Food Art: Lazy Mom, Vik Muniz, & Lucy Sparrow

Welcome to the last class in this series! Our students have learned so much and about so many different artists over the past few months, and we hope you have too!

For this final class we looked at artists who use food in their art; from food photography, to unconventional painting materials, to felt recreation we learned about three artists and the fun ways they use food as their medium of choice.

Our first artist is actually two artists together, Josie Keefe and Phyllis Ma, a New York-based collective who work under the pseudonym Lazy Mom. They started making art together for a self-published zine where they took whimsical photos of fruit. Neither of them were photographers but after publishing the Zine they felt that they had more exploring to do with still-life food photography so they decided to continue working together, continuing to make zines but also stop motion videos, and installations.

They collaborate under the name Lazy Mom a choice they explained as:

…based on an imaginary mother we invented who is too busy making weird arrangements to do her socially prescribed, feminine duty of making kids’ lunch or cooking for her husband. She’s always kind of messing around in the kitchen and making these weird shapes instead of feeding people.

For Keefe and Ma the imaginary Lazy Mom isn’t really lazy, it’s more that the things she does and spends her time doing would be seen as lazy by the people who would prescribe her duties as making food for her family and cleaning.

Lazy Mom gives a few reasons for why they decided to work with food in their interview with the Creative Independent — in our class we focused on and talked about four of those reasons.

1. “Food’s really visceral. Everyone eats every day, so people have a lot of memories tied to certain foods. It’s emotional in a way that other objects aren’t necessarily.”

We talked as a class about the different memories and emotions we have that are attached to food. Birthday cake, pies or turkey at thanksgiving, popsicles in the summer, specific meals that are traditions in each persons own household. Every person has their own memories attached to foods based on their background and family history and their own personal likes and dislikes.

2. “Food is really cheap, and it’s easy to get. It’s always good to work with cheap materials because then you can just make a bunch of stuff.”

When they work on a new set of photos they go to the supermarket and wander around until some piece of food catches their eye and inspires them. We talked about how using cheap materials lowers the stakes and gives more opportunity to mess around and make mistakes and figure out exactly what you want to make without worrying about spending a lot of money.

3. “Food seemed to be the most humorous thing that had a lot of potential.”

This was something the students didn’t seem to completely agree with until they watched this video of a compilation of Lazy Mom stop motion projects. They laughed so hard at it and asked to watch it a second and third time in both classes! This video is really a must-see to understand the humor that Lazy Mom see’s in their food photography and gifs.

4. “You can eat it afterward!”

Lazy Mom says that they try to eat most everything they use in their photographs so they waste as little food as possible. This can make the art process even more fun because after photographing a cake or a pizza or some other fun food they get to eat it! Of course, when they do something gross to the food like the ground beef cake seen below they throw it away.

They base their work on vintage food photography from the 1950’s and 60’s. They said about it:

We’re reacting to traditional food styling and food photography, where everything looks pristine, edible, and delicious. We’re using that aesthetic, but then turning it on its head. Just making things a little gross and a little uncomfortable — the emotion it brings out in people is interesting. It’s divisive. People either are like, “I love it!” Or people are like, “I hate it! This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.” So that gray space activates an interesting energy that drives the work.

You can easily see where they drew their inspiration by comparing the images; the bright solid-colored backgrounds, the specific placement of sauces and garnishes, and the precise arrangement of the food itself.

For our Lazy Mom project we looked at what they call their recent “gelatine phase” where they put different foods and objects in gelatine — another call back to vintage food photography which often used gelatine to great affect.

We gave each student a small silicone cube mold and a selection of small things like flower petals, tiny figurines, just a pinch of very fine glitter (the bigger grained glitter all floated to the top, so we recommend not using it), all sorts of beads, and googly eyes. They placed the items they wanted in their mold and then we poured a gelatine mixture over the top and they stirred it until they liked the arrangement of their items and then we placed the cubes in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour to let them set.

Our gelatine recipe was 2 packets of gelatine to 1/2 cup of water. You slowly shake the gelatine over the water while stirring it (it gets clumpy and thick but don’t worry!). Once it is all stirred in you microwave it for 10ish second bursts, stirring after each time, until the gelatine is warm and completely melted. There were bubbles on the top of ours so we held them back with a spoon to keep them out of the sculptures as much as possible.

