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It doesn't pay to be picky

"I don't try to put everything in, I try to leave everything out."

Charley Harper

It's a new week and so I turn over the page on my desk diary and there is a new picture - the one on the left. I liked it so I thought I would share it with you. I'll try to connect it to food somehow - you can connect everything to food if you try hard enough. But first a little bit about the artist.

American, and an illustrator rather than a 'proper' artist I suppose, but I just love his pictures. I had not heard of him before I bought this diary. They are so neat, the colours are so pleasing, and there is a subtle humour and humanity to them. I suppose they are designs rather than pictures but I see no problem in that. Design is surely an art anyway.

There are a couple of gallery websites for his work, but Charley Harper Prints is the best one I saw because it included a lengthy letter from Charley Harper about his work, from which I have extracted the following two quotes which describe his work much better than I ever could.

“When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures. I regard the picture as an ecosystem in which all the elements are interrelated, interdependent, perfectly balanced, without trimming or unutilized parts; and herein lies the lure of painting; in a world of chaos, the picture is one small rectangle in which the artist can create an ordered universe.”

And yet sometimes there is a tiny little bit of disorder - as in this one where a fish seems to be escaping the bird.

"I felt fettered by the laws of perspective and shading and decided that the constant attempt to create the illusion of three dimensions on the two-dimensional plane was limiting. It was only one of the tools at the artist’s disposal; I wanted to try others. I concentrated on trying to simplify the great natural forms and symbolize the design underlying the surface clutter."

He also said that he loves to use black and white in his paintings because, "all colors seem to me richer in the presence of black and white." Black in particular I think. And you could say the same about food - it always looks best on a white, or maybe a black plate.

But to return to my weekly picture (and food). This time the picture is an animal, not a bird, which demonstrates that he doesn't just paint/draw birds although birds do seem to be the favourite.

We don't eat koalas - do the Aborigines I wonder, or did the Aborigines in times gone by I should say? Koalas are rapidly becoming endangered. When we first moved to our bushy block in Eltham we would see the occasional koala. I remember seeing one at the top of our very tall tree (now dead) in our back garden. Did the koalas kill the tree I wonder by eating the young leaves? But these days you never see a koala around here. Overall with respect to their endangered status I believe the problem is a really restricted diet. Koalas are very picky eaters and will only eat the leaves of particular eucalypts, although there are obviously dangers from dogs and humans in cars, loss of habitat, and I think disease as well. The main thing I am going with here though is the pickiness.

Children are picky aren't they? And I am beginning to wonder whether the elderly, even just the older amongst us, get picky as they grow older. Humans, generally speaking are omnivores and will eat almost anything. Well the starving will eat just about anything, and different cultures eat things that might be repulsive to others, but for the lucky of the world who have a lot of choice we get picky. And perhaps the more we can choose from the pickier we get. But you can't really afford to be super picky because if you have very limited choice and your choice disappears, unless you adapt you die.

The children thing is interesting though because you would think that children would naturally be less picky than adults as they are generally adventurous little souls eager to touch, taste, see all manner of new things. Everything is a wonder to a small child. As it should be for us. But when it comes to food, sooner or later they will get picky. Is it a parent/child battle of wills or a genuine distaste for certain foods? After all children of different cultures eat different foods. An Indian child eats curry. A French child does not, although an English one might.

A couple of Charley Harper's statements about his art could also be applied to food. The endless possibilities he sees in the shapes he discovers in nature for transmutation into art, are surely the same as the endless possibilities one sees in the ingredients in the shops, in the fridge in the pantry, in those glossy cookbooks for devising a tasty meal. He reduces the complex to the simple, a cook perhaps expands the simple - flour and water for example, into the complex. The endless possibilities are shared though.

"I regard the picture as an ecosystem in which all the elements are interrelated, interdependent, perfectly balanced," Well that can obviously applied to cooking a perfectly balanced meal as well. The elements might be interrelated but they have been chosen to produce the final balanced result - the picture, or the dish.

A bit of a leap I guess from my lovely picture of today. It's a simple picture but the more I look at it the more I see. Even the stylised expressions on the koalas faces are not quite so expressionless after a while. This one is called Caribbean cruise. Perfect balance - one wing up, one down, black and white and brilliant yellow and blue with grey bringing them together. A straight line in the middle, a diagonal from left to right. Very satisfying, like I hope my dish of biryani made from this and that, tonight, will be.


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