This commissioned piece for Team Diva Real Estate practically painted itself.
Late last year, I heard from my fabulous collector Lisa Picard. She was looking to acquire a painting for a modern getaway spot she’d designed and built in northern California, and had her eye on this one . . .
Alas, this particular midcentury goddess had already found herself a home. So Lisa decided to commission work specifically for her new place. She was drawn to the restfulness and solitude of the lady in her spare-yet-sort-of-busy modernist expanse. Lisa built her country retreat to be a relaxing gathering place for herself and her community of outdoorsy friends. She was looking for art that would embody restfulness, and also the dualistic nature of her work and life: developing dynamic, urban work places in big cities, but feeling equally at home pedaling her bike through rugged mountain terrain.
The commissioned work was destined for the guest room, which is in a separate structure from the main house and connected by a patio. It has a garage door that can open the entire room to the outside. The house epitomizes the California ideal of indoor-outdoor living—which is of course right up my alley! We ultimately decided on two facing paintings: One would capture the reviving solitude of this creative urban dweller’s country place; and the other the communal nature of both work and play. (Of course, at the time we had no idea that solitude would soon become a recurring theme for everyone, and communal bonhomie a fond memory.)
I spent the spring and summer of 2020 developing the imagery for the two concepts. The mid-century ladies whom I normally pilfer from magazines to use in my paintings are models posing as housewives. In my work they often stand in for the viewer; in this case the viewer was a CEO of a large company and her contemporary, active, nature-loving pals. The main character in the solitude/interior piece had to draw them in and feel like a kindred spirit, despite her fifties-housewife trappings.
I spent a lot of time on the geometry and perspective of the interior. As in the painting that inspired it, the space was to be largely defined by a tile floor. For this kind of project, I use a chalk line to draw the receding parallel lines of the floor and walls, anchored by pushpins at the vanishing points. I could geek out for hours about the particulars of perspective (and I have), but I’ll spare the reader that part of the journey. This interior took elements of two houses from a book of Julius Schulman’s photographs.
I swiped this gal from a Culligan ad. The magazine that she’s pretending to read features, not surprisingly, another Culligan ad. Like many of my star players, she’d appeared in a previous painting.
Choosing the fabric is critical; it sets the tone of the painting, and is the one thing (besides the shape) that can’t be changed. The choice is part instinctual, part circumstantial (a model had just scored the brown fabric and gifted it to me). In this case I was focused mostly on the main character’s outfit. I had already decided that the left one would be her top and the right one her pants, and planned to leave some matching curtains in the distance. The one on the right is kind of wacky, and I nearly swiped it for a dress for myself, but the sympathetic vibration between the stripes and the different shades of orange in the two together won out.
The second painting was to be set at night, from the outside looking in, and with multiple characters, perhaps at a party (remember those?) or its aftermath (yes, even more fondly).
This house is also a composite. I usually draw it first, then draw potential characters on separate pieces of paper, so I can pin them up and move them around. Scale is a matter of trial and error: I move a figure up and down on the drawing, to find a believable spot for someone that size. Sometimes they never feel quite right in the space and I have to toss them. Many of these people were cut from the scene.
The shape required me to build three irregular panels, one with five sides.
The phone lady is another recurring character from my past work. Her friend in the chair was someone I’d been wanting to use for years: she had me at the knee socks, but her setting is intriguing, too—a sort of flattened theatrical space. Perhaps the corrugated translucent fiberglass will make its way into some future painting.
I chose more oranges and browns for the fabric, to unite the palette of the two facing works. The brown tiki print would be someone’s groovy swimsuit, and also double as some sixties “primitive” art on the wall.
Both final paintings, and their stunning home, can be viewed on my commissions page.
The Food Art Collection is now open by appointment!
You can view my new show of 24 tiny round food paintings, I’ll Never Have That Recipe Again, in the lovely apartment gallery, with masks and at a safe distance, through August. Contact Jeremy to make an appointment. All the work is also viewable in their online gallery.
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.
My first food paintings were of eggs. Lots of eggs. Eggs distributed one to a plate, eggs enshrined in stainless steel bowls. I was working out, among other things, my angst-ridden resistance to the cult of motherhood and its reproductive mandate. I had just begun to pilfer 195o’s magazines for imagery, and at the time I was particularly struck by how busy all the ladies pictured in their pages were with countless projects —shining floors, whipping up cakes, contemplating their kitchen cupboards—but really, it all seemed to me to be just a sublimation of the main message: Their true and only purpose in life was to make more tiny Americans. It didn’t seem to me, in the 1990’s, that the message had altered much. It still doesn’t.
On a visit home to Cleveland around this time, I asked Mary Beth, my very brilliant but troubled oldest sister, whether she would be attending the following day’s family Christmas gathering. She replied cryptically, “Of course I’m coming: I’m making . . .deviled eggs.” She slowly drew out the name of the favorite midwestern delicacy, lingering on the “devil”, imbuing it with a significance I could only guess at. My cousin, an academic who is never at a loss for meaning, pointed out that perhaps here lay, in the humble deviled egg, my next subject matter. Take the egg—embodiment and symbol of the female’s power to create life—remove its core, fluff it up with mayonnaise and reassemble it into a decorative appetizer, a mere warmup to the main event of manly meatitude. The project of the patriarchy in a nutshell. Or eggshell.
I’m Making Deviled Eggs (1999) was something of a break-out painting. It won first prize in a juried show in 2000, which led to my first commercial gallery representation. It was the first time, after working in near-isolation for ten years, that I felt that my art was of interest to a wider world, the first hint that I could have a professional career at it, and maybe even one day make art full time. I had named the painting in an ironic nod to my sister’s cryptic quote. Mary Beth died in 2010 under rather unhappy circumstances. In retrospect, given what a pivotal moment this piece represents, artistically and professionally, I’m happy I did. It feels less ironic and more like an homage to a very smart woman born at the wrong time, whose potential, like that of the deviled eggs, was never fully realized.
I’ve since expanded the menu considerably, but I’m still drawn to those highly decorative concoctions that seem to be channeling an enormous amount of female creativity into bizarre and ephemeral projects. The theme of gutting something, mixing the innards with other ingredients, primarily mayonnaise, and stuffing them back into their original container to create a similacrum of the original—it recurs again and again. (Twice-baked potato, anyone?) It is, come to think of it, also an apt description of what I myself do with the ephemera of the American Dream.
My work will be featured in the upcoming exhibition Face First at the Bainbridge Museum of Art, on lovely Bainbridge Island, Washington. Curated by Greg Robinson and Amy Sawyer,
Face First eyes over thirty Puget Sound area artists whose work includes portraiture, focused especially on the human face. Artists include: Juliette Aristides, Fong Baatz, Romson Bustillo, Terry Furchgott, Bryant Goetz, Naomi Haverland, Aisha Harrison, Julia Harrison, Christopher Paul Jordan, Kathryn Lesh, Paul Marioni, Mark Kang-O’Higgins, Jane Richlovsky, Adair Freeman Rutledge, Jessica Rycheal, and Susan Singleton. This major group exhibition includes painting, photography, sculpture, glass, artist’s books, and mixed media.
The show kicks off with a reception on Saturday October 12 from 2-5 PM, followed by an Artists’ Party from 6-9 PM. It runs through February 23, 2020.