Betsy Eby’s blowtorched canvases evoke the rhythm and flow of nature.
Read the article below featured in Garden & Gun magazine.
CHRISTOPHER BOFFOLI has a lot of little friends.
Like him, they’re creative artists, quick thinkers, hard workers, perfectionists. Their teeth are sweet. Their bodies over-caffeinated.
And like Boffoli, a photographer who has brought them to life, these teensy figurines offer a look through a food-lover’s lens at a world that’s whimsical, philosophical — and sometimes macabre.
When they’re not starring in “Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food” (Workman, $12.95), Boffoli’s friends live in a foot locker adjacent to his West Seattle kitchen.
And to his great surprise, his scenic miniatures — rendered as fine-art photographs that sell for as much as $10,000 each — are making him famous.
Cover girl “Patty” puts muscle behind a minuscule lawnmower, zesting a navel orange worthy of a properly garnished Negroni. The “Popsicle Mountaineer” precariously perched atop a frozen treat (the caption reads “Climbing up was always a lot easier than climbing down”) could play Boffoli in the movie — one where (true story) the intrepid Northwest newbie makes a day climb up Mount Rainier with a pack on his back — and breaks his leg five minutes into his descent. Nine hours later, he’s rescued by rangers and carted off on a stretcher, just like the hapless lad portrayed in “Twinkie Field Casualty.”
“I had no idea these pictures would have this kind of traction, this kind of reaction,” Boffoli says of the photos that spawned the series — and the book that shines a spotlight on it. Nor could he have envisioned the acclaim he’s received since an editor spotted his work online in 2011, then persuaded him to syndicate it internationally.
The digital art — a hobby, really — went viral. “My life changed overnight.”
One day he was a self-taught photojournalist racing out of the house to chase sirens for the West Seattle Blog. The next, he’s exhibiting work in galleries in Toronto, Monaco, Singapore and Los Angeles, with solo shows in New York, London and Seattle. Today “I’m running a global brand from my dining-room table,” just steps from his studio kitchen.
There, Boffoli fields calls from greeting-card companies looking to license his art, corporations offering commissions, and an avalanche of interest from worldwide media. (Perhaps you saw him on “CBS This Morning” or noticed his photograph on the spring cover of the hipster’s food journal “Lucky Peach”?).
“This work would have never happened for me without Seattle light, Seattle skies,” says the 43-year-old New England native who has called Seattle home for a decade. “In a lifetime of taking pictures, I’ve never found better light for food photography than here.”
When he’s not traveling the globe in search of adventure, Boffoli holes up at home near the Admiral Junction, walking distance from Bakery Nouveau and Cupcake Royale, where he often finds sweet inspiration.
He also gives props for his props to familiar places like the West Seattle Farmers Market (for fresh seasonal produce) and Big John’s PFI (where he scored the cannoli shells that double as “pipeline” for his miniature construction crew).
And he remembers well the moment he realized his appetite for Fran’s gray salt caramels had a larger calling: as a prop for a quartet of conical-hat-wearing Asian “farmers.”
Charmed and flattered, Fran Bigelow has since paid him back for the nod. A limited-edition print of Boffoli’s “Salted Caramel Harvesters” now hangs at Fran’s Chocolates in University Village.
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times’ food writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published Friday, December 6, 2013 at 12:28 PM
Award-winning photographer Robin Layton on the road trip that led to a stunning book of basketball photography.
by Suzanne Beal
Oil on Polyester over Panel
42″ x 42″
Photo: courtesy Winston Wachter Fine Art
Although she begins with a precise geographic location, painter Tracy Rocca uses her subject matter as an invitation to travel inwards. Raised in the Northwest, Rocca creates canvases that evoke the region’s foggy, rain-soaked haze, albeit punctuated with the vivid colors of the changing seasons. The images glimpsed therein might be a wildflower blown up beyond all recognition, or the world perceived through a single drop of rain. “By blurring the details I create a window into an unspecified yet familiar environment,” she notes. These highly saturated color field paintings lead to what Rocca hopes is “a place where the mind can rest.” Inspired in part by the landscape of New Mexico where she currently resides, Rocca is equally driven by a desire to create a distance between her painterly production and the speed of most modern devices, which we use to almost instantaneously capture, post, and re-tweet the details of our busy lives. “Ultimately a single point of focus or light emerges from within the paintings,” writes Rocca, “creating the enveloping sense of meditative focus that characterizes my paintings.” In Rocca’s hands, this beam of light is often the portal through which visitors might travel far and wide, only to discover themselves being safely led back home. Tracy Rocca at Winston Wachter can be seen through December 25, 2013.
