Oil Paintings That Encompass the Angel and the Demon on Your Shoulder

Mary Ellen Johnson is a “precision realist” whose subject is all American, and yet also universal
–it is food, delicious, memory-jolting, decadent food. As you can see in these two examples of her oil paintings, the results of her labor are almost real enough to taste. Johnson’s work is featured in The Artist’s Magazine (see her Hot Fudge Sundae Cake on the cover of the September issue), along with several other talented artists who share the same fascination with painting edible arrangements.

Realist oil painting by Mary Ellen Johnson

Above: Big Steamed Mussels (oil on panel, 48×55.5) by Mary Ellen Johnson (www.maryellenjohnson.net)

Explorations by McKenzie Graham (excerpted from The Artist’s Magazine)

Realist oil painting by Mary Ellen Johnson

Big Spaghetti and Meatballs (oil on panel, 33.5×48) by Mary Ellen Johnson

Mary Ellen Johnson’s food paintings are designed to encompass both the angel and the demon on your shoulder. They’re real explorations of what eating means in our modern culture; the glossy surfaces are alluring on a carnal level, but the meals are honest and wholesome. They’re hyper-realistic depictions of unprocessed foods reminiscent of childhood meals spent with family. “Many of us struggle with food and find its presence imposing, rendering us powerless and leading to eating disorders,” says Johnson. “My paintings are certainly not a condemnation of food, but deal with its many faceted, and expressed, variables.”

Johnson’s process starts at the grocery store. After she shops for several meals’ worth of ingredients, she checks the weather for ideal photography lighting and starts cooking–sometimes making the meals more than once since the fresh ingredients don’t last very long. “I build the subject up, arranging textures and colors and trying to make them as appetizing as possible,” says Johnson. For instance, she called her arrangement of the mussels in Steamed Musselsan “exercise in composition.” She says, “the circular composition swirls your eyes and taste buds toward the center, bouncing off the jagged points of shells and bursts of color.”

Johnson makes her own cradled panels and gesso, sands the panels repeatedly for a smooth surface, and makes a detailed drawing of her subject directly on the panel before applying any paint. “I honor the old adage:” she says, “Start with a broom; end with a needle.” ~M.G.

Read the full article, also featuring Maira Kalman, Drew Fagan and Lynn Bywaters when you get your copy of The Artist’s Magazine at North Light Shop. Additional highlights include “Rob Liberace on the Trois-Crayons Technique” and “Sea & Sky En Plein Air.”

Now off to lunch,
Cherie

Cherie Haas, online editor**Free download: Oil Painting Tips for Beginners: Learn How to Oil Paint!
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