Pop Art

Collection Feature: Richard Estes, Food City

by Associate Curator, Theresa Bembnister

Food City verges on abstraction, as colors, shapes and brushstrokes intermingle. Cars, taxis and vans flatten into the same space as the cashier’s pink uniform, the checkout counters and stacks of cigarette packs. The facades of multistory buildings merge with hand-lettered signs advertising chuck steaks at 39 cents a pound. Richard Estes crops his painting so the grocery store’s glass windows fill the entire composition. Exterior and interior elements dissolve into a single plane. This energetic visual potpourri mimics the vitality of the surrounding New York City.

Richard Estes, Food City, 1967, Oil, acrylic and graphite on fiberboard 48 in. x 68 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Purchased, by exchange, with funds raised by the Masked Ball 1955-1963

Richard Estes, Food City, 1967, Oil, acrylic and graphite on fiberboard, 48 in. x 68 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Purchased, by exchange, with funds raised by the Masked Ball 1955-1963

Richard Estes is known as one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated photorealist painters. In his case, however, that credit is a bit of misnomer. Estes’ paintings do not actually have the same level of veracity that viewers associate with photographic images. That’s not to say that the camera isn’t central to the artist’s process. He photographs his subjects, collaging multiple prints together to achieve his desired composition. Estes then subtly tweaks his imagery, removing some elements that appeared in the photographs and adding others. Nowadays, the 85-year-old artist accomplishes this with the help of Photoshop. Unlike other artists active in the photorealist movement, Estes never used a grid or a projector to transfer his photographs to canvas or board. Instead, the artist drew and painted freehand.

When Estes made Food City in 1967, the young artist primarily focused on his immediate urban surroundings as subject matter. This painting of a busy grocery store in New York City’s Upper West Side neighborhood provided him the opportunity to show off the lettering skills he picked up as a freelance illustrator. These gigs paid Estes’ bills until he was able to focus his attention on painting full time in 1966. The artist credits his commercial work, and not his earlier training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, with forcing him to master his craft. That work required him to translate photographs into painted illustrations for reproduction.

View more photorealistic artworks in the Akron Art Museum collection.

Great Moments in Art & Ale

by Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

In anticipation of this Friday’s Art & Ale (get your tickets here), I’ve assembled this list of three instances where beer inspired artists to create remarkable works of art.

Jasper Johns, Painted Bronze/Ale Cans, 1960, oil on bronze, Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Jasper Johns, Painted Bronze/Ale Cans, 1960, oil on bronze, Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Jasper Johns casts beer cans in bronze to spite fellow artist
Title: Painted Bronze/Ale Cans
Medium: Oil on bronze
Year: 1960

According to the now legendary story, Willem de Kooning, a painter known for his large-scale, gestural canvases, badmouthed gallerist Leo Castelli, exclaiming the “son-of-a-bitch” could sell two beer cans as art. When word reached Jasper Johns, an artist represented by Castelli’s gallery, he cast two Ballantine Ale cans in bronze. Castelli sold them. Johns’ sculptural wisecrack now resides in the collection of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany. Works like Painted Bronze/Ale Cans, in which Johns depicted everyday objects, helped usher in the transition from Abstract Expressionism, a dominant style of the 1950s which focused on monumentally scaled works reflecting artist’s psyches, to Pop Art, a movement in which artists looked to imagery from popular culture as sources of inspiration.

Tom Marioni, The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends Is the Highest Form of Art, 1970 – 2008, 1979 installation view at SFMOMA; © 2008 Tom Marioni; photo: Paul Hoffman

Tom Marioni, The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends Is the Highest Form of Art, 1970 – 2008, 1979 installation view at SFMOMA; © 2008 Tom Marioni; photo: Paul Hoffman

Tom Marioni drinks beer with friends, leaves the cans behind, calls it sculpture
Title: The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends is the Highest Form of Art
Medium: Beer, friends
Year: 1970-current

Curator George Neubert brought the beer and artist Tom Marioni brought the party for this after-hours artwork in the empty galleries of the Oakland Art Museum. Sixteen of the artist’s friends joined him for beer and conversation, leaving the empty bottles behind to serve as a record of the gathering. This project continued as a regular series of private social events on Wednesday evenings in Marioni’s San Francisco studio, which the artist hosted to help foster community in the local art scene. Marioni enacts a version of The Act of Drinking Beer… in museums today, although it’s evolved to include an artist-designed bar, fridge and shelves of beer. A pioneer of participatory art, a type of practice in which an artist conceives of a situation creating social engagement, Marioni helped pave the way for artists like Eric Steen, whose Beers Made By Walking is next on this list.

Homebrewers enjoy beer and conversation during the first Beers Made By Walking tasting session. Image courtesy of www.ericmsteen.com.

Homebrewers enjoy beer and conversation during the first Beers Made By Walking tasting session. Image courtesy of http://www.ericmsteen.com.

Eric Steen turns hikes into inspiration for tasty brews
Title: Beers Made By Walking
Medium: Beer
Year: 2011-current

In 2011, artist and beer aficionado Eric Steen invited homebrewers and naturalists to accompany him on a series of seven hikes around the Pikes Peak region of Colorado. His guests identified edible plants they used to flavor eight specially formulated beers which were then brewed at a local commercial brewery and sold at pubs in Colorado Springs. Steen considers the beers portraits of the hikes. Like Tom Marioni before him, he is interested in the ways in which beer brings people together, and as demonstrated by Beers Made By Walking, the ways in which the beverage might connect its drinkers to the landscape around them. The project continues to this day and has expanded to include such major breweries as Deschutes and New Belgium.