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By Jenn Harris
October 26, 2013
Artist Christopher Boffoli likes to play with food. We’re not talking making airplane noises while guiding a spoonful of peas through the air on a short flight. He makes full-on dioramas with miniature people and a whole world of food.
In Boffoli’s book “Big Appetites: Tiny People in a World of Big Food,” he creates scenes of little characters hard at work on everything from bagels, lox and cream cheese to sushi. He was inspired by a lot of scale juxtaposition he saw as a child in cinema, television and advertising.
“Though there could be great comedy in situations in which people found themselves shrunken down to a tiny size in a normal-sized world, what made a greater impression was the drama: how a harmless ant could suddenly become a monster hunting you down, or how a few drops of water from a garden hose could catalyze a deadly flash flood,” said Boffoli. ”In the context of my work I thought the concept was a great foil for the way our American penchant for massive portion sizes has the potential to transform something that nurtures us into something that does us harm.”
In the various scenes, the characters are never eating the food they’re surrounded by, only working around or on it. In one photo, workers try to pry the seeds from giant strawberries, in another, three men ride bicycles up the curve of a banana and, just in time for Halloween, there’s a depiction of a candy corn expedition.
“Just as we don’t eat the ground we walk on, the characters in my ‘Big Appetites’ photographs bike over, swim in and work among a world of food but don’t necessarily consume it,” said Boffoli. “Specifically, migrant laborers and hourly-wage earners that pick, process and transport our food to market but who treat it like a commodity that they move along but do not consume as food for themselves.”
Boffoli makes his points with the photos, but the captions are just as important to the story. In one photo called “Linguine Car Wash,” the caption reads: “The deluxe carbonara option was canceled after too many customers lost mirrors and antennas.” In another called “Sundae Skiers,” the caption reads: “The runs were short. But the bragging rights of exotic slopes were worth it.”
There is no average set-up time for Boffoli’s diorama photos, but he says he generally can shoot three to five set-ups in a few hours. During the editing process he may find he needs to re-shoot or completely cut an idea he previously thought would resonate. And some ideas just come to him while he’s doing everyday tasks such as peeling an orange. The act of creating a long orange peel made it onto the cover of his book.
“I’d love to say that I’m clever enough to know exactly what will make a successful image, but sometimes the truth defies a simple explanation,” said Boffoli. “I’m just an artist who makes work that pleases me, and when I’m lucky, it occasionally strikes a chord with someone else in the world.”
And if you’re wondering whether or not he munches during these food-filled sessions, he says, “not really.” The food is 100% real, but after he scrutinizes the food for a time through a lens, it’s not as appetizing.
Boffoli’s work is currently on display at Art Toronto and will open in Seattle on Oct. 29.
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Every two years, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Mass., stages an ambitious exhibition known as the Biennial. The group show shines a spotlight on emerging and mid-career contemporary artists working throughout New England.
The exhibit begins before you even enter the museum. Wandering around the grassy sculpture park you spot deadpan, hand-drawn placards by Boston text artist Pat Falco. They’re white with black lettering and look like picket signs. One designates a tree-lined alcove as a “Premier Make-Out Opportunity.” Another, stuck in a hill, reads “High Art,” behind it, “Higher Art.” There are eight in all.
Outside the museum’s entrance, curator Lexi Lee Sullivan met me at a little cabin.
“He built this house with materials that were donated and some that were purchased from Home Depot,” she explained.
The “he” she referred to is Providence artist John C. Gonzalez. He made his “Home Depot House” while working in the store’s paint department.
