This commissioned piece for Team Diva Real Estate practically painted itself.
When I first met screenprinting, it was love at first sight: The squeegees, the screens, the physicality of pushing the ink through the holes, the feeling of being a human printing press. But mostly I think I fell in love with it because it forces me to reduce images into their simplest, most essential forms and to just go ahead and DO it already. With a painting you can futz around with it for awhile and dither, putting off major decisions. It is nearly impossible to this in screenprinting. Should you lose your focus and start to futz, the punishment will be swift and obvious. And it’s just paper, so you try it again.
If there was anything my pandemic-addled brain needed forced upon it this summer, it was focus. Before any of this nonsense started, I had already been working on eliminating the dithering from my painting. I was wondering if I could paint in big, bold simple shapes of primary colors, and yet somehow treat my subject matter, particularly the people, with the same depth and dimension. The tiny food paintings were a move in this direction: the colors stayed clear and the shapes simple, yet they were also painterly. They were a successful experiment, but also a pretty low-hanging fruit cocktail, being so small and not on fabric. I then started several slightly larger paintings on fabric, but I’ve set them aside for a bit while I pursue the radical simplification of screen printing.
Andy Warhol famously said he wanted to be a machine. I finally understand what he meant. The particular machine I want to be is a color separation machine, the one that takes a multicolored image and decides how many dots of cyan, magenta, yellow, or black it takes to reproduce the colors. Nowadays that process is done with Photoshop or the like, but back in the day they’d take four pictures of the image, each through a different colored filter and a screen that divided the image into little dots of density.
I wrote a while back about my obsession with CMYK printing. It hasn’t abated. In fact, for the last few years, I’ve only painted with those four colors, closely approximating the printing primaries, but continued to mix them like paint. For this project I am printing with only one color at a time, controlling the density with transparency. The color separations I’m performing are radically simplified from even the traditional photostat process: Each image is made by pressing the ink through a tyvek stencil I hand-cut with an exacto knife. I determine what each color’s stencil will look like by transfering the image by hand on to each piece of tyvek, using only a carbon-paper-like material. It reminds me of using old mimeograph machine stencils. While the local communal printing spaces remain closed, and with them my access to fancier equipment, I’m really enjoying working so low-tech, using tools and materials I have on hand.
The Joy of Jello print is a limited edition—there are only 15!—and available on my shop page. Each print is crafted with by my own inky hands, signed, and numbered. These prints are part of the Artist Support Pledge: To support one another, artists around the world are selling affordable work (under $200 or thereabouts when you convert to pounds, euros, etc.). Once I’ve made $1000 in sales, I will buy some art from another artist (I can’t wait!). This is the first of several print series I’ll be selling as part of the pledge. Stay tuned.
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.