I have been painting twisted vintage Americana, much of it food-related, on found fabrics for over twenty years. A couple of years ago, I found myself with an overabundance of tiny (4″) plywood “doughnut holes” left over from building larger round panels. The tiny circles were so appealing, I had to make them into painting supports. I used them for studies of the food that was piled on a table in a commissioned piece I was working on at the time. I was trying to mix the weird colors found in 1950’s cookbook illustrations of processed food, mimicking the color printing process by using only four colors of paint (CMYK) plus white.
The project later evolved into a way to trick myself into painting more loosely. The tiny paintings were from scraps, and such a low investment—if one wasn’t working, I’d just paint over it.
I would get hungry every time I worked on them, even when the food was kind of gross.
In my work I’ve often depicted highly decorative culinary concoctions that channeled an inordinate amount of female creativity into bizarre and ephemeral projects. For example: start by gutting a simple potato, loaf of bread, or hard-boiled egg; mix the innards with other ingredients, primarily mayonnaise; then stuff them back into their original container to create a similacrum of the original—now there’s a productive use of time! Working alone in a room painting detailed, labor-intensive food pictures makes me feel a sort of kinship with my homebound foremothers who labored over the actual food. Their creations were devoured (or not), the evidence of their labor and ingenuity vanished. Art is arguably undervalued in our culture, but at least there do exist people willing to shell out money for it and hang it on their wall. So I’ve got that going for me anyway.
I was finishing this series just as the pandemic was starting to drive many of us into the cocoons of our homes. Home-cooked food has suddenly taken center stage as a source of comfort and symbol of togetherness. There has also been a resurgence of food-as-craft-project, a reincarnation of the fifties mom sculpting strange concoctions out of humble, edible materials. We’re mourning our former social, public, busy lives, and appreciating anew things we took for granted, including sharing food with friends. When we finally re-gather and rebuild and sit down to a nice dinner together, we’ll be starting from scratch, as it were, in a new world. We’ll never have that recipe again.
Appropriately, this series of twenty-four food paintings will be shown for the first time in a home. The Food Art Collection has existed as a gallery in curator Jeremy Buben’s apartment since 2017. We had already planned to show this work there this year, just before everybody went home and did everything, including showing art, online. Opening in June, all the paintings in I’ll Never Have that Recipe Again will be hung together on a real wall in a physical gallery. They will also displayed on the gallery’s website (and online store), and video tours and talks will be scheduled in the coming weeks. The paintings will remain on display in the physical space through the summer. We anticipate possibly moving into “phase 2” in Washington next month, which means the gallery will likely be open for in-person viewing by appointment in the coming months. A reception seems less likely, but stay tuned.