“And it was built with Home Depot associates. So the aesthetics of the piece as well as how it is joined — everything about it — is very specific to who was helping him to build the piece,” Sullivan added.
Gonzalez’s cabin will double as a work space for artists-in-residence during the biennial. “So the artists will be here every Saturday and Sunday and as many days as they can take off during the week,” she said with a laugh.
It’s been a daunting task for Sullivan to scour New England for emerging artists such as Gonzalez. She road-tripped to more than 150 studios where she met with makers using all kinds of mediums — from video to film to audio to Plexiglas and beyond. To pare down the possibilities, Sullivan turned to regional art critics and curators for their opinions and insight.
“I think there’s still really a place for locale in art,” deCordova museum director Dennis Kois explained. “Just like there’s a local food movement and there’s a local music scene, there’s a local art movement — and it’s the culture that’s made here.”
There was a time when the deCordova’s mission was regional, but Kois shifted to a more global approach after he was hired five years ago (along with changing the name to reflect a greater emphasis on the museum’s unique sculpture park). Plenty of New Englander artists and art lovers have been critical, and the biennial is the director’s response.
“Like all institutions, you have to grow and change,” he explained. “And I think, you know, to show only regional art in a way sort of ghettoizes it, and the goal for deCordova now is to the show the best regional art and contextualize it. So I think it helps our audiences understand what’s happening here and that it matters in a global sense, that’s it’s not in a vacuum.”
That said, some very regional themes have emerged. Apparently plaid is popular this year. In one piece, the pattern is paired with paintings of lobsters. And labor intensive works including one called, “Flotilla.”
It’s a sprawling series of more than 100 tiny, painstakingly detailed ballpoint pen drawings by Boston artist Ethan Murrow. It covers a three-story wall in a sun-lit stairwell and takes on the history of the U.S. through something that’s very New England: maritime culture.
On the sunny afternoon of my visit, Sullivan ran into the artist’s mother, Liza Ketchum of Watertown. Ketchum says her 37-year-old son started drawing when he was 5 years old.
“I remember the art teacher saying, ‘Well, you have to wait until your 6.’ And he just wore him down, so he’s been at it since kindergarten,” she recalled.
Ketchum is thrilled to see her son’s work in a local museum the size of the deCordova.
“I haven’t shown in Boston,” Ethan Murrow told me as we rode a crotchety elevator up to his fourth floor studio in Boston’s South End. It’s where he researched his epic wall piece for the deCordova.
“I wanted it to be a glut, a mass, almost too much,” he mused.
Murrow grew up in Vermont and is the grandson of journalist Edward R. Murrow. Being in the biennial is a big deal for a mid-career working artist, and he’s grateful for the exposure. But Murrow says he doesn’t envy the curator’s position.
Standing in the main gallery at the deCordova, Sullivan surveyed the exhibition she’s been pulling together for about two years.
“It’s exciting, it’s exhilarating, it’s terrifying,” the curator admitted. “But more than anything I hope that it becomes a platform for these artists, for other people to see them, and get excited about the work and work with them in the future.”
And that, the curator said, should be the goal of any biennial.
The 2013 deCordova Biennial run through April 13, 2014.
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Artist Betsy Eby Is Painting With Fire
You can tell by looking at her work that Oregon-born artist Betsy Eby has spent lots of time near forests, buttercup fields and the silvery bark of birch thickets. Nature’s rhythms have indelibly informed her artistic sensibilities. Eby is an encaustic painter; encaustic is a medium that dates back to the 4th century B.C. She heats and layers beeswax onto canvas wrapped around birch panels (custom made by her father in his woodshop!) then paints with a blowtorch. The visual effects are striking: visions of whirling leaves, buzzing insects, sheets of ice, and birds in flight appear above the laminations.
Trained as a classical pianist, Eby’s current work has her visual documents talking back to classical music compositions. Her latest exhibition “Painting With Fire: Works by Betsy Eby” will be on view at The Columbus Museum (Columbus, GA), October 27, 2013-February 23, 2014.