Some Food for Thought: 5 Questions with Charlotte Ficek

Posted by Nicholas Chong, January 22, 2015
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I recently had the opportunity to pose some questions to the talented artist Charlotte Ficek. When I first began following Charlotte's work it was largely focused on portraits, however more recently she has really been into food art. As a fan of her work (and food), it's been exciting to see where her love of visual gastronomy has taken her. Since her arrival to Toronto it's hardly a surprise that she's developed and created collections for the likes of restaurants such as Box Car Social, located at Yonge and Summerhill. Here's a little food for thought from the artist herself!

What challenges or obstacles have come across your path being an artist in Toronto?

After running around and working on my feet at a restaurant all day, it can be hard to stay motivated and head straight to my studio while still feeling artistically inspired. It’s difficult and gets frustrating when all I can think about at work is how much I want to be painting and what I could be accomplishing with my art if I gave it my complete and absolute attention. At this point in my artistic career, the demands of Toronto's high cost of living require that I supplement my income with another job. I’m lucky because it’s a flexible gig, but at the same time it becomes a tiring balancing act and limits my creative time. The reality is, working two or more jobs is the sacrifice I have to make in order to live in such a great city - a city rich in music, art, inspiration and opportunities for creative people.

Those of us following your work know how much food has been a recent subject of interest for your art. Can you speak as to how this first began?

My appetite for food-inspired art grew after graduating from University, when I started working in restaurants to support my art. It’s funny because art and food always conjured up images of still life’s for me, something I just never found intriguing as a subject. For as long as I can remember, I’ve focused on portraiture and developed a strong recognizable style, so this was definitely a departure from that. It wasn’t really even a conscious decision. As food started to become a bigger part of my life, it worked it’s way into my art. One day after work I did this watercolour of a pizza and milkshake looking really bummed out because I had a stressful day at the restaurant. I really liked the outcome and apparently so did many people my age (I think they connected with the sentiment!). With their positive feedback, I created a whole series of sad-faced food. It’s odd because the food I depict tends to be 'junk food' often associated with good times. At least it’s heavily marketed that way. The thing I find funny is that food that is really appealing is usually unhealthy and full of fat and sugar, so if this food could feel, it would feel pretty shitty. Don't get me wrong, I love my junk food, it was just something that made me laugh - the idea that this bright, colourful and delicious food that appeals to so many of us, was actually feeling really sad and lethargic because it’s really just made from crap.

After completing that series, I remained focused on food and this past summer developed a larger series around diners and diner food. I walk by this diner, Vesta Lunch (a midtown staple), everyday on my way to and from work and have come to love the place. It’s so classic and I’m really drawn to the iconic diner vibe. It really inspired me, and I began visiting diners around the city, recording my meals and their charming, kitschy, and slightly odd interiors and created a collection that almost sold out on opening night!

Is it safe to say that food art naturally finds practical space in restaurants? Do you think it’s important that art is created with purposeful intent?

It might seem like kind of an obvious choice to put images of food in a restaurant, but it’s proven that food imagery makes people hungry and stimulates appetite. So in that case, I think it could be a wise choice, haha! At the end of the day it depends on the vision of the restaurant owner and if the art fits with the design concept. I do think that displaying art in a restaurant or cafe is important. It enriches the atmosphere and thus the guest’s experience, while also providing artists some valued exposure. I actually put on my last show at an amazing Toronto coffee shop and bar called Boxcar Social. Those guys know their coffee, and apparently their art too, because the opening reception was a blast and a successful event for both of our businesses. I heard that they had kids dragging their parents into the shop to check out the pieces. I’m truly grateful for that experience. Opportunities for collaborative partnerships with other great restaurants are definitely something I want to explore.

In terms of creating with purposeful intent - it’s complicated! I can only speak for myself; everyone I know has a different process. Sometimes I will make a piece and have no idea where it’s going, but with time it will start making sense to me in a more literal way. Often times, if I think too hard about coming up with a very definite meaning behind a piece or body of work it can be restricting. For me it’s the process and inspiration that drives the meaning. That being said, it’s definitely important to make art with purpose because art provides me the platform to say something that I might be unable to articulate in words. That’s why I’m a visual artist and not a writer. Art is such a powerful tool, capable of expressing such significant statements and beliefs as well as inspiring and intriguing others. So yeah, I think it’s important.

You mention on your website that there are a number of artists that influence your style - can you share some of those?

The artists that I love don’t necessarily influence my style as much as they inspire me to create. I remember having a professor once ask me which artists inspired me. When I began to name a few, he very promptly interrupted saying those artists shared no similarities to my work. To me, that’s not what’s important, finding artists that hit hard on a really indescribable level, who’s work evokes something in me that makes me want to go home and create, that’s important. To answer your question with some names, I love Jean-Michel Basquiat (I’ll definitely be going to the AGO retrospective multiple times) Cy Twombly, Karen Kilimnik, Shary Boyle, Tom Wesselman, Cindy Sherman, Joan Mitchell and Otto Dix. So, I’m basically all over the place. Those are also examples of historical or better-known figures in art, so I’d also like to mention that I find a ton of great artists on Instagram. I think it’s a great tool for artists to connect and share their work. Some artists who I follow are; Joan Cornella, Gil Button, Prue Stent, Elena Eper, Great_Accommodations, Kyleplatts and Bob London, just to name a few. Lastly, I’ve been really into Lucky Peach magazine by David Chang of Momofuku. It is full of awesome illustrations including some more food-related pieces.

I noticed you’ve drawn tattoos; do you offer custom drawings? Where is the best place to view and buy your art?

Yeah! I’ve done a handful of tattoo drawings. It’s flattering, they are extremely fun to design and are a great medium to showcase another side of my artistic style. The tattoos I have drawn are more simplistic by nature, highlighting the ability to capture an object and energy with minimal lines.

Besides tattoos, I’ve been working on cover art and promo material for musicians and illustrations for friend’s small businesses as a unique form of advertising to create brand identity for their companies. I am also still big into portraiture and, more recently, commissioned abstract work (a nice experimentation in composition), all of which provide support for my artistic growth. Late last night, I actually hung my largest abstract piece, a 5 by 6 ft oil painting to enrich an already beautiful office. It was a lot of fun!

My art is best viewed in person by studio appointment or online here. and also on my Instagram! Between the two, my website showcases most of my finished projects, and my Instagram is full of progress work and other inspiration.

Tattoo Charlotte
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Posted in: Art