Mary Ellen Johnson started painting food as a way to cope with struggles surrounding her weight. What she didn’t expect was to have a solo show at SoHo gallery OK Harris where she could showcase 11 of her large-scale detailed paintings food paintings.
“It was a good subject for me to explore… what food means to me,” Johnson said on Thursday afternoon. “The emotional attachment people have with food, the different things that it means.”
To her, tasty treats have become her artistic inspiration. Johnson baked each creation, lemon meringue pies or chocolate eclairs, as many times as it took to get a near-perfect image that she could photograph. Then, she used oil paints to recreate the image in exquisite detail, down to the last burnt end of a s’more. She wanted to capture an almost unattainable version of her edible subjects.
“It’s presented in its heightened desirability,” she said. “You go to a dessert place and the food is so desirable. You want to, but you can’t and you feel bad that you can’t.”
When she worked on a painting of a cupcake, she had 20 extra desserts lying around as temptation. “It’s an emotional attachment, when the food is presented so beautifully on billboards. There’s a possibility of perfection.”
Johnson uses these intimate portraits of food to explore a personal relationship with food, and the psychological associations everyone has with the way they eat. To her, these images evoke nostalgia, comfort, longing, and a sense of idealism. Not to mention, they make any mouth water.
The show debuts on Saturday evening, and is Johnson’s first solo show in New York. To see more of her work visit her website.