As we head into the end-of-the-year holiday season let’s spend some time talking about food. Food is obviously a fundamental and essential part of our lives. It is woven deeply into the fabric of every culture where it plays a major role in events as small as family gatherings and as large as religious high holidays. Food comforts us and food terrorizes us. It’s also the stuff of humor, fantasy and imagination. Here are two artists who have used food as a primary focus of their artwork.
Mark Ryden is a contemporary painter who creates images that share allegiances to classical realism, surrealism and symbolism…with a hearty tip of the hat to the kitschy portraits of big eyed children by Walter and Margaret Keane. On first glance his paintings seem innocent – meticulously rendered, filled with pastel colors and plenty of light – but as soon as you look closer you sense a mysterious disquieting world. Strange things are happening in the details. The logic that controls his painted scenes is the skewed logic of dreams, symbols and subconscious fantasies.
In the late 1990s Ryden produced an entire exhibition of paintings titled The Meat Show. One of his aims in creating these paintings was to highlight the way our modern culture refuses to see commercial butchered meat for what it is – the flesh of once living creatures. We look at steaks and ground beef, for example, as merely store bought commodities on par with pasta and ice cream. Once it is prepared and labeled it loses its connection to its true source and any moral qualms we may have had about killing animals are safely put aside.
In Ryden’s paintings meat gives up its anonymity and becomes something to focus on, to ponder, even to revere. These steaks and sausages are symbolic, mystical and important objects.
Pip & Pop is the pseudonym for the Australian artist Tanya Schultz. She creates large scale installations out of colored sugar, candy beads, gummy worms and a variety of pastel wonderland materials. Her eye candy environments are literally miniature worlds made of candy.
Every culture has myths and legends about utopias filled to overflowing with luxurious and indulgent foods. From ancient folk tales to the 14th century French legend of The Land of Cockaigne to The Big Rock Candy Mountain of the early 20th century labor movement, plentiful food, sugary sweets and the freedom to consume it all are often seen as the building blocks of heaven. Tanya Schultz creates complex and fanciful room-sized installations that evoke these ideal worlds.
Shultz’s installations are over-the-top tributes to pop culture, particularly the landscapes of video games. She also references the sand paintings of Australian Aborigines and Tibetan Buddhists. Her personalized worlds are patiently built as she pours and piles sugar into landscape forms across the gallery floor and then adds colorful accents.
But like the fleeting buzz we get from sugar, a Pip & Pop installation is impermanent. They exist momentarily and then disappear.