I keep going back to these still-lifes by Joël Penkman, a Liverpool-based graphic designer and painter. When I look at the familiar biscuits above--their careful geometries and colors, their delicately rendered textures--my heart aches for a pink wafer. It's an actual, physical longing for a biscuit I don't even like. (The pink wafer is a dessicated millefeuille of factory dust and sugar. It tastes fucking horrible, if it can be said that it tastes of anything at all.)
But I don't want the wafer itself; I want what it stands for. Bicycle rides, elaborate cakes, scavenger hunts, pocket money etc. Those wafers, with their gently frayed edges, crowned the tables of so many great childhood parties and events. In short, these are the biscuits of my youth! And food nostalgia is a magical, memory-distorting thing.
Joȅl Penkmanwas born and raised in New Zealand, but grew up visiting her grandparents in England, where she developed a taste for sweet British foodstuffs like Blackpool rock, those brightly-colored hard candies that often have touristy pictures and words running through them.
After studying fine arts at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand (and receiving first-class honors in graphic design), she moved to England to work as a graphic designer. Just this year, Penkman had her first solo show as a painter and decided to seriously pursue her career as an artist.
Penkman makes her own gesso to prep the boards, then grinds and mixes her own paints. (Her medium of choice is egg tempera--that very old-school method in which the artist combines egg yolks with crushed pigments.) It's a tedious and time-consuming process, but her results are stunning. I asked Penkman about why she chose these particular foods as subjects; see her answers below.
On Blackpool rock:"You can only buy Blackpool rock in Blackpool, although the same product, re-labeled, will be sold in other seaside tourist towns. With a history going back over a hundred years, Blackpool rock is synonymous with Blackpool; once a thriving prominent seaside town complete with piers, fortune-tellers, public houses, tram and donkey rides, fish-and-chip shops and theatres. These days Blackpool's promenade is a kitsch reminder of what it once was. For me, the rock, with it's artificial garish colours, seems to sum up Blackpool."
On wafers: "I did eat them when I was a little girl, but I chose them for this particular composition because of their colour, texture and shape. I wanted to make everything in the series 'Sweet selection' instantly recognizable to nearly everyone (in Britain) so I chose quite classic biscuits and cakes. To make it visually interesting I chose subjects in a variety of shapes, colours and textures. Pink wafers look great, they are a great colour and have a really interesting waffle texture."
See more of Joȅl Penkman's work here.