Artist Richard provides food for thought

One of Richard's food art pictures, featuring Marmite
One of Richard's food art pictures, featuring Marmite
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Artist Richard Oakes hopes people think his new work is so good they could eat it – literally.

He usually works in inks and abstracts, but for a new exhibition he’s decided to try something very different. Richard has been experimenting with using kitchen condiments and preserves to paint with for a series of pieces called An English Preserve.

Artist Richard Oakes

Artist Richard Oakes

He’s been putting cider, Marmite, mustard and mayonnaise on canvas in order to spice up his most recent paintings.

Richard, who lives in Gosport, likes to refer to his unique style as ‘brand art’.

He says that one of the things he likes about using food is that ‘not only are the colours spot on, but the paintings smell of the subject as well’.

His first venture into this unusual method of painting started when he went on a trip to Turkey. Having grown tired of creating standard landscapes, he decided to try painting something else he had become quite familiar with during his stay – a bottle of the popular Turkish tipple Efes.

Laying next to it was a tube of brown stained-glass paint and Richard says: ‘It made perfect sense to use it to paint the beer bottle!’

Pleased with the outcome, he managed to trade the piece for the cost of the canvas and four more beers.

Inspired by British artist John Bratby, who gained popularity in the early 1950s for painting domestic interior scenes, and also influenced by Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup screen prints, Richard decided to try his hand at painting bottles and jars of popular brands from around the house, but with an abstract streak.

He’s always been keen to try different styles and experiment with his art. So when he realised it was a lot more effective, and a lot more fun, to put the food itself on the canvas rather than messing about mixing paints, he was enthusiastic to explore the idea. After all, what looks more like Marmite than Marmite?

While there have been no disasters so far, he says that some foods are harder to work with than others.

‘I’ve had to put glue in a couple of them, and some of them do get a bit messy,’ laughs the 31-year-old.

One product that doesn’t need any help sticking is peanut butter. Richard likes it because it doesn’t go off and doesn’t smell too much. It does soon become like glue though, which isn’t helpful as he often ends up covered in it.

He’s also found that Marmite can be surprisingly runny.

‘When I started the Marmite painting, within 30 minutes it had run past the bottom of the canvas and on to the floor,’ he remembers.

Fortunately Richard found that mixing Marmite with paint helped it to stay put.

Though Richard usually uses brushes to paint with food, when they get too dirty he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and dive in with his fingers. He uses food products for the jars and bottles and more traditional acrylic paints for the rest of the canvases.

Richard has created seven original pieces for the current exhibition at The Lodge Arts Centre in Portsmouth. His final, and most ambitious, piece is The Last Breakfast, a surreal take on the Da Vinci classic The Last Supper.

He’s using 13 different breakfast objects to represent the characters in the original, including a cereal box, milk, and jam.

At the moment Richard has a part-time job in a factory to help subsidise his art career, but is hoping to become a full-time artist in the near future after enjoying some commercial success. He recently turned an earlier project, called Glass Floor 60 Series, a collection of 60 ink paintings of the view from the Spinnaker Tower, into a book which has nearly run out of its first print run of 300 copies.

n Richard’s food art, which he calls An English Preserve, is on show at The Lodge Arts Centre in Victoria Park, Portsmouth until March 12, except Sundays, Admission is free, open from 10am-5pm. It’s part of a joint exhibition - showing alongside his work is Dan Williams’ collection of portraits titled Pitchers of Things.