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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Food Sculpture

Fruit Basket, 16th century, Giuseppi Archimboldo
two paintings in one, just hang it upside down.
There was a time when one mentioned the word "sculpture" the image that came to mind was automatically a white marble statue. However, ever since Picasso discovered glue and started poking through the Parisian dumpsters for cheap art supplies, the range of acceptable sculptural media has broadened to include virtually any three-dimensional substance. I've long pointed out that artists choose their content based upon its importance in their lives. In dealing with food sculpture, that same axiom may also apply to their choice of media as well. I mean, what's more important to an artist than food (putting aside sleep and sex).

The Cupcake Wars
--judges high on cupcakes.
Actually artists started painting food before they began sculpting it. Actually, the first food sculptures probably came from the hands of confectioners and bakers rather than artists, though today, that line has pretty much disappeared. Just watch The Cupcake Wars on the Food Channel sometime (left). One of the earliest artists to explore food sculpture as a subject was the 16th century Italian painter, Giuseppi Archimboldo (top). He virtually made a career of it. Of course, the major problem food sculptors encounter over their painting counterparts is that of archival considerations. Modern day photography helps, but no one has yet developed a method of preserving food sculpture more than a few days before a feast for sore eyes becomes little more than a feast for more flies.

Automotive calories--Rice Krispies sculpture
Years ago when I taught school, I had as an optional art activity I called edible sculpture. Along with an assortment of fruits and vegetables, cakes and breads, one of my students developed a whole new sculpture medium--Rice Krispie treats (having since become quite popular). Her cereal and marshmallow creme creations each year came to be highly anticipated by her classmates and grew ever more sophisticated, involving candies, icing, and painted food coloring. The best part, was that after presenting her work, photographing it, and discussing it, we all got to "evalueat" it.

Supposedly an owl, though the sculptor
took considerable liberties with the beak.
One of the staples of cruise ship chefs is the buffet with edible sculptural decorations (no one ever actually eats them, of course). Watermelons are probably the favored medium (after ice, if you want to call that food). Here, fruits and vegetables dominate and ingenuity, coupled with excellent manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination, are a must (those knives are sharp). I've even seen sculpted lard as well as butter. My wife loves this sort of thing and never misses one of their "how to" workshops. Her own efforts tend to be limited to edible flower arrangements, which do sometimes get eaten ("ooo, it's too pretty to eat.")
Cruise chef culinary creativity.

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