Erin Rothstein’s artwork will probably make you hungry — and that’s the point.
FEAST, a temporary exhibition of Rothstein’s work, was held last week at Miele Gallery Caplan’s in midtown Toronto. The event was organized by Art Collectif, a company that endeavours to present art outside of traditional gallery spaces. Here a spotlight was given to the minutiae of ordinary edibles. Guests paused over hors d’oeuvres to inspect the textured crumbs of toast, the waxy pit of a ripe avocado, the layered anatomy of a purple cabbage – all depicted in larger than life paintings.
Rothstein’s art is a fascinating study of size and perspective, magnifying the ordinary until the proportions are not only larger than the subject, but also the viewer. The artist herself looked diminutive when surrounded by giant depictions of baguettes and pistachios, not unlike an Alice in her Wonderland.
While Rothstein’s work has often been described as hyperrealist—her paintings are shockingly accurate to the eye, so much so that one might easily mistake them for photographs—the artist herself views these pieces as a kind of hyper surrealism. Spending a little time with the series, it’s easy to see why; each item is studied in isolation, suspended in time and space on a stark white background. This allows even the tiniest of details to shine.
“Ever since I was young, I loved getting that detail just right,” says Rothstein. “I’d spend a long time working on something to perfection.” It also helped that she came from a family of artists who encouraged her work from an early age. Rothstein’s mother would show her shading techniques in coloring books. They took her interest seriously, providing her with proper watercolor paper and taking her to have her work professionally framed. “I was five,” she laughs. “That gave me confidence for sure.”
But – why food?
“I’ve always loved food; I’m a big foodie,” Rothstein explains. Her fascination with painting food began in an artistic slump, when she found herself producing figurative work that often led to a drought of ideas and a lot of inner turmoil. It was her boyfriend (now husband) who suggested painting food as the fodder for her creative release.
So Rothstein decided to give it a try. She made a couple of pieces that sold instantly, and suddenly her work began to take off. The focus on the ordinary began to produce extraordinary results — with a meaning, she explains, that is highly subjective.
“I wanted the images to speak for themselves,” says Rothstein. “Whatever they mean to the viewers is what they’re ‘about’…They’re not supposed to be didactic. They’re meant to incite feelings of hunger, nostalgia, happiness.”
Rothstein has a similar open-minded attitude when it comes to her process. “I try not to plan too much in advance. If I see a food that makes me feel excited about painting it, I’ll go get it that day, I’ll do a little photoshoot.” As accuracy of light and shadow is such an important element of her work, Rothstein paints from photographs to ensure consistency. She then uses the image on her laptop for reference, painting in layers of fine details until she feels that the piece is finished. It’s a process that can take up to a month with larger work.
Considering that Rothstein has an MA that focused on the evolution of décor in modern art, I was curious as to whether she would consider branching out to other domestic subjects. However, for the present, Rothstein is clear about her course. “I plan to stay with the food as long as it excites me and as long as it excites other people. I don’t like to plan too far in advance – I find it takes the fun out of it. There’s still so much to do within the realm of food.”