THE MOCK-TAIL GALLERY PT 1
9th May, 2013
“If an Impressionist Master were to mix a mock-tail, what would it taste like?” Seldom is the moment when I harbour staunch resistance towards trying something new, and after my unexpected assignment to the head of party refreshments, this has to be one of them. Mock-tails used to strike me as a cordial-fizzy drink hybrid, bordering between the saccharine pretence of an alcoholic spike and the watered down remains of a schoolboy’s juice box. They rarely adhered to that ideal middle line: a heady, hangover-free concoction that gets the pulse racing and the adrenaline flowing into the after-hours. The uncompromising rule of thumb is the concoction’s taste should only be surpassed by its looks. Dusting off a cherished hardbound art book, I found the inspiration among the aqueous strokes of the Impressionists’ palette until I came to an epiphany, the novel idea of uniting Impressionism and bar-tending into a delicacy. Now, the only thing wanting is the right recipe.
The beverage in the making was an ode to the Father of Impressionism himself, Claude Monet and his posthumously famous piece, Nymphaeas, an eight-panelled rendering of the artist’s homespun lily pond in Giverny, France. Monet epitomised the artist’s temperament, that fragile dichotomy between charisma and creativity. His tutors at various art schools hated his defiance of structure as much as he hated their esteem of it.
The Monet (2013)
There is something to be said for following the rules, but I share the artist’s view that few in this world have the luxury to be blasé about experimentation. There is simply not enough of it for us to appraise what discovery has to offer for our enjoyment. If each character trait had its counterpart flavour, then Monet’s adventurous spirit must be translated into a shot of concentrated boysenberry which is a luscious navy blue, the dominant hue of Nymphaeas. The first layer of the mock-tail is sharp and provocative, the berry simulating a fermented tanginess, heightened by shards of peach ice for an equal measure of sweetness.
Monet was not all rebellion, of course. His genius manifested in his sentimentality as well. After the years had softened him into a passive observer of the new century, he found contentment in private moments spent painting his garden in varying shades of sunlight. There was a randomness to his approach to painting which harmonised the piece when viewed from a distance. It was a style applied perfectly to the garnish of my concoction, trading in a fine mince of fresh ingredients for a more rustic arrangement.
I toyed with seasonal ingredients into assembling a pond that somewhat resembles a tableau of lilies, in their fresh blush against the greens of their broad leaves. What followed is a sporadic scattering of fresh lychees, glistening beside sprigs of pandan which rendered an aromatic note. It was the billow of a breeze through undisturbed waters, the welcome visit of serendipity in this art. The drink transcended from refreshment to conversation starter and was rewarding enough for me as long as I managed the frequent refill request.
The novelty of the first mock-tail was a certified shot of deja vu. Thankfully, the details of my last museum visit left my cultural senses intact for another tribute to the Impressionists. What I admired about Georges Seurat’s conversion to Impressionism is the lack of Quixotism, he was a quintessential academic. His paintings highlighted his character and more than made up for his obscure beginnings. Precise and calculating, for Seurat, art was all about the dots.
With its characteristic green and orange hues, Seurat’s pointillist brainchild, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, resembles a comic book. The piece was neither realistic in form nor in shading, yet the depiction of the present drama defines it as a window to the past. Along with its twin, the Bathers at Asnières, both of Seurat’s works cover either bank of the Seine, separated by a gilded frame of social hierarchy between the middle class and the aristocracy. Seurat’s quirky sense of humour applied to his social observations were acidic, like the lime overtones that served as the base of my second mock-tail. The sharp, sometimes overpowering, citrus can give just the kind of high that would suit an after-dinner aperitif.
Bathers at Asnières (1884) /
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884)
Seeing Bathers and Grande Jatte frame-to-frame, one can almost envision Seurat as the fulcrum in this delicate balance, depicting opposites and complements in an incalculable series of iotas. It would be a misstep to be without two layers, as distinct and stark as the social divide. Layering required patience, dexterity and a plastic syringe, none of which occur naturally to me. Only after incessant trials and many failed attempts did I thankfully master the delicate practice of laying the tame mint syrup atop the lime strata. The outcome was an eerie ode to absinthe, Seurat’s favourite beverage if not for its hazardous effects to his health.
The Seurat (2013)
Seurat’s signature fastidiousness and creativity are celebrated in the final product, dusted with blue sugar crystals resembling his signature points, and an orange zest swirl. The drink, like its namesake painting is not about wild sensations, or improvisation. It was an un-‘Romantic’ exercise in measurement – all manner and method finalised before the liquid ever touches glass.
Impressionism was a quiet resistance to conventionality, to perception versus preconception. Impressionists were the heroes of the moment, of battles fought with strokes and dimples, of havoc wreaked on one’s senses. We enter the galleries and find that the proverbial white flag of surrender is slathered with all colours imaginable, etched with that cavalier touch. The lives of these Masters bear testament to their indelible contributions to the art world, blazing a trail for those who dare to dream different. In honour of the enduring legacy of these iconoclasts, I raise my glass, the first of many more to come.