“Big” topics: politics, gender, class division, religion are somehow connected with what and how we eat. Even choosing local products or ignoring certain brands, we declare our position. As the authors of the Estetico project note, the destruction of ugly vegetables in Europe is also a symbolic act, a struggle for aesthetics.
Today, a photo on Instagram, even far from a masterpiece, can tell us about how the author is with money, what habits and lifestyle he has. At the same time, hidden meanings in images of food are not a new phenomenon. She was invariably associated with eroticism, wealth, exoticism and allowed “to show what is hidden.”
The transfer to literature, painting and mosaic art of feasts and bacchanalia took place in Ancient Greece and Rome. Yes, and in Egypt there was a tradition to depict food on the inner walls of burial chambers and coffins: it was believed that the drawings would nourish the deceased in his “life after death.” In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the image of food takes on a symbolic character, becomes an allegory for certain values and virtues.
Van Dyck, still life with fruit, nuts and cheese, 1613
The food was portrayed realistically with many details. At the forefront were Dutch and Flemish artisans who depicted plentiful and generous portions. They especially loved game, poultry, lobster, shellfish, exotic citrus fruits, grapes. Expensive delicacies symbolized the chic lifestyle with which the owner of the painting dreamed of identifying himself. But sometimes such works served as a reminder of the frailty of luxury or the danger of gluttony. Some canvases called for abstinence, others for constant celebration and pleasure. Rotting fruits, for example, could symbolize that “everything will pass” and life is fleeting.
Jan Vermeer, painting The Milkmaid, 1658-1661
Food helped to “freeze” the moment, to slow down the flow of time, to show the mastery of observing real objects, masterly possession of color and work with form. Thus, Jan Vermeer took a different path than his Dutch contemporaries. In his famous painting “The Thrush”, he used expensive pigments, rich colors, amazing lighting to show the simplest food – milk and bread.
Towards the end of the 19th century, artists began to increasingly turn to depicting people eating or socializing while sitting at a table. For example, the painting “The Potato Eaters” by Vincent Van Gogh is built on this very thing. The artist wrote in his letter to his brother Theo that he was trying to show peasants who work honestly and hard.
Vincent Van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885
Other artists, such as Paul Cezanne, used still life to show the possibilities of new art. In Still Life with Drapery, the artist deliberately distorts perspective in order to emphasize the rejection of the outdated principles of constructing a still life, in which everything is shown from the same angle.
Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Draperies, 1895
Auguste Renoir, “The Rowers’ Breakfast”, 1880-1881
In the XX century, artists deform lines, rethink the color, sharpness of the image, work with a plane, which means that food loses its shape and recognition. But this is only one side of the issue. What we eat allows artists to observe a changing society. American Edward Hopper’s painting “Tables for Ladies”, written in 1930, allows us to speculate about the Great Depression, money, class. The scene shows customers eating at a restaurant table, while two women – a cashier and a waitress – work in the hall. It is worth remembering that not so long ago these professions became available to women, and “tables for ladies” were specially advertised: before, a woman dining alone was considered a prostitute.
Edward Hopper, Tables for Ladies, 1930
Wayne Thibault, Cakes, 1963
In the mid-50s, artists are just as actively using food as a way to speak out, and primarily pay attention to mindless consumption and mass production. Andy Warhol criticizes the homogeneous society, using 32 Campbell soup cans lined up; Wayne Thibault paints cakes symbolizing endless optimistic prosperity; Roy Lichtenstein creates a surreal “Still Life with a Crystal Bowl” – on it the fruits seem to be cut out of a magazine, deprived of life.
With the emergence of the “There is Art” movement in the 60s, food leaves the canvas and becomes a material for creativity, just like paper and pencil. So, to emphasize the social connotations of food, the Swiss artist Daniel Sperri creates trap paintings with objects of reality: the remains of the meal are attached to the table with a special spray, and the dishes and cutlery are varnished: the table turns into a painting.
Daniel Sperry, Tipped Table Aesthetics
Yana Sterbak, “Vanitas. Anorexic Albino Meat Dress “
Another way of handling food was chosen by Thai artist Rirkit Tiravaniya. He created the performance Untitled in 1992. In Gallery 303 (Soho), the author set up the kitchen and fed everyone with Thai curry. Thus, food in his reading became a means of social interaction: those who came could communicate, be active participants in the creation of a work of art.
Food inspires artists over and over again, and this will continue as long as both exist in the world.
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