“It’s a strange thing that the kind of plate you eat off should change the taste of what’s on it”
What inspires your work?
Despite my drawings being very decorative and working on projects with biomedical scientists and physicists, it’s the ordinary aspects of everyday existence that inspire me. I want to celebrate the 99% of our life that we spend on autopilot.
How did you become to be interested in showing food and culinary experiences?
I can’t think of any social activity I like more than people coming together, cooking together, talking, eating and drinking. The ritualistic, celebratory aspect of food also plays a huge role in my work.
I’m also fascinated by organic textures; how mould grows, how rocks form and how bones replace themselves every seven years. I’m amazed that a species of coral, a type of cheese or rock formations can all have same texture and that I can mix a ceramic glaze that forms bubbles to look like the inside of bread. Someone once described my work as ‘meat-scapes’ because of this use of this textural substitution; depicting minerals and mountains that turn into meat.
What effect does your experience with science have on your work with food?
It’s a question of process, there’s methodology in design and methodology in making. I use experimentation and my knowledge of chemistry when I mix ceramic glazes. Similarly, bakers and chefs use their knowledge of how substances interact at different temperatures.
Physicist Richard Feynman wrote a poem called The Whole Universe in a Glass of Wine where he seems to liken the swirling, evaporating liquid in the glass, how the glass is distilled from rocks, the discovery of fermentation and the experience of drinking the wine, to the existence of the universe. It’s partly thanks to this poem that Jiggling Atoms – a physics illustration project I run with fellow artist Natalie Kay-Thatcher – exists.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
My latest painting commission – The Moss Crest Project – is a huge painting I’ve been working on (not exclusively) for about four years. It features a number of references to food and celebration; I’ve drawn eggs, cornucopias and goblets that you have to find like a culinary ‘Where’s Wally’.
A recent project I’m working on called the Magic Calendar is a collection of twelve images that depict feasts, festivities, ceremonies, tables, fires and goblets. I want viewers to create their own meaning and stories about these images, encouraging the viewer to be an author.
All my ceramic projects are designed for feasts and eating; I always think about how their forms and images interact with the eating experience. So I’m currently working on two dinner services; a private commission and a commercial set that will be available for sale. Some of my plates have been featured in a film, but for the moment it’s a secret so you’ll have to ‘watch this space’ if you want to know more!
What process do you go through to find the right medium, canvas and inspiration?
It’s a decision process first of all. What do I want to do? Then how can I make it happen and do I need to learn something new in order to do so? Then I do an experiment. The final thing is only too often a series of substitutions and compromises and I only understand the outcome when I’ve gone through that process.
What is your favourite culinary object to draw and paint?
I love drawing jelly! It’s a great metaphor for what molecules are like. I also often make desserts up or draw them from memories of patisseries or books. I want to see how ridiculous a cake I can imagine. I’m also extremely fond of drawing meat, pineapples and the deformed carrots from my dad’s allotment.
What makes a perfect dinner service?
It’s a strange thing that the kind of plate you eat off should change the taste of what’s on it. So I would say good, considerate design makes a perfect dinner service but in all honesty, it depends on the context or setting of a meal. Smooth glazes, sharp knives, good pottery and thin, etched glassware are my personal prerequisites.
If you could visit any country in the world to paint and draw their culinary goods, which would it be?
If you allowed me to travel back in time, I would like to visit the banquet halls of Medieval Britain where I could draw glossy meat, honeyed everything and listen to bugles and lutes. If not, then I would like to visit somewhere remote in Borneo and learn from a group of humans living very close to nature about what kind of technologies they use to thrive in the jungle. I would love to know what is edible in nature and what’s not, how to cook, process and preserve foods in isolation to modern domestic conveniences.
What meal do you prefer and why?
I love breakfast on the weekends. My partner and I call weekend breakfast ‘special breakfast’ because we make our own croissants from pastry in a tin. ‘Breakfast in a tin’ sounds terrible but we fill the croissants with whatever we feel like; chocolate with orange rind, ground coffee, ginger, almonds, rose water or orange blossom water. Delicious!