Anyone with a sweet tooth would do well to visit the new One Martine Gallery in White Plains starting Oct. 6.
In an exhibit called “Food for Thought,” artist Beverly Shipko is showing 20 paintings and prints, 19 of which depict desserts ranging from the ubiquitous Oreo cookie to strawberry cheesecake. The “Sesame Street” song lyric, “One of these things is not like the others,” applies to the 20th painting: the jewel-toned “Stew Leonard’s Vegetable Platter.”
Shipko refers to her entire body of work — approximately 90 paintings in storage — as “Great Temptations.”
“I think of all these dessert paintings as great temptations,” she said.
The selections on view through this month are reminders of childhood delights: “9 Small Panel Paintings,” 4-by-4-inches each, oil on Masonite, includes a panel of a Hostess cupcake, that unique white squiggle of icing atop the chocolate, and two panels of broken Oreo cookies flanking an Oreo cake.
Shipko painted “Cherry Cream Pie,” “5 Dunkin’ Donuts in a Box,” and “Laura’s Ice Cream Sandwich” with oil on canvas, oil on linen, and oil on canvas, respectively.
The artist, who lives in Ardsley, said some works, such as “Food Choices,” will summon personal memories of a vanishing phenomenon: vending machines. The painting shows healthy alternatives insinuating their way into Shipko’s snack-centric canon: Centered between a row of chips and Cheetos and a row of candy and cookies is a row of bananas, asparagus, broccoli, carrots and corn. The sheen of the Doritos bags and shine of the Hershey’s chocolate bar wrapper make the unhealthy choices seem more appealing than the realism of the vitamin-rich options.
Shipko explained that the appearance of fruits and vegetables in her paintings happened when her diet improved. Sensitivities to gluten and to dairy products, a bout with pregnancy-related diabetes, and a doctor’s nagging gave her no choice but to give up over-indulging in the goodies.
“So I started eating healthier,” she affirmed. “For the first time in my life I started eating vegetables.”
She still enjoys cake, both as treat and subject. “Happy Birthday!” is a 16-by-20-inch, oil-on-linen painting of a masterpiece from Ardsley’s Riviera Bakehouse: an elaborate, round, five-layer cake that has lavender icing on top circled with light-blue roping, purple sides surrounded with deep-pink roping, and a ruffled bottom of yellow and orange, all topped with pink rosettes. A missing slice reveals its Oreo interior.
“We get that cake every year, so I decided to immortalize it,” Shipko said. She added that she doesn’t bake. “I’m better at eating … but now I control it. Instead of eating half a cake, I just have one slice.”
Shipko is nearly obsessed with Oreos, which are featured in seven of the prints and four paintings in the exhibit.
“My serial images of cakes and Oreo cookies portray nostalgic moments of transitory pleasures. My daughters, neighborhood kids, and now my friends’ grandkids take part in the process by coming to my Oreo cookie parties and annual Oreo cookie contest,” she elaborated. Shipko watches both children and adults play with the cookies, stacking them, pulling them apart, scraping the icing off with their teeth, eating them in one bite and leaving crumbs. She photographs half-eaten cookies, seeing images take shape and draws or paints them.
“I name the painting after the person who bites the original Oreo, since it is their ‘portrait,’ albeit an untraditional one,” Shipko said.
She has always been drawn to creating series, as Andy Warhol did with his silkscreen prints, but hers invariably feature Oreos. “I think nostalgia plays a huge part,” she mused. “Oreos have such fond memories for me as a child, as well as for my daughters, and many others. Mom put them in my lunch box for years! They are iconic and seem to have such universal appeal on an emotional level.”
Shipko revealed a signal factor in her inclination toward sweet subjects. “I worked in the candy business. I was an account executive on Twix and M&Ms. We used to eat them for dinner every night at the office. You’re working late at night, and you’d just grab one of them for dinner. My relationship with these has changed, so they’re like forbidden fruit now. In a way, they have more attraction for me than before.”
She believes the same is true for many people. Viewing the paintings may even be challenging for some. “I am no exception,” Shipko said.
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