive, no exceptions.”

Norah, mix media, 46x40x44in,2017. Courtesy of the artist.

Norah, mix media, 46x40x44in,2017. Courtesy of the artist.

One of the many things I admire about your work is your paper mache sculptures and the amazing amount of detail you are able to convey. What originally drew you to expanding your art practice into this 3D medium?

When I started to consider the experience of the viewer, sculpture became increasingly the right direction for my practice. At the time I started making these sculptures, I was unsure how I was going to confront the male gaze in my paintings. I felt like I was just adding to a never-ending repertoire of images of women, images to be consumed. Sculpture allowed me to truly confront the viewer. I wanted to change the experience of looking that I had created in my work, from a quick voyeuristic glance to a slow complicated journey. I like that my sculptures of women physically take up space.  Viewers have to move around the bodies. The sculptures challenge the viewer in a way that I had yet to experience with painting.

In many of your posts on social media you use the hashtag #effyourbeautystandards, first used by the famous plus-size model Tess Holiday. What drew you to this movement and using this hashtag?

I started following #effyourbeautystandards as soon as I joined Instagram. I had never really seen plus-size and othered models before until I joined the movement. I remember the first time I found Tess Holiday’s many intimate pictures of her life and felt such envy of how she portrayed herself to the world. Shameless and unapologetic. Though I still struggle with many parts of who I am and how I fit into the world, I have come very far from the version of myself who was discovering EYBS.  I was still very scared of looking myself in the mirror so to see these women with bodies like mine expose themselves with pride was eye opening.

I started by making collages using my own body, which meant I had to both photograph myself (I took my first ever full body nude picture) and look at the footage. Looking at the footage and confronting my own body was both wildly intimidating and liberating at the same time. Something about externalizing my body into an art object that made me reconsider my relationship to myself and my body.

“ Sculpture allowed me to truly confront the viewer. I wanted to change the experience of looking that I had created in my work, from a quick voyeuristic glance to a slow complicated journey. I like that my sculptures of women physically take up space.  Viewers have to move around the bodies. The sculptures challenge the viewer in a way that I had yet to experience with painting.”

Magazine stack, mix media, 10x12x15in, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

Magazine stack, mix media, 10x12x15in, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

In 2017 you participated in SPRING/BREAK Art Show as part of a group booth presentation. This year you will be participating in a solo booth.

I will be recreating my bedroom in my own slightly fantastical way. Last year, I made a life-size sculpture of Stuart and me lying in bed in a quiet sensual moment, but the piece never felt resolved. To fill out the narrative surrounding the piece, I wanted to make all the little bits and pieces that trace a history of my actions, marking my every day.  Leftover coffee in a mug from earlier that morning, the book I’ve been trying to read, the snack I was just eating and the joint I just rolled, moments and objects that are just as much a part of me as my body. 

 Follow Shona McAndrew @shona_mcandrew

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