Linda S. Fitz Gibbon
“The word ‘cabbage’ is derived from the old French word caboce which means ‘swollen head.’” Thus begins the text panel for the piece “Cabbage King,” part of Linda S. Fitz Gibbon’s solo exhibition You Are What You Eat, on display now in the South Valleys Library. An etymological lesson would seem like a dull way to start off an art exhibit—except that’s a pretty funny fact. The piece itself, a ceramic depiction of a fat, purple head of cabbage bedecked with a crown made of what appear to be toy missiles, is also really funny, if slightly disturbing.
“That’s my political statement,” says Gibbon, with a laugh.
The text panel goes on to explain that “a cabbage head” is 17th century slang for a stupid person, and that the title is also an allusion to Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and The Carpenter”:
“‘The time has come,” the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax,
Of cabbages and kings.”
That’s a lot of information packed into a sculpture of a vegetable.
Fruits and vegetables have long been part of the still life tradition in Western art—a tradition that Gibbon’s work connects to tangentially. She’s a ceramicist based in Davis, Calif., and this exhibit is a collection of wall-mounted, oversized plates of produce. Each of them is realistically representational, but also, in one way or another, metaphorical or symbolic.
Many of the pieces suggest a story—“Strange Bedfellows” seems to document the bedtime interactions of a pair of potatoes. The potatoes’ sprouts seem to reach out to each other. “On Thin Ice” depicts cactus leaves shaped like a heart. It’s a tribute to a gardener friend of Gibbon’s who died while ice skating.
“Clown Face” depicts a ceramic plate painted like a clown, with an avocado over one eye, a tomato over the other eye, an apple for the nose, and two contorted peppers over the mouth.
“That’s the most obvious face,” says Gibbon. “A lot of the time, I’m suggesting a face. But I usually try not to be that obvious.” But she says that she likes the way that, after looking at the face in Clown Face, the viewer starts to recognize faces in many of the pieces.
Gibbon doesn’t always depict food in her work, but she says it can be a rewarding source of inspiration. Her work is a reminder that, in addition to being rich in nutrients, fresh produce can be rich in aesthetic value. Gibbon’s work also offers a way of examining our relationship with food. Not only is food something we eat, it also inspires many of our expressions of speech and many of the ways we interact with each other and the world around us.
“I grew up on the East Coast, and I didn’t really have access to farm fresh stuff,” she says. “But I’ve lived in California for 20 years … I’m drawn to unusual shapes; it doesn’t have to paint a pretty picture. … I’m usually inspired by fruits and vegetables with a unique shape and form, and I think, ‘That would make an interesting piece.’”