THE MOCK-TAIL GALLERY PT 2
23rd May, 2013
I have known and played fickle with more food fads than you can probably recognize, but my love for sweets has managed to survive years of the major ‘-isms’; vegetarianism, Epicureanism, plus any other ‘-isms’ on the side. On numerous occasions, it served as my second conscience, a guide to the closest lolly jar within reach when my weight-conscious alter ego was not watching. Self-denial offers its own divine gratification, but largely, I adhere to the mantra of “no treats untasted,” and it is yet to fail me.
Another personal mantra came to mind when I set my sights on Edgar Degas’ Fin D’Arabesque, “What catches the eye usually sparks the appetite.” The candy white, pastel tutu highlighted in the painting is a cream and canary confection begging to be created. It was to become my third mock-tail tribute to the Impressionists.
Already a recognised member of the Parisian bourgeoisie, Degas’ gentleman persona nurtured a devotion to the art and influence of the Palais Garnier Ballet, so much so that his name is synonymous to that celebrated marriage of ballet and painting. Degas took his art seriously and his fascination with capturing the human form and movement even more. Armed with a slew of Henri Roché pastels, Degas delivered his discourse on female anatomy and convinced all that jutting bones, flailing limbs, muscles tensing to an unflattering pose, is beauty in a snapshot.
To venture into such candidness about the flawed form was a mistake during his time. Artists like Degas who can exact qualities from fault that would accentuate a central theme were rare. Degas exploited the covert grace behind the maladroit. By amplifying a modest arch of the neck, or turning a slight sag into an extravagant slump, Degas made believers out of his critics and evidenced his versatility as an artist by sculpting the flesh-toned wax likeness by sculpting the flesh-toned, wax likeness of Marie van Goethem, The Little Dancer at Fourteen.
For all of his endearment to imperfection, at heart, Degas is a masterful aesthetician. His works evoked elegance, that subtlety for me channeled avocado served cold. The dainty, earthy sweetness of the thick avocado emulsion intensified the flavour of the other elements in this potion which admittedly was beginning to resemble a dessert rather than a drink. But, I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Degas (2013)
The dense purée buoyed the main attraction, an homage to Degas’ love of the dance: a ballerina’s tutu crafted from nettings of vanilla fairy floss and splinters of lemon rind. The silent collaborator in this project is the tweezer. Even for personal cosmetic, most of us easily find a limit to its use, but at that moment, in that kitchen, it was the star. The slender tool set the fairy floss on the glass before it began its untimely deflation and settled the slivers of lemon on the soft bed of the cottony candy.
The resulting concoction was an allusion to the Palais Garnier backstage and the sea of bouffant tutu’s bobbing to the twists, the turns, the twirls, the dizzying pirouettes to the tune of a waltz, the elegance and the elitism, of that figure in the spotlight, captured in the brush strokes of the gentleman Degas.
Starry night has graced every surface imaginable, but the surreal swirls of white and blue, the yellow stars above a blue-black town, is far from passé. The painting owes it endurance in the art world to its invocation of constant motion, a peek into the mind of its conceiver who has proven time and again that even the sweet and the beautiful among creation needs a bitter edge to rise above mediocrity and become memorable. Vincent van Gogh was a restless soul, hopping from England to Belgium by way of France, embarrassed on frequent occasions by the mishandling of his surname by foreigners, van Gogh is correctly pronounce as ‘van gokh’. He was self-taught, well-read and too brilliant for one too easily and so often dismissed as insane. Van Gogh’s personality was an acquired taste, as was his art.
After a period of self-infliction rather than reflection, van Gogh was committed to a clinic in Saint-Rémy, the French countryside where he produced his most vivid paintings. He found in these moments of solitude an affinity with autumnal hues, ocher wheat fields, mustard sunflowers, the caviar navy blue sky, as he featured the unpopular aspects of nature’s beauty with thick, lush strokes. In capturing the heavenly bodies with oils and paint, Vincent’s wandering feet finally found his resting place.
The van Gogh (2013)
The experience of seeing Starry Night for the first time is one I liken to my taste bud’s initiation to black liquorice. Both are heavily textured, with that dash of bitterness and an aftertaste that cannot quite be described as sweet, but is close enough. Liquorice is the dominant ingredient in Vincent’s namesake mock-tail, its flavour complemented by the tart base of plum jam blended with shards and shaves of ice. The jam’s sweetness combats the liquorice baton yet what each offered to the drink buoyed the other in an unorthodox perfection. Similar stars are embodied in the mock-tail glass, in the rough circles, gnarled vines, and wrought twists of mango’s bright yellow clashing with the purplish blues of the plum jam. And what better inspiration can there be for flavour than what nature has to offer? The mango’s tropical note will intrigue the adventurous who will reach for another glass even after his thirst had been a long while back, satiated.
Art and drama in the lives of the Impressionist painters is an invitation for their audience to immerse themselves in their world, hoping that in satisfying the curiosity, their target will stumble upon something more than what they intended to see. We gawk and stare as painters experiment with the impossible, the unconventional, the insane, the sometimes unpredicted outcomes. What blossoms is a trust that they will make true their promise to compensate for our timidity, that their blind courage will remedy our caution. Not raising arms for the fight, observers succumb to the role of spectators in the arena we call the museum, where their labours are surrendered for our criticism. Not just successes, but also weaknesses and failures in character. Their legacy bear testament to an oxymoronic philosophy: Perfection is not flawless. That truth will live through the libations to follow.