Food as muse

Turner exhibit explores the art of sustenance

“Shadows,” serigraph by Joe Price.

“Shadows,” serigraph by Joe Price.

Photo by John Domogma

Sustenance: Food/Life/Art, on display March 3-April 9 at The Turner. Curator’s talk Thursday, March 10, 5:30 p.m., in PAC 134.
The Janet Turner Print Museum
Across the breezway from the entrance to Meriam Library
Chico State

What do we think about when we think about food? Flavors, of course. Aromas, too. Textures, certainly. But also, and perhaps because our brains are designed to produce visual images that relate to our other senses, we initially think about how food looks. Thus, visual cues can trigger references to all of the other sensory associations we carry with us regarding food in all of its manifestations. And our visual associations may be linked to aspects of food that are variously—and sometimes simultaneously—iconic, meditative, ceremonial, seductive, commercial, biological, historical, cultural.

With this premise in mind, guest curator Joan Giampaoli, an associate professor in Chico State’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science, has—in collaboration with The Janet Turner Print Museum’s director and curator, Catherine Sullivan—assembled a 29-piece array of prints exploring and depicting food as a subject of and inspiration for fine art for an exhibit titled Sustenance: Food/Life/Art, opening today, March 3, at the Turner.

On a recent afternoon, Sullivan brought out the yet-to-be-hung selection of prints and arranged them in a smorgasbord of food art on a gallery table.

One that immediately stood out was Joe Price’s “Shadows,” a color serigraph depicting in muted tones and very fine texture a row of wrapped citrus fruit in a wooden crate. The grain of the wood, the wrinkles in the paper, the texture of the skin of the one partially unwrapped fruit and the shadows that define all of those elements are presented in nearly photographic detail.

Equally striking is Herlinde Spahr’s surreal, hand-tinted lithograph “Silk and Stone 1,” in which a pair of apparently biomechanoid hands suspend the picture of a stemmed, dewdrop-spattered apple on a piece of silk over a landscape of rounded stones. Intruding in the bottom left corner is a cracked black-and-white checkerboard across from a traffic “Yield” sign rendered with mirror lettering. Framing the scene is what may be a scallop-edged crust of sliced bread. It’s a piece that makes one hungry for explication, but which is also satisfying in its mystery.

More abstract in a not-quite-Cubist mode is Sunol Alvar’s colored lithograph on embossed paper, “Still Life With Dove.” Categorized as a “ceremonial” image, the piece includes a stylized bowl of unidentifiable fruit from which the silhouette of a white dove peers at the diffused profile portrait of a woman. The images of the fruit bowl, a book, a pitcher, and a balcony door float on a white background intricately embossed with geometrical abstractions.

No collection of food-related prints would be complete without one of Andy Warhol’s iconic pop art Campbell’s Soup cans. In this case, it’s the untitled “Hot Dog Bean” flavor, with its “Stout Hearted Soup” banner and the subscript “Tender Beans and Little Frankfurter Slices” enhancing its humorous appeal.

Of the five pieces in the show that illustrate plant life in realistic detail, I found the aquatint etching “Man and Nature #7 Tool,” by Brian William Seace, most compelling in its rendering of a scene featuring a four-tined garden rake among corn stalks, grass stems and plant leaves. The pattern filling in the background is a perfect abstract complement to the realistically detailed foreground.

As a whole, Sustenance is a rich collection of beautifully wrought food images from the Turner’s archives, a show that provides a satisfying taste of one of the most enduring and nourishing subjects in art.