The Living Dead Creatures of Sabrina Gruss: Interview

Sabrina Gruss was born in 1958 in Paris, France. She explains her artistic vocation and her unique art by her family’s story, the prosthesis of her brother and the stories she told to her little sister. A sculptor, she chose to work with the most natural materials, vegetation and of course animal remains such as bones and corpses. Her “creatures” as she calls them, are odd and funny little elves and fairies, flirting both with cuteness and macabre. A beautiful nose-thumbing to Death and Fate.

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What are your artistic influences ?

I am curious about every kind of art and often go to art shows. I love the installation art of Pipilotti Rist and Anette Messager, the Humans of Ron Mueck, the photos of Gilbert and Georges, those of Cindy Sherman. I’m attracted by nonstandard, outsider, fringe art … There are painters who made me grown up and left their influence on me, such as Zoran Music, Lucian Freud, and of course Francis Bacon.

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How do you design your sculptures ?

I gather materials in nature during strolls, but also eroded objects. I’m fascinated by this metamorphosis that, us, humans, will undergo the same way. I love the idea that my materials used to be new and became « other », with a full new story which is going to mix with mine. Bones and corpses I found near my home begun to fit into the process too. Bone is a beautiful and strong material, I love the richness of its tones, its shapes and the emotional strength it releases. I watch it and remember how the animal it belongs to was alive, free and gorgeous. Thus, I give them another life, and the transformation into sculpture is links both of us with something sacred and mystical. I never transform bones, and sometimes my visitors are scared because they can’t see beyond the idea of death itself. But if bones give the structure, it’s faces and expressions that are the main thing. The moulding is very important: I keep searching for the perfect faces, as they will give life to the creatures, give them their own identity. The fusion of each material with patina and clay creats an osmosis, blurring the borders between bones, flesh and art.

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What led you to this kind of art ?

I’ve met Death early, through my mother’s history. Russian Jewish people settled in Paris, her story led me to concentrate on tiny parts, worn fabrics, corpses, bones. Our family disappeared in concentration camps and the fear of Death accompanied her all her life. Very early, I discovered these photographs of deportees and of the Nazi extermination. But with these awful memories, I’ve hopefully mixed the humor of my mother and Jewish music. Through my sculptures, I learn to avoid the fear of Death and to « entertain » it.

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Each of your sculptures seem to have a story : what is it ? 

Each of my « creatures » carries her secret story that I will learn and that will mix with mine at some point. I bury them, then exhume them, recompose them, lift them up to play and smile again.

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You use a lot of death iconography : what is, according to you, the link between art and death ?

This meeting between Death and art, either tragicomic or poetic, is fascinating me. I don’t know if using bones helps others to accept their our own death more easily, but for me, it does. I find them reassuring, soothing. Art is the way humans found to accept their fate and turn it into something magical.

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What are your future projects ?

I will do some exhibitions in France, perhaps New York. And there is this trip to Australia. I’ve met gallery owner Luc Berthier, expert in Aboriginal art in Paris, during the « Out sider Art fair » and he invited me to come with him. I have been fascinated by Aboriginal art for a long time and to share this trip with someone that passionated is a gift. I expect a lot from Australia and these « dream-hunters ».

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