The cake is brightly decorated in blue, pink, and creamy white. But this is no Wayne Thiebaud dessert, posing pristinely on a cake stand with its friends. There is no celebration, no plates or forks or knives.
This is a conflicted cake.
Lizzy Lunday painted Cake two years ago, and it sparked a series of paintings of “Women and Food”: mayonnaise, butter, lettuce, and more cake. We talked to the artist about this painting (winner of the Oerth Kirstein Award for Best in Show this month), the ongoing series, and the reactions it’s provoked:
What was your goal with Cake?
Lizzy Lunday: My goal was to depict a decadent and secretive scene evocative of the complicated relationship between women and food. I wanted a natural and vulnerable view of a woman’s body, fulfilling a forbidden desire. I wanted the relationship between women’s bodies and their limitations and guilt associations with food to be the center of the piece.
This exhibit is all about provoking reactions. What sort of reaction are you hoping for when people see this painting? What reactions have you seen or heard, if any?
I want people to stop and think about it; to think about why it surprises them, or how they relate to it. I really enjoy listening to reactions from women who understand living between the desire and guilt associated with food. I have also gotten reactions from people wondering why I specifically chose a pose in which you can see my stomach folds. To me that’s an interesting comment, because that mentality is exactly why I choose to depict images in this way. We are taught to live up to a certain body ideal, and it makes people uncomfortable or confused when you choose to depict yourself in the opposite light. I’m interested in showing the authenticity and vulnerability of humans, rather than the manicured and posed versions.
How did the “Women and Food” series of paintings start? Where does this painting fit within the series?
A lot of my work has to do with women’s bodies and their relationships to socially-constructed ideals of what the female, and her form, “should” be. From childhood we are taught completely contradictory messages of what gives us value as women. We are taught to be homemakers, bakers, to be given gifts of chocolates on all special occasions. On the other hand, the expectation is for us to be smaller, healthier, and to fit into an ideal body image. It’s impossible for us to be able to live in these two extreme ideals, so we end up in a state of shame and guilt about our “wrongness.”
As women, we’re taught that a lot of our identity and worth is tied into our body and appearance, so these paintings that depict women in not-so-flattering positions, eating decadent foods, contradict everything that we’ve been taught as women to show of ourselves. So to take these secretive actions of supposed decadence, and paint them on large canvases, points out the disparity between the real and the ideal.
Cake was one of the first Women and Food paintings I made, back in 2014. It was the painting that began the series. I ended up using the Women and Food series as my final BFA show.
What role does self-portraiture play in your work?
I often use myself as the subject in my paintings, as I want to convey a very personal narrative to the viewer. But, in using my body and my experience, I hope the viewer is able to relate and see a part of themselves in the piece.
What different media do you work in?
While oil painting is my primary medium, I also work in collage, screen printing, and recently, in installation. The overarching themes of women’s bodies and identity remain consistent throughout the media that I’m working in.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a couple of projects. I’ve come back to my “Women and Food” paintings, recently finishing one with mayonnaise and now about to start one with butter. I’ve also begun a collage series in which I’m taking classic “homemaker” appliances I’ve acquired from thrift stores, such as an old orange Hoover and a mint-green iron, and using them as bases for the pieces.
“Op-Ed” is open through Sunday, November 6.