Shona McAndrew is sick of women’s idyllic representation in art. Her work seeks to remove the male gaze completely and portray women in intimate, real settings that don’t ignore the less desirable appearances. McAndrew creates works that are autobiographical and also calls on other women to pose as her models, capturing bodies of all shapes and sizes. After a standout booth at this years Spring /Break Art Show, we caught up with McAndrew to learn more about her alluring and timely practice.
You are part of a young generation of female artists hustling and gaining recognition in NYC. What does being a part of a strong female community mean for you?
Just you asking the question makes me proud. It’s an honor to be included in such a powerful group. There seems to be a constantly growing list of women artists out there, all carving out their own worlds and fantasizes. I have been lucky enough to be included in some excellent group shows and have been able to form a lot of my connections from them. To be honest, Instagram also creates the space for a lot of direct and honest connections. This generation of woman artists feels very interconnected in our work, opportunities and interactions.
Which female artists, living or dead, inspire you most?
Niki de Saint Phalle, Mickalene Thomas and Alice Neel. Of course there are many more, but these three women definitely seem to stay on my mind.
Have you experienced firsthand the underrepresentation of female artists in the art industry?
As an emerging artist, it is hard to say from my end. A lot of my opportunities have been shows centered around women. So while there may underrepresentation in certain blue-chip instances, it’s been more of a mixed bag in my experience.
Have you noticed a change in opportunities available for female artists since you first entered the art world?
My first two experiences in the art world were shows curated by women featuring women. Other than a couple group shows here and there, it has been that way since. It is definitely an empowering time to be a female artist right now. Because I don’t have the breadth of a career that an established artist would have, I cannot speak to how opportunities have changed over time. I can only fairly speak about how the art world feels right now, though I am definitely aware of the historical context I am entering into.
If you could change one thing about the current landscape for working female artists what would it be?
There could always be more support for artists outside the commercial art world. While this is definitely true for all artists, I think that specifically now is a time where non-straight white men should be getting the support they need to make very important work. Living is already so expensive and to add an art practice onto that sum becomes extremely burdensome. This financial environment makes it difficult for artists to produce risky work that challenges our cultural aesthetics and norms, and it is time for us to have the space and financial support to make that possible.
Who are the figures that you create in both your sculpture and painting?
The sculptures are mostly from my imagination, though they are all rooted in the knowledge and experience of my body. The names and the essence of each sculpture’s pose come from women I care for, but their appearance develops as I sculpt. Other sculptures are more specific representations of my own experience. I have made a couple sculptures of me and my boyfriend Stuart, reenacting moments of our private life. My paintings are mostly self-portraiture. It helped my work get to an honest and vulnerable place, representing myself in moments I’ve truly experienced and want to share. Recently, I have started reaching out to other women and having them create poses to paint from in an effort to start expanding my practice beyond the limits of my own experience.
What themes are you working through in your work?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the spaces women carve out for themselves where they define themselves truly on their own terms. A lot of female spaces are created around or impacted by a male definition of what it means to be a woman. I have been searching for moments outside this ever-present male gaze or influence, where women can be themselves for themselves in an honest moment of introspection. The number of times I have heard “oh I do that too!” in response to my work tells me just how much viewers recognize these moments in their own lives. I love that people seem more willing to open up about their experience of womanhood in response to my work.
Your work represents the female body in realistic settings that haven’t been as widely portrayed in art. Why is this important to you?
I think so much of the definition of what it means to be a woman has been set by men that we have all lost our way. I think that impulse is motivating a lot of the powerful art made by women today, exploring the fantasies, boundaries and realities of what it means and what it could mean to be a woman.
Have both sculpture and painting always been a part of your practice?
No, I definitely started as a painter and moved into sculpture to solve a lot of the problems I was running into with my two dimensional work. I felt that my paintings could not escape the male gaze, but in a way sculpture, with its dimensional confrontation to the viewer, could. My sculptures opened doors in my practice that fed back into the paintings, which lead to installation, which in turn fed back into painting…. So my practice has really benefitted from translating ideas back and forth across media, and I like that about my work.
You recently had a stand out installation at Spring/Break Art Show. Why do you think this piece gained as much buzz as it did?
There are many reasons, but I think one of the most important is that I focused on allowing everyone to be their own curator and gave viewers a sense of agency in their experience of the piece. I recreated an honest, vulnerable moment with a back-breaking amount of detail and let the viewer experience it on their own terms, discovering little secrets hidden into the installation, capturing and sharing their favorite moments. It didn’t hurt that so much of the buzz around art fairs happens on Instagram, so letting people compose, curate and upload their own artistic vision of my piece to social media definitely added to the excitement around the installation.
What’s next for you?
I have so many new ideas for other installations that I am excited to pursue, new poses for slightly larger than life sculptures. Right now I feel like I have too many ideas to possibly work through, but for the immediate future I am stretching some large canvases. I want to make larger paintings that work through similar ideas brought out by my recent installation at Spring/Break.
At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?
I would recommend my current art crush, Kate Klingbeil. I’ve had the privilege of seeing her work in person and the surfaces and shapes she builds are so fantastically adventurous. Her work invites the viewer to go down this crazy rabbit hole with her, generously giving the viewer a chance to uncover and invent so many different and possible narratives.