Artists are enigmas by nature, simultaneously hiding behind and sitting proudly atop their body of work. When we sit and stare into the depths of a painting or sculpture we often wonder about the person behind the work. Who were they? Where are they from? What state of mind were they in when the created such a masterpiece?
I also like to add: what did they eat?
It’s a silly, and perhaps even inconsequential thing to ask oneself when viewing celebrated artwork. However, I think much can be told about a person by looking at some of their favorite dishes. Food speaks to the soul, and to the heritage of where that person came from. It might even inform the artwork itself, in some existential food-obsessed writer’s analysis sort of way.
This article examines a handful of famous artists and their favorite foods as a way to gain unorthodox insight into their personalities and backgrounds. The hope is that you won’t only be hungry, but have a greater sense of who these people are and where they seek inspiration.
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
Kahlo and Rivera. Rivera and Kahlo. Their names can barely be uttered, one without the other – the most famous creative couple this side of Ray and Charles Eames – who became famous not only for their stunning and progressive paintings, but by their stature in Mexican culture in the mid 20th century.
Such a grand stature was reinforced by their penchant for entertaining at parties, and going all out to prepare some of the best dressed Mexican food in the world. They were known for these parties, serving tostadas, tortilla soup, and Oaxacan style mole over chicken. Frida learned to cook from her mom, and spent many hours of her life in her beloved kitchen in Casa Azul making delicious, traditional Mexican food for her husband and her friends.
Lam was a prolific Cuban painter who made his name depicting portraits and landscapes in the style of modern surrealism. Like many Cubans, he enjoyed a steady diet of tostones, slow-cooked pork, and traditional black beans and rice. Lam was deeply interested in the socio-political scene in 1920’s Cuba, and often portrayed images that pointed back to his African roots.
Botero is a Colombian painter known worldwide for his unmistakable style and influence. One might say the subjects of his work had a certain ‘appetite’ for life, often being depicted as bloated, robust, or otherwise rotund. The artist himself grew up on a steady diet of Colombian street food, making arepas, empanadas, and coco frito his fuel for the day.
One of Botero’s most famous works is a still life of assorted bananas laid out on a simple table. The bananas, much like the people in his paintings, are unnaturally plump, giving the scene a surrealist edge that helped signify the fruit’s importance to Colombian culture.
One look at popular Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo’s work makes you understand the importance of food to his craft. He painted many still life works depicting corn, and most notably, watermelon. As a young man, Tamayo helped his aunt sell fruit at a Oaxacan food stand. These works held particular significance throughout the artist’s career because of how they represented his childhood and paid homage to his modest roots.