Sasha Bakaric creates beauty from sadness

Sasha Bakaric poses at FRANK Gallery in Chapel Hill. // Photos by Caroline Cockrell.

The Croatian born ceramicist is inspired by cells and organisms, along with the fears surrounding them

In it’s sixth go-around, FRANK Gallery’s annual fundraising gala, Off the Wall, takes the typical gala experience to an energetic and value-driven night guaranteeing patrons a piece of art. Ceramicist Sasha Bakaric is one of this year’s donating artists.

Sasha Bakaric, a FRANK Gallery member artist since the collective’s inception, is a ceramic artist whose inspiration comes from microscopic images of various cells and organisms. She is fascinated by the dichotomy between the beauty of this complex world and the fears that people associate with it.

The cells themselves are beautiful, but often what they represent is sad: disease and death. For Bakaric, that disease was cancer. It took both her parents.

Bakaric’s first ceramic surface designs were unintentional and a friend pointed something out in the work Bakaric hadn’t realized: the designs looked like an amoeba. Intrigued, she began researching images of cells, viruses and other microorganisms and was blown away by the beauty of this microscopic world. The more research she did, the more she thought of her father who died from the disease first.

She started looking at cancer cells and other deadly diseases that consume our bodies, completely unaware of the physical and emotional harm they inflict on us. She started to question our relationship with beauty:

“How could something that causes so much pain also be so beautiful to look at?”

“Would people consider this beautiful if they didn’t know what it was?”

“Would they consider it beautiful if they did [know what it was]?”

As a result, Bakaric began to recreate these images in her work and at the same time found a way to deal with the loss of her father.

She created a variety of sophisticated smokey gray ceramics that included vases, bowls, lamps, orbs, containers and 3D wall art. The cell inspired designs are outlined with dark reds, oranges and blues. Her ceramics are sleek and strong with textured and eye catching surface designs. The orbs fit perfectly together, similar to the way cells connect to one another. The uniquely shaped vases and containers come in sets like cells multiplying.

Bakaric rolls slabs in the evening and waits until the morning when the moisture level is right to bend them into different shapes and sizes. For the most part, her shapes are intentional but she sometimes creates a new style by playing around and turning the shapes on their side. It’s also easy to assume that Bakaric puts her grad degree in applied mathematics to use during this stage of her process but she doesn’t.

“I feel like I have to have some elements of the way I do things that are not so controlled,” she said.

This approach adds an element of surprise to her work. When she does stumble upon a form that she really likes, she applies the same approach by choosing not to measure the height and width. She simply cuts and folds them and awaits the outcome.

[Related: Inside the Arts: Jean LeCluyse doubles as artist, co-chair]

So do people consider her ceramics beautiful after learning about the inspiration behind them? The answer is yes.

The feedback Bakaric has received has been positive and always makes for an interesting conversation. She has even had a few people who were diagnosed with cancer commission her to do their cells. Bakaric is told the type of cancer and she does the research to come up with the imagery. She said that one client even told her the work “is a symbol of what I am up against” but they’re “still finding beauty in it.”

Bakaric feels that having a visual interpretation of the disease helps give back some control. A sort of peaceful reminder that life is beautiful even in our darkest days.

Again, this sentiment is one she uses herself, too. Bakaric’s art is her therapy and a means to find peace from a disease that has taken so much for her. She lost her father to cancer, and recently lost her mother to the same disease. And naturally her mother’s passing is reflected in her work and a new look represents that.

The vases that were once gray and sharp are now cream-colored and soft. The cell-like designs that were once dark red and orange are now tan and beige. This loss took an emotional and mental toll on her, and she decided to make some dramatic changes in her work to make it softer and more elegant.

“I felt that white was a light and lively color, and my mother was such a happy and energetic person,” she said. “She was very religious and I think I connect that with white clouds, heaven and angels.”

From Bakaric’s sorrow a new body of work was created. Work born out of sadness but representing beauty.

[Related: Red carpet photos from last year’s Off the Wall gala]

Originally from Croatia, Bakaric moved to America to attend graduate school in New Jersey. Upon finishing school, she moved back to Croatia and had a successful career in finance management.

She later returned to America after her husband was offered a position at Duke University where she also found employment managing the logistics of a student program. This meant accompanying professors and students around the world. While she enjoyed the travel, the environment was stressful and after the birth of her first child, traveling for weeks at a time was no longer ideal.

Then when her daughter was 2 years old, Bakaric found an activity for the two of them to do together: playing with clay. That’s where it all began.

“We were just basically smushing around little pieces of clay and it felt so good,” she said of the clay for toddlers class they took at the Durham Arts Council. “I decided to sign up for an adult class at Claymakers.” Bakaric then spent the next five to six years attending classes and workshops.

Later, with their second child on the way, Bakaric’s husband bought her a pottery wheel. And around the seventh month mark in the pregnancy they set up a makeshift studio in their home and she began working from there. Once the youngest child was old enough for Bakaric to return to work, she couldn’t imagine doing anything else. She loved this craft and there was no turning back as she immersed herself in her work. And becoming a member of FRANK has meant so much.

“Having this community and being a part of this gallery is a huge part of my life,” she said. “I’m so thankful to be part of it. We keep changing all the time. The people here are so hardworking and enthusiastic and that is a big part of this feeling of satisfaction. We’re creating something good.”

Join FRANK is creating something good April 16 at their sixth annual fundraiser, Off the Wall. The event is unlike any other gallery fundraiser in the Triangle.

FRANK Gallery’s Sixth Annual Off the Wall Fundraising Gala
Saturday, April 16 at 6 p.m.
FRANK Gallery, 109 East Franklin St., Chapel Hill

Patron ticket: $150, admits two
Companion ticket: $50
Art ticket: $450
Art ticket with companion: $500

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