New Work & Statement
This group of sculptures and ideas is focused primarily on food and food culture. At the most basic level the textures, colors, and behaviors of foods (and food packaging) are dynamic and visually rich. Furthermore, they invite themes relevant to culture, desire, basic bodily functions, design, and photography. I am inspired by classical still life painting, especially early Spanish and Dutch, and am experimenting with arrangements of foods, objects, and sculptures that explore a more contemporary still life landscape. I've broken down my work and ideas into a few categories to discuss further- food as material, food behavior, food/material ambiguity, food and non-food material synthesis, and still life.
Food as Material
1. The beginning of a collection of frozen compost, which I keep in garbage bags in a large freezer. The foods mix and freeze into different shapes, becoming a kind of abstract mass. It comes across like a bounty or feast, a gluttonous still life, yet it is refuse- partially rotten and a little bit revolting. When the collection has reached critical mass, I will display it as a pile on a table and light/photograph it like a classical still life painting.
2. Different colors of Jell-O layered in a square container as a kind of strata, then dumped out. I am interested in this as a material- luminous, shiny and active. It has undertones of geology, lava, and tectonic movement, all heavy earth phenomenons, yet it is jiggly and something kids eat.
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Foods, when cooked, sometimes have erratic or unexpected behavior. It's as if they transform into spontaneous sculptures- like in the case of these four. The first three being pizza, 1. an oversize pizza with the toppings drooling off, 2. A burnt frozen pizza- the heat has turned everything into a uniform carbon black, which comically reminds me of Louise Nevelson (3), and 4. A surprise and somewhat anatomical bubble. The last is a baking failure, or sculptural success. It is so easy for food to become estranged from itself- a little too much heat and its useless. Also the appearance is so essential- no one wants to eat something if it doesn't look good. Consuming food is as much a visual experience as it is a sensual one.
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I have been collecting candies and snacks for years, drawn to them by their colors, textures, shapes, packaging, and cultural significance. The collection informs my studio practice- I draw inspiration from the bright colors and vague shapes. More recently I've started incorporating these foods into my actual work. Paint and many types of food are almost interchangeable visually. With acrylic I can make a convincing cheese sauce (5), and a jelly bean with a similar color and texture to the original (2). Food and material cross over in other ways, like the cheese from a cheese snack on my fingers (6). It's the cousin to paint on hands during a studio session. Image 1 is straight acrylic on foods- golden paint on peeps and gingerbread. The 3rd image is pure foam, carved in the shape of a loaf. The slices cut off suggest a readiness for eating, which I think is very interesting- it encourages us to consider foam as edible, what it would be like to actually bite into the stuff.
Another ambiguous element to these foods is their composition. They are so processed that their lifespan is much longer than that of raw foods. Candy and chips, made mostly of processed corn and artificial food coloring, can stay stable for months to years. On a spectrum that starts at hand picked apple and ends at plastic, these foods lie somewhere in the middle.
Food and Non-food Material Synthesis
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The relative stability of these processed foods make it more realistic to use them in actual sculptures. I play a lot with what happens when you put paint on a food- how it behaves. Some candies start to melt from the moisture, but dry as the paint does, like this combination of hot dog bun, acrylic, and jelly beans (4). Image 1, a plate of 'nachos,' consists of real corn chips and acrylic. The chips are relatively unaltered by the paint, and only harden over time. The cheese is a thin acrylic paint, while the olives and shreds of lettuce are bits of thicker acrylic, formed into different shapes and dried. Image 2 relates two versions of a hot dog- on the left a gummy candy, the right a foam and acrylic dog on a real bread bun. Likewise, the 3rd image is a gummy candy hamburger paired with a foam and acrylic soda. In both situations the objects are representing something else, edible or not- I am intrigued by these 'meta-foods.'
For me, there are two concepts that frame these kinds of sculptures. The first is a kind of Absurdist motivation on my part. I like things that contradict themselves, or encourage us to try and reason with irrationality. To me, this is a fundamental reality in life- constantly trying to accept and understand things that don't make sense. I like making things that embrace this mental struggle. The second is a theory in the field of human aesthetics known as the 'uncanny valley.' Research has shown that when human features are very closely imitated, but not perfectly, the response is revulsion among human observers. This graph charts that phenomenon.
I think of the gummy candies as being somewhere on the graph similar to the stuffed animal, whereas the foam hot dog and acrylic nachos could be considered prosthetic foods. I like playing with this element of confusion and the grotesque, a kind of Surrealist space.
The still life genre has a rich history and is an appealing vessel for the objects I've collected and created. These three pairings reflect a few themes I intend to explore further.
In the first instance I've paired an arrangement of my own with Dutch painter Adriaen van Utrecht't Vanitas: Still life with Bouquet and Skull, c. 1642. They reflect the traditional 'vanitas' theme- a reminder of the fleeting nature of life. In an attempt to contemporize my arrangement I included an out of date television. Since the majority of television broadcasting transitioned to digital signals in 2009, this old T.V. only plays static. In the context of viewing television, this is read as 'nothing,' but is actually a droning and abstract video.
Spanish still life painters commonly used a specific compositional element- the larder. This is exemplified in image 4, Juan Sanchez Cotan's Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, c. 1600. The cool, recessed box enclosing his subjects is a sort of pantry common in the contemporary Spanish home. It is an excellent compositional device- naturally the storage place of foods and fitting as a figurative stage for symbolism. Image 3, my counterpart, consists of a painted canvas with two foam sculptures adhered to the surface. The idea is to recreate the image of the larder as a stage for the sculptures, which can be configured and photographed in different ways. I also like the absurdist notion of a soda and hamburger in a 17th century Spanish larder.
The 5th image is a photo of my studio table full of sculptures, collected things, and various creative detritus. It in itself resembles a busty still life, such as Frans Snyder's Still Life with Grapes and Game, c. 1630, and I am interested in the idea of refuse still lifes- the ones that appear magically on the street and in junky back yards.