Amuse Bouche: Weekly Musings on Food & Life

21May09

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Eye Candy: An Interview with Sculptor Peter Anton

By Suzanne Lenzer

If you’re in New York, and hungry for an exhibit that’s both provocative and playful, you can’t do much better than a stop at the Allan Stone Gallery to see the work of Peter Anton (through June 19, 2009). His is a refreshing marriage of food and sculpture––one that made me curious about his thoughts on food and yes, what he likes to eat!

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SL: You’ve chosen to recreate food in your work. Can you describe the relationship you see between food/cooking and art?

PA: The world of food and the visual arts are very similar.  First, both can evoke powerful emotions. I believe that food has the capacity to stir something deep inside a person. The same can be said for a good work of art. 

At the same time, in both food and art different colors make people feel a certain way and can stimulate a person’s senses either in a positive or negative way.  For instance, it’s known that blue food is the least appealing while other bright colors can be tantalizing.  In art, when the human portrait is painted in shades of blues, this can make a viewer feel hopeless and gloomy.

As for textures, if a chef creates a dish and something goes wrong and it turns out like formless slop, well that can be very unappetizing even though the flavors are correct.  Similarly, if I sculpt a giant doughnut properly, you can imagine putting it in your mouth and letting the colorful icing dissolve at bit on the roof of your mouth before biting the soft and delicate tasty dough.

Also, in both cooking and art you are allowed a degree of variation for your own special creative signature to shine through. In both disciplines you build layers and layers, whether it’s ingredients and spices or paints and resins—the cook or the artist layers flavors, colors, and textures to create a full-bodied and richly visually appealing result

Whether you are a cook or an artist, you are ultimately looking for approval and appreciation for your efforts from those who eat or view the work.

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SL: Your work is very appealing and whimsical, yet you’re making a serious statement about life and what food means to us, how it generates desire and passion. What’s your philosophy for finding this balance?

PA: I never take myself seriously but I am very serious about my work and what I am communicating through it.  I think there are far too many chefs and artists and the followers of both these worlds who exaggerate the importance of what they are doing.  They forget that there can be great inspiration, pleasure and fun but their pompous egos prevent them from letting go.  I am always aware of the balance between seriousness and whimsy. I think the subject matter of food can make some be dismissive of it.  But what could be more important than the key to life’s sustenance? 

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SL: Having said your work is playful, in fact some of it has a definite political slant, specifically your animals as food pieces. Can you tell me about what you’re exploring in these works?

PA: Although I am not a vegetarian, I was exploring the inescapable fact of the violence involved in the processing of our food supply.  Rather than face this reality we choose to ignore it and place these carcasses in a package with a bright sunny optimistic “fresh” sticker.

SL: How do you decide what you’re going to create—where do your choices originate and how do you decide to go with a more realistic approach versus a more surreal one (I’m thinking of the Danish as opposed to the colored breakfast plate)?

PA: I am always studying the food I eat and what others eat.  Whether I am in a supermarket walking through the bakery or meat section or whether I am watching the plates go by me in a restaurant, I am looking and thinking and imagining.  I look for colors, textures, and what I think would work on a larger scale.  Also what would be visually stimulating and what could provoke a reaction from within the viewer. 

I like creating my artwork realistically because of the enormous challenge involved and I feel the realistic nature of my sculptures almost guarantees a quick and honest response from the viewer. For an exhibition I once had in New York City, I thought it would be an interesting challenge to make food that was sculpted very real but painted surreally in bright wonderful colors.  I wanted to create familiar food forms but make them in unfamiliar colors without making them seem unappealing.  It was interesting to see if I could still get people to accept the works and stimulate them in an aesthetic way rather than a hungry way.

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SL: What kind of emotion or response do you want your work to elicit?

PA: In my sculptures I like to alter and overstate foods to give them new meanings. I have an innate reverence for the things we eat. Food brings people together and there is no better way to celebrate life. Through the use of humor, scale, irony, and intensity in my forms, the foods we take for granted become aesthetically pleasing and seductive in atypical ways. I like to create art that can lure, charm, tease, disarm and surprise. My sculptures put viewers in a vulnerable state so that I can communicate with their inner selves in a more honest and direct way. I do want to activate the hunger people have for the things that give them pleasure and force them to surrender. The sensual nature of the works stimulates basic human needs and desires that generate cravings and passion.

SL: Is there any food right now that you’re planning to take on in your work?

PA: Right now in my studio I am experimenting and developing and searching for a way to create the perfect giant cake.  I hope I find it!  I think I am on the right track.  Let them eat cake I say!

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SL: Let’s talk about real food for a minute. What do you eat for breakfast? What do you snack on?

I guess I must need some sense of order and control in my life so I usually have the same thing for breakfast-hot or cold cereal and fruit.  On special occasions I’ll eat waffles, pancakes, bacon and eggs.

What I end up snacking on is what I am creating in the studio.  If I am making doughnut sculptures I need dozens to use as models for my work.  They must be fresh too.  So, darn it, I end up eating more than I should!

SL: What’s always in your refrigerator or cupboard?

PA: Orange juice, olive oil, garlic, red wine, onions, fruits, vegetables, and chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.

SL: This may seem a bit dark, what would your last meal be? Where would you want be, what would you eat and drink, and is there anyone in particular you’d like to share it with? 

PA: Sorry, I am too superstitious to answer a question like this!

SL: How would you describe your style of cooking?

PA: I like to be able to improvise a bit.  If an ingredient is unavailable I like to take the opportunity and take the dish in another direction.  One of my favorite meals that I make is broiled cod sprinkled with breadcrumbs on a bed of sautéed spinach, feta cheese and olive oil.

SL: Okay, last question: what music do you listen to while you’re creating, whether it’s in your studio or in the kitchen?

PA: I like all kinds of music when I work or cook.  But, I usually prefer something mindless and fun so I don’t have to think.  I think 70’s disco is perfect for this!

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