This week marks the FIFTH anniversary of One Ingredient Chef (time flies!) and I thought I would take a moment to let you know about a project that I’ve been working on behind the scenes for quite some time. It is a fine art project focused on the subject of toast. Obviously, that’s going to require a little explanation…
Success and Toast and Failure
To understand why toast became such an important subject, let’s take a trip back to 2014. It was about a year after I started this One Ingredient blog. In those early days, things were going better than I could have expected. I had hundreds of thousands of visitors, a big-shot literary agent in New York shopping a cookbook deal, investors were reaching out wanting to start a restaurant. I mean, I just started posting vegan food online and things were getting a little crazy!
All of this must have been going to my head because I decided that the first product I was going to create for One Ingredient Chef would be a set of four fine art photo prints of… toast. I had previously done a recipe with overhead shots of toast on white backgrounds and they looked super-cool. So, I spent a week recreating the perfect toast photos and having them printed as 8×8-inch photo prints, got nice frames, and prepared them for their big sale. Here’s that original photo from the archives:
Hilariously, the plan was to make a limited edition of just 250 sets because, you know, I wanted them to be really exclusive.
I sent out the email blast to my few thousand subscribers offering these prints for sale and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Now, by ‘overwhelmingly positive,’ I mean people said nice things about them; I do not mean they sold well. They sold exactly zero copies. Thousands of potential customers and zero sales (they weren’t even expensive!). It was the only time in my life when I tried to sell a product and didn’t even make one sale.
The very same month, my One Ingredient book was turned down by all the publishers (all of whom had that same ‘overwhelmingly positive’ reaction). And the restaurant guys were complete losers. After that, I started focusing exclusively on growing this blog and doing my own thing.
That was almost certainly for the best, but strangely, as my blog continued to get bigger and more established, those big outside opportunities actually got fewer and fewer. Whatever crazy energy was going on in that first year shifted into something else, something more steady. For lots of reasons, it was a turning point for both my business and my own life.
The reason I share all of this is because the toast art came to embody that larger energy shift in my life. It probably would have been forgotten except for the fact that there is one surviving copy of those toast prints and they have been on my bedroom wall for all these years.
They are just photos of hippie cinnamon, chocolate strawberry, tofu ricotta with pistachio, and avocado toast, but I look at them a lot. They have become an incredibly complicated symbol, staring back at me with all of this context behind them. I couldn’t put it into words, but underneath their simplicity is a much more complex story trying to be told.
“Hey, you should make art now”
It seems like all of my really good life decisions simply showed up out of the blue as pure inspiration from Life itself. For example, one morning nine years ago I woke up and realized, “hey, I’m a vegetarian now” and that was that. No warning, no rationale, I just followed along. Then I went vegan in the same way a few months later and it was the best decision of my life.
The same thing happened starting One Ingredient. “Hey, you should start