Turning Snacks Into Art

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Ashley Smallwood is a Canadian artist who has taken the art of food painting into the twenty-first century. Her snack paintings are a revelation; art that is part historical archive and social commentary while at the same time possessing a sense of fun laced with a strange beauty.

 

Fresco from Pompeii

Fresco from Pompeii

 

Throughout history, food has secured a place as nourishment for the body and soul. And since the earliest days of civilization, hunters, gatherers and farmers have provided cooks and chefs and artists with the raw materials for their art. Food in the hands of an artist becomes cuisine, reflecting the culture and fashions of a society, and for just as long painters have been capturing the beauty, allure and mystique of food.

 

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Just as cuisine has evolved throughout the ages, so too have the subject matter and the sensibilities of the artists capturing these images. The walls of Egyptian tombs are decorated with paintings of food; the belief was that these would become real in the afterlife and give sustenance to the deceased. In the pottery of Classical Greece, the mosaics and frescos of ancient Rome, floors and walls are adorned with images of fruit, wine, fish, meat and fowl, breads, desserts and feasting.

Throughout the middle ages and the renaissance, artists turned to ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration and the art of still life painting was taken to new heights. Who amongst us did not grow up in a house with something like this hanging somewhere in the house?

 

Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825) Still Life with Cake

Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825) Still Life with Cake

 

Jump ahead to the nineteen sixties and we have pop artists like Andy Warhol making the commonplace extraordinary, and vice versa. Still, that soup can is to twentieth century America what the fish frescoes were to the ancient Romans.

 

Campbell's Soup 1 Andy Warhol, 1968

Campbell’s Soup 1 Andy Warhol, 1968

 

Ashley Smallwood hails from Newfoundland but has lived in Toronto since 2006. Her snack paintings, originally begun as Christmas gifts for friends and family combine the sensibilities of still life, pop-art, familiarity and whimsy. Bright, colourful and fun, they also make a subtle statement regarding the ubiquitous fast-food consciousness that permeates our daily life. The vivid paintings are totally fresh and original, yet awaken a nostalgia of sorts for both boomers and millennials. Hawkins Cheezies! They’re from Belleville! Popeye cigarette candies! They don’t even make them anymore! (That would just be wrong!) Carnation milk! My grandma always had a can of this on the table for tea!

 

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Like many pop artists, Ms Smallwood makes the ordinary, everyday object a thing of strange beauty and fun. And who knows, a thousand years from now, when archaeologists unearth the cities of the twenty-first century, will they come across Ashley’s snack paintings of cheezies? And if they do, what will they think?

 

Ashley Smallwood in her studio

Ashley Smallwood in her studio

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