Amuse Bouche: Weekly Musings on Food & Life

07May09

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Almost Edible Art

By Suzanne Lenzer

Watching a garden grow, especially a vegetable garden, is a lesson in how fleeting time is. One day you put some seeds in the ground and a week later they have come to life, if just barely. A bit of rain (or a lot of rain as is the case this spring on the East Coast) and some sun and they don’t resemble seeds at all, but plants. In fact, some are already recognizable as food.

Bearing witness to this rapid alteration from barren trees and snow-covered ground to lush foliage and vibrant life makes the mind wander, and somehow today I found mine reflecting on a show I saw two years ago in Paris at the Musée du Luxembourg (a trip that feels like only yesterday; further evidence of how time flies I suppose).

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The memory of this show comes back to me now because it featured the work of the 16th century Italian painter Arcimboldo––a man who made dark, whimsical, and charming portraits out of food. Yes, with pears, pickles, artichokes, cabbage, and even fish, Arcimboldo reconstructed the human face––giving each portrait a slightly demonic yet endearing expression.

His images, which remind me of characters from a gothic children’s book, were hauntingly displayed in darkened galleries, with spotlights and mirrors directed at the paintings to further amplify their magical yet realistic qualities. Some of the faces in the show were made out of books or other man-made objects, but the ones that resonate with me still are those that borrowed from the natural world. 

 

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I suppose I think about Arcimboldo’s work now because of how modern they feel, even though they’re hundreds of years old. I look at his paintings and recognize the garden peas––those that form the eyebrows of one of his characters––as the same kind growing in my garden today. It’s a testament to the resilience of nature that the elements of his work have changed little if at all, but the world that he knew when painting them has changed irrevocably.

The face of my vegetable garden changes daily, and will eventually die off as the months go by; a process that emphasizes and attests to the speed of our own lives. Thankfully we have art and artists to immortalize pieces of the world, giving us the odd moment in a dark gallery to pause and slow it all down.

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