Our molds were about 1" x 1" x 1" so they were very small and only took about 45 minutes to set, if you do it in a larger mold it will take longer. We tried it in the freezer and it did set it faster but they appeared a little cloudier in the end so we recommend the fridge. You can also dye the gelatine with food coloring, put candy or other foods in the gelatine — you can do pretty much whatever you want to it! Of course if you put inedible things in the gelatine make sure to remind any children you make these with that they cannot eat their creation in the end.

Our next artist is Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist born in 1961 who makes art with unconventional materials. He is best known for his work recreating popular and historical images and artworks using materials like dirt, garbage, tomato sauce, diamonds, chocolate syrup, magazine clippings, etc. He often works on a very large scale, takes a photograph of his work, and then destroys the original (often because it is made of something that cannot last, like dust).

Below is a recreation he did of the famous painting The Death of Marat by French painter Jacques-Louis David.

He recreated it using dirt and dust in a garbage dump, you can see the scale by looking at the toilet seats above his arm and the water bottles on the left side.

He also recreated the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci using peanut butter and Jam! And below is another Da Vinci piece, The Last Supper, made of Chocolate Syrup

He also recreated the famous photographs taken of artist Jackson Pollock making his art by photographer Hans Namuth.

These chocolate syrup paintings are the ones we focused on for our art project, which was painting with chocolate syrup!

We put out small bowls of chocolate syrup and gave each student a large piece of construction paper and a paintbrush and let them paint whatever they wanted to! Some of them painted with brush strokes, and some of them decided to take more of a Pollock approach and drip and flick the syrup over their paper.

Everyone absolutely loved painting with chocolate syrup — it was exciting and different and new but also, most importantly, really worked as paint with the ability to layer and make darker colors and shades. Every students asked if they could lick the chocolate syrup off their brush when they were done painting — to which the answer was always, sadly, no.

Our final artist was Lucy Sparrow, a UK based artist who works at the intersection of contemporary art and textile crafts. She works with felt because it is so easy to work with and she can get it in every color she wants!

She sometimes recreates famous works of art using felt, as can be seen below from her Felt Art Imaginarium in Beijing in 2019.

However, she is best known for her huge installations of Supermarkets and Bodegas with thousands of products made entirely of felt. The first such store was called The Cornershop in 2014 which housed 4,000 items made of 300 square meters of felt and took Sparrow and an assistant 7 months to create.

Sparrow fills the shelves with individual items which have all been sewn, painted, and stuffed by hand. Often the items are branded and look like they would in a real store. Patrons to the shops can fill a basket withe food items and purchase them to bring home!

Sparrow later opened a Bodega-type store in 2017 in New York called 8 ‘till Late.

It housed 9,000 pieces and had to close 9 days early because all the pieces had sold out.

Pieces that are not branded, like the meat counter and seafood bucket shown below, often have faces on them.

We watched this video to the 2:25 mark, it gives you a great walkthrough of Sparrow Mart — a supermarket she made in LA with over 31,000 items and covered over 2,800 sq. feet of retail space.

Her pieces are imaginative and fun, so many of them look exactly like what they are trying to recreate and you can just imagine, as she says in the video, going into the supermarket and not even realizing everything is made of felt.

For this project we made 2D felt foods, so anything the students could make using fabric and hot glue, since hand sewing can be difficult even for those with experience. We first had them sketch some of their ideas of foods they wanted to make.

We had tons of felt scraps as well as bigger felt pieces and a table with fabric paint (the ones in the bottles with the small tips worked great because it is easier to stay in control of the paint) and we just let them work for a long time on making whatever they wanted.

Good fabric scissors were definitely a must for this project! As well as some googly eyes to make anthropomorphized foods in Sparrow’s style.

Making them 2D worked well because it was accessible to students of all abilities, but if you know that the children you are working with are good at sewing and want to spend a long time working on their pieces then go ahead and sew and stuff them. Everything they made was so cute and they were all so excited to make any food they wanted to and give them cute faces.

This was such a fun class to close out this session of school year classes. The students in the class had generally never heard of any of these artists and they got to use materials a lot of them would have at home to make art! Hopefully it helps open up the horizons of what constitutes art and shows anyone who does these projects that art can be made out of pretty much anything!

Thanks for following along with this series of classes, we might start up this format again in the future but for the summer they will not be in the format of three artists and three projects as these past ones have been.

When we have especially fun or exciting activities during our summer classes we will do some quick posts about them. Otherwise, if you are looking for some fun art activities to do this summer look back over the blog posts and find something new and interesting to do!

We are a 501c3 non-profit in Provo, Utah. Our goal is to make art accessible and inspire a lifelong love of art and creativity for children in our community.