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When Food Becomes Art

Girl with a Pea Earring

Have you seen the celebrated work of art? This well-known portrait features a young woman looking over her shoulder, set against a dark backdrop, with a glimmering earring dangling to catch your eye. Only the one we’re talking about is made from food – actual food – by Claire Salvo in Los Angeles in 2020, rather than oil on canvas painted by Johannes Vermeer in the Netherlands in 1665.

In the pandemic, peas take precedence over pearls for at least one artist.

Salvo has devoted her career to time-consuming hyper realism pencil drawings of faces that last forever. But in this new normal, artists – like everyone – are being forced to work with different mediums, rethink modes of expression and use what’s available. Food has become an unlikely driving force and raw material behind Salvo’s latest collection.

“A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my living room floor playing with food, with different ingredients splayed out everywhere,” says the 30-year old artist, recalling the genesis of her first work of food art. She says she had seen the #GettyChallenge on social media with people responding to the Los Angeles museum’s call:

"We challenge you to recreate a work of art with objects (and people) in your home.

🥇 Choose your favorite artwork

🥈 Find three things lying around your house

🥉 Recreate the artwork with those items.

And share with us.”

Salvo admits that she wasn’t exactly called to that prompt.

“But one day,” she says, “I decided to push carrots and lentils around a canvas and people loved it.”

She uploaded the final product to her Instagram @clairesalvo on April 16, captioned: “girl with a pea earring • a vegan vermeer // made with nori, celery, triscuits, carrots, pepper, bread, banana peel, penne and a single pea.” This would be the first of eleven pieces of food art she has now completed, shared digitally, and destroyed.

That final step is certainly a new part of the artistic process for Salvo.

Her bold, graphic, modern red lentil Roy Lichtenstein took three hours to create and 10 seconds to destroy. A gluten-free Dalí of lentils and black bean pasta was similarly broken down in but a brief moment with the swipe of her hand. “Destruction is reality,” and also part of the appeal for both Salvo herself and a rapidly growing base of fans and followers.

“After I mess it up, I put the lentils back in the bag,” says Salvo, reasoning that they are perfectly fine. The fresh food goes into a Tupperware.

“It's kind of like meal prep,” she adds, “just pausing in the process to take some photos and then resuming afterwards.”

The Pennsylvania-raised vegetarian-erring-on-the-side-of-vegan has been drawing since she could hold a pencil, cooking for years and, like so many of us, making dinner every single night while in quarantine. She is all about having fun with food and puns, while actively fighting food waste, and learning to get more creative with how she slices, dices and combines ingredients. It shows in her versions of The Scream by Edvard MUNCH, “dough” Vinci's Mona Lisa, Picasso-inspired Demoiselle d’Pita, and other fresh takes on classics.

“There is something about this that seems accessible. It’s just outside the realm of what anyone could do, so I’ve wanted to keep doing it,” says Salvo, who is enjoying this unexpected creative journey. She uses what she has in her pantry, and marvels at how family, friends and strangers alike are responding so positively to the fun projects. She doesn’t know where it will lead, nor how this art fits in with the specific craft she has been honing for years. Yet she does recognize the potential in food art, especially in a time when brands can’t conduct product shoots as they once did and people are home-cooking like never before.

"There’s a lot more untapped potential with this that I want to see through, and I want to capitalize on the momentum,” Salvo says.

She invested in a camera to capture her ephemeral works in a high-quality permanent format (after people started asking for prints) and just solidified her first brand partnership with Imperfect Foods – a mission-driven company that prides itself on appreciating more than face value of edible goods and reducing food waste.

We’re all experimenting in quarantine, but Salvo has gone above and beyond the sourdough starters and banana bread crazes, taking creative and culinary inspiration to new heights that are truly museum-worthy. We can’t wait to see what art masterpieces she’ll “butcher” next.

Written for and originally published on Chef Tyler Florence's Full piece here.


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