There’s a lot for the heart and mind and mental taste buds in the Art Access II Gallery, where the color palettes used by painters are almost merry-go-round rich.
Most unforgettable is Tess Cook’s oil-on-panel “Smooshed,” where a tropical blue turtle industriously works its way across the goo surface of a sparkly pink-frosted cake; on its poor back is a slightly smashed pink-frosted cupcake. What a sad party fellow he is; no birthday joy here, only a mocking burden, all the appeal of St. Patrick’s Day decorations on a closeout table at Smiths weeks after St. Patrick’s Day is over. Could this turtle be carrying our earth-burden of industry’s un-sweet damage done to our earth? He’s the earth, or his turtle shell is the ozone layer; that sick burden’s becoming too horrible to solve or bear. He cannot gain traction. The pink frosting is our industrial addiction: it’s under us and on us, now — no longer our comfort, ease, protection.
Loné Vilnius’s multimedia puzzle “Letter Eater” is another standout. Embedded somehow in a large block of ceramic is a copper mesh strainer, fine mesh with a raw coppery glitter. On top, showy as a rooster’s comb, is a pizza-shaped piece of wood, painted black. Tiny circlets and squares of letters dance on it, as if rolled from a board game’s tumbler and all landed magically right-side-up. Two wooden blocks painted black form its feet. It’s a mad clock, missing time; a man’s face is underneath the strainer, peering out with melancholy eyes, a Romeo who wanted his letter to be read by Juliet, or vice versa: but it’s too late.
Vilnius’s mixed media piece is a palate-cleanser here, in a room full of paintings of doughnuts (Terry Peterson, oil on canvas, “Donut Friday”), citrus fruit with ghostly blue afterimages (“Citrusy,” by Sue Martin, acrylic on panel), and Abigail Palmer’s small, winsome produce images (“Tomato Tumble,” “Bananas,” “Peach Slices,” small oils on cradled panels).
Jana Parkin, who has a trio of brilliant watercolors of treats and dinners, including minestrone, cake, and salmon pasta salad, also has a book called Kitchen Alchemy in Art Access’s gift shop: each recipe is accompanied by one drifting, brilliant watercolor after another by Parkin.
Jenni Eames’ “Home Cooking” glories in geometries of tin containers for TV dinners of long ago: peas have their home on the range at the belfry-crest top of the dinner-tin. Pale, layered ovalettes of turkey with a ladling of darker gravy are central. At sides — seeming to guard the more serious dinner food in the middle — are drafted-to-duty potatoes at the left, sword-sharp slivers of peaches in sweet goo on the right. They suggest a well-protected Garden of Eating, everything there for you; all you have to do is turn up with a fork to glory in the fruits of the farm. Choose your farm plot or channel: each food seems to be a small garden raised for you in a tiny plot; the once-strutting turkey was kept in a central pen, surrounded by peach trees, potato plants, and peas too. And this tin container has everything but antennae.
Deft paintings of steak (“Date Night Steak”) and cake (very simply titled “Cake”) by James McGee are splendid here. That drum-shaped uncut cake of pink looks like a cake left out in the rain; McGee has painted it in a hurry, it seems, before it dissolves. It’s almost a hatbox, with a big red button handle at its top — that candied cherry or strawberry at its top a dutiful detail added by baker to increase its price/prestige. (A same impulse might be felt by any hatbox-maker: a bright red nugget of a clasp might increase the hatbox’s desirability and price.)
“Date Night Steak,” also by McGee, strongly, strangely, also suggests a slice of cake. It’s unusually triangular, this raw beef, almost cakelike. Steak marbled with whitish fat, as a red velvet cake might be marbled, too, by swirls of cream cheese-vanilla batter. Lusciousness is suggested here, too, and perishability like that of cake. (Both cake’s and steak’s viability can be extended or sustained, as even human fertility can be, by a freezer, but they’re all a desperate save.) Its title links it, too, to the fragility and perishability of a young person’s romantic life, the human need to attract love, companionship, flattery; at very least, the courting or courted person’s desire to be desirable or satisfying in aspect.
Love! Food! Both as perennial as the grass, but bouts of love can be lasting or perishable as a snack or a meal. Such are the mirages/oases of food and love. Love, and foods, can happen at the heights of their power or beauty, but are, alas, so desperately fragile, too. The beauteous pink cake with its cherry top? It may not be a good cake at all. The same goes for the steak; it could be badly prepared. You find out.
Palate, a group show curated by the Art Access Gallery Committee, Art Access, Salt Lake City, through Oct. 11.
Rebecca Pyle is a writer and an artist with work in dozens of art/literary journals, in the United States and also in journals (in the English language) in Hong Kong and the U.K. and Northern Ireland, Belgium, India, France, and Germany. She graduated from the university the Wizard of Oz adored, the University of Kansas, where she studied art and lit. See rebeccapyleartist.com.