Market Hungry for Food & Drink Art: Foodie Culture Gives Birth to a New Generation of Culinary Artists

Article excerpt

As Americans' passion for food continues to grow--think Food Network, Emeril and that maple-chipotle marinade in your frig'--the demand for food-related art has kicked up a notch. Be it for images that adorn restaurant walls or home kitchens, boldly colored paintings and photographs of chefs, bistro scenes and drinks such as martinis are becoming popular palate pleasers, as are vintage prints.

"I definitely think it's a hand-in-hand thing that's happening," said Rebecca Vollmer, co-owner of Epicurean Images, a Sonoma, Calif.-based online retailer of fine-art prints for the food and beverage and hospitality industries. "The culture is getting more educated and feels like food is something you can be interested in. Art that inspires you or makes you think of a great food experience is totally valid."

"Home entertaining is becoming more popular with wine parties, martini parties, bar themes and the interest in collecting, storing and tasting wine," said Danielle Worsley, product coordinator at Canadian Art Publishing. "So then suitable imagery is in demand."

Artists Slice Into the Market

Many artists have recognized the opportunity food art creates and seized it.

Canadian artist Will Rafuse started painting brightly colored, slightly animated chefs, bartenders, cafes and still lifes six years ago. He had been painting a variety of subjects prior, but chose to depict food images when he realized "people were making the kitchen the focal point of their home."

He painted five different chefs for his first foray into the genre and took them to a nearby park where he'd been selling his work. They were snapped up immediately. Spurred by such rapid acceptance, Rafuse made eating and drinking themes a primary focus and has watched his sales increase continually since then. The food industry is a huge market, he said, with people increasingly buying originals for their homes and their restaurants.

Ken Auster, a California artist best known for his outdoor and surfing scenes, said his favorite Italian restaurant inspired him to start painting images of chefs. He said he's attracted to the subject's light and shadow and the way he can add his own storyline to the scene.

The paintings always sell, Auster said, and many collectors buy them as gifts. Foodie culture helps drive such sales, as more and more aspiring chefs take to the kitchen.

"People love food. I was amazed at how many people cook. They say to me, 'I really like this [painting] because I cook,' or 'Boy, that [chef painting] really reminds me of John,'" Auster said.

Auster thinks collectors also are drawn to the positive connotation associated with his images.

"Restaurants conjure up good times. People don't go there to celebrate bad times," he said.

Tasty Images: From Game to Martinis

Food images in the visual arts are nothing new. Still lifes depicting luscious fruit and game are Medieval and Renaissance painting staples.

Today, "variations of that--when you're directly appealing to the taste buds and taste memories of the viewer--still draw collectors," said Sarah Tanguy, an independent curator who has put together food-related exhibits at venues such as COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, in Napa, Calif., and the Katonah Museum of Art, in Katonah, N.Y.

Tanguy points to pop artist Wayne Thieband, particularly with his old-fashioned renderings of pies and cakes, as one of the genre's early masters, along with Claes Oldenbug and Andy Warhol.

Today's big sellers build on Thiebaud's designs and offer an abstract painting style that is sunny and sometimes comical, said Epicurean Images's Vollmer.

Chefs are "super popular," she said, as are images of drinks, such as a single martini glass. But photographs of food, such as those that depict 12 varieties of bread, haven't done so well for Epicurean. …