This Toronto artist’s paintings look good enough to eat
It’s not often that two-dimensional bacon or kale looks appetizing, but then again, not everyone has Erin Rothstein’s talent with acrylics and photorealism. Everyday, prosaic food comes to life in her art, and the Toronto-based painter’s deftly applied shadows and streaks of white replicate every glisten, vein and fibre that we’re used to seeing in things like bread, pickles and avocados.
“I like to create an emotional experience,” says Rothstein, who has painted since her childhood, but has specialized in still lifes of food for the past six years. “Food triggers something primal in us, and I’m interested in that.” Each of her pieces takes at least two weeks of meticulous work, and she insists on painting the subjects against stark white backgrounds to allow viewers to create their own meaning around each painting. Rothstein’s next solo show opens at the Abbozzo Gallery on June 9 and is appropriately titled Amuse Bouche. We asked her about our favourite pieces.
“This was very, very, very hard to paint. It’s extremely uniform in texture, so it was hard for my eye to keep track of where I was in the painting. I wanted this toast to have some real personality—I wanted it to be a bad-ass piece of toast.” Editor’s note: the model for this was a good ole slice of Dempster’s.
“With the logo right side up, it felt too corporate. Painting the logo upside down made it feel like more of a design as opposed to a sponsored message.”
“I’m a little bit obsessed with sushi. This was very simple to paint, and it allowed me to go into an almost zen-type trance. I could just work piece of rice by piece of rice, or by layer of fat in the salmon. I think there will be more sushi in my future.”
“I paint a lot of avocados. The hardest parts are getting that pit just shiny enough, and capturing that texture. You want the smooth, shiny pit to come through underneath this creamy, almost-seductive avocado.”
“This is an older piece and it was challenging, especially the shadows. I find that pistachios are a safer, more conventional choice for people, and at that time in my career I was playing it safe and more conventional. I still love this piece, but now I’m not afraid to paint subjects that give people a little more shock and awe all at once—like a four-foot painting of burnt bacon.”
“I work in layers, so when I’m working with bacon, I’ll put down a vaguely bacon-ish colour in a bacon-ish shape on the canvas. Then I put in all the darks, and then all the whites—it’s very methodical. The last layer is always about filling in empty edges, and recreating those sheens of oil with white. I’m very obsessive and I love detail, so it’s really fun for me to go in at the end—once everyone thinks the piece is already done—and just add in those details that push it to the next level.”
“I bought about eight bushels of kale, and swiss chard and all kinds of beautiful greens—my kitchen looked like a greenhouse. I had a client come over to see some work, and I had to say, ‘Don’t mind the forest in my kitchen, I’m just in the middle of a shoot.’ I don’t paint greens that often and it was more difficult than I thought to capture all the detail. I like this piece a lot because from a design perspective—and as someone who can’t keep a plant alive for more than five minutes—I really like this pop of green that lasts. After, I made 10 batches of kale soup—I’ve never been healthier!”
“So I go to the store, and I know this painting is going to happen, and I know this pickle is in one of the thousand jars on the shelf. I feel this pressure like, ‘Oh my god, whichever one I choose, this is going to turn into a $5,000 painting that someone will buy, hang in their house and hand down in their family—which jar am I going to get?’ So I bought every brand of pickle. I’m a Mrs. White’s person, but I wasn’t sure that it would be the most photogenic pickle. It was a Bick’s pickle that finally made the cut.”
“This is a Tim Horton’s doughnut. I bought a variety of doughnuts but the homemade, artisanal ones just didn’t have the feel that I wanted. I wanted it to feel like your everyday doughnut, like modern Canadiana. I wanted to elevate something very mainstream to high art, and Tim Horton’s is the everyman’s doughnut.”
“I love painting foil. It’s so interesting to paint that I really get lost in it; it’s almost a meditative experience. We know foil is silver, but when you really look at it, it isn’t. It’s the difference between what you know and what you see: when you look at foil, you see all the reflections of things around it, and it’s actually quite colourful.”