Thursday, July 19, 2012

Food Images: Obvious and Not Obvious

 We are used to viewing and understanding that food environments or food images in painting or photography are directly understandable.  We "read" them quickly.

 Megan Rye (b. Soeul, Korea, 1975) Food Court 2 , Grand Central Station, NY, 2004 [photo]


Henryk Fantazos (b. Kamionka Strumilowa, near Lvov, Ukraine 1944.  Now resides in Hillsborough,NC, and recently exhibited at the Hickory Museum of Art, Hickory, NC).
His paintings are a varied lot, some resembling Renaissance arranged portraits and others clearly Surrealistic, often taking food for the central image.  

Below: Fantazzos, Catfish Tableau [3 images from the series, Face of the South]

Gumbo Research

Harvest of Collards
Zeppelin Eaters, n.d. 

But below is another challenge:
 F. Scott Hess,  Generations, 2004 from the series, The Seven Laughters

In these seven works, Hess tells the story of a young artist (the model is a former student of Hess’s): in Light (2003), he paints illegal murals; in Firmament (2003), he stands naked above a pool; in Mind (2003), he is painting outside, surrounded by nature, and harassed by a mockingbird; in Generation (2004, below), he is a donor at a sperm bank (2006 exhibition).

The Warhol sweatshirt suggests both food and art  The female pin-up and DVD disc (porn?) are obviously there for his sexual stimulation. His seated position suggests a certain openness, though the nurse seems uninterested.  But 1 tsp sperm contains only 1 gram of protein but as much nourishment as 3 almonds or a whole orange.

Hackett-Freedman Gallery proudly presented an exhibition of new works by Los Angeles-based painter F. Scott Hess. This exhibition featureed the premiere of Hess’s newest series, The Seven Laughters of God and was accompanied by a 48-page fully illustrated exhibition catalog with essays by art critic Donald Kuspit and Hess.
In his catalog essay, Donald Kuspit refers to Hess as a New Old Master, while the artist refers to himself as a reluctant realist. In any case, Hess’s narrative paintings are deeply rooted in the complex formalism of the old masters and he speaks, according to Kuspit, in symbolic tongues and formal paradoxes. Hess also employs the old master tradition of portraiture, whether it be of himself, his students, or his family, to explore, celebrate, and question the sacred moments of domestic and creative life—family, sex, popular culture, and art (yet not necessarily in that order). It’s this investigation into what it means to be an artist, a husband, and father that imbues Hess’s works with force and tenderness, emotion and intellect—what Kuspit has coined in his essay as Hess’s New Humanism, his struggle to overcome inner and outer.

Looking back to the 15th century:

Below is a clear image of food preparation and the story is traditional and well-known from scriptureAs the NT relates, Jesus visits the home of two women, sisters of the famous Lazarus; Mary kneels at this feet to hear his word; Martha goes to the kitchen to prepare a welcoming meal.  

Mary and Martha are the most familiar set of sisters in the Bible. Both Luke and John describe them as friends of Jesus. Luke's story, though only four verses long, has been a complex source of inspiration, interpretation, and debate for centuries. John's story, which says the sisters had a brother named Lazarus, spans seventy verses. Though some earlier interpreters blended the person of Mary of Bethany with Mary Magdalene and the sinful woman of Luke 7:36-50, current scholars believe she was a different person.

The shorter version of Martha and Mary's story told in Luke 10:38-42 seems truncated when compared to the amplified version told in John 11:1-44 and 12:1-11. The brief Lucan version heightens the tension between the two women. Competent Martha, fulfilling the hospitality tasks required by both Middle Eastern culture and Judaism, comes off as a demanding shrew. In contrast, her sister Mary is often dismissed as a lazy dreamer even though Jesus commends her desire to learn from him [source:]

More to the point,  this painting CAN  be read as a cultural and aesthetic food statement: preparing a welcoming meal for a visitor was mandatory in that time.  The Christian church later interprets the event differently - praising Mary's spiritual hunger and denigrating  Martha's alternate response.

As time went  by, artists broke way from strictly religious  images and compiled their society's vision of food and its place in all parts of life, sacred or secular. 

Vergilius Master (French, early 15th century)   Mary Kneels Before Christ.  Martha Prepares Food, 1410

Mary kneels before Christ, Martha prepares food. Vergilius Master, 1410

The same story is illustrated some 250 years later in
Joaquim Beucelaer's  Christ at  Home With Martha and Mary, 1565.  Jesus and his followers are set well back, in another room and the kitchen scene is foregrounded.

'Christ at Home with Martha and Mary', Joachim Beuckelaer, 1565

Another century passes and we see the Spanish artist, Velazquez's  Kitchen Scene with Jesus in the House of Martha and Mary, 1618. Once again, the kitchen is emphasized, but more simply.  Apparently the meal is being made simpler, also.



Gregory Crewdson (b.1962, Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY),  Family Diner,

A listless family seems to be awaiting a daughter (photo on the wall) who enters naked
(right)towards her empty chair  at the table.  This is provocatively ominous, not sexy, and perhaps many young people seem this bizarre when they are ordered to eat with the family. Explores the question: what does it mean to be a family member?

Here is Crewdson's 1995 photo, Death in the Woods.
Equally mysterious, noir , the abandoned suitcase connoting terror.

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