If it Ain’t Broke, Break it

Her art begins with delicate-looking “found” objects crafted by someone else –– ceramic figurines or teacups, for instance, hand-painted in soft hues and intricate detail. Given the fragile nature of her medium, the first tool that Shannon Landis Hansen wields on the items comes as a bit of a shock: It’s a glue-encrusted
3-pound hammer.

If it Ain’t Broke, Break itHansen calls her artistic expressions “assemblages,” for they consist of pieces of existing objects brought together in new ways that are both aesthetically stimulating and emotionally provocative. In their final form, many of the works become colorful items for the home, such as table lamps, floral urns and decorative chairs. Although their basic shapes may be common, no one would describe them as ordinary. With every piece that Hansen designs, she aims to spark conversation.

Before the ceramics can begin morphing into intriguing new roles, however, destruction must occur. That’s right:

The first step Hansen takes is giving each of the graceful little figures a good whack. It’s a process of destruction that she says opens a door to a new existence. “It’s very narrative,” she says. “Each one tells a story.”

As with most art, what these works say depends to some extent on the viewer’s perspective. But Hansen says for her the tale behind each work unfolds as she picks up the broken ceramic pieces and starts to arrange them in a new order. Something inside her prompts her to attach the head of a smirking monkey to the body of a man and to glue this new hybrid onto a background dense with other broken ceramic pieces taken from If it Ain’t Broke, Break itpraying angels, bright-eyed cherubs, intricate vases and richly colored tiles. Yes, “assemblage” is the correct word for this art.

“When you assemble things that have been broken, then they are in transition, and I love that movement from one place or moment into another,” Hansen says.
Hansen fell in love with the idea of using broken pieces to make new art during a visit some years ago to Barcelona. There she viewed the mosaics of early-20th-century architect Antoni Gaudí. He had created grand, sweeping, curvaceous structures that seemed alive with motion and color, all achieved through unique arrangements of broken pieces of glass and stone.

If it Ain’t Broke, Break it“His mosaics are so organic and curvy,” Hansen says. “They just look like they grew into those shapes.” Until she saw Gaudí’s work, she had channeled her creative urges into painting, using oils, watercolors and acrylics. But now she felt the pull of
a new medium.   

Hansen began picking up ceramic and glass figures and vessels wherever she could find them — garage sales, flea markets and the like. She started with small projects, such as flowerpots. Scanning her ceramics, she would decide which ones “wanted” to be together in a new form. Then she would break each one into multiple pieces and, using a strong adhesive, apply the broken pieces to the pots, arranging them in unexpected ways. Parts of a rabbit might be paired with those of a frog on a lily pad. Or figures of ballerinas and nuns might end up mingled in strange new ways in a setting that would ordinarily be alien to both.

If it Ain’t Broke, Break it“The thing that makes this fun is that each piece comes together in a different way,” Hansen says. “So much artwork just hangs on the wall. But people can put these items in their home and really study them and relate to the stories they tell.”

A case in point: her Venetian lamp. The lamp base features pieces of a ceramic figure of a jester. “I broke him first,” Hansen says. Then she spotted two other figures in her collection, those of an elaborately dressed young man and woman. “Obviously, they were two lovers, If it Ain’t Broke, Break itand certainly they would be exchanging glances behind the jester,” she explains. Sure enough, the faces of the young lovers now hover just above and behind the broken jester on the lamp. The process changed all the figures and “brought them alive, in a way,” Hansen says.

Hansen began making assemblages more than a decade ago while living in Los Angeles. But in 2004, after a trip in which she rediscovered her love of New Orleans, she and her husband decided that this is where they needed to be. Today she plies her art in a roomy studio on the ground floor of the couple’s Faubourg Marigny home, which holds abundant examples of her work on three levels.

If it Ain’t Broke, Break itAn array of her art currently is on display at Perrin Benham Gallery on Magazine Street. Hansen also creates works by commission for clients who have beloved — or broken — ceramic figures or items that they would like to see in
a new light.

Shannon Landis Hansen, 301-3120, info@shannonlandishansen.com, www.shannonlandishansen.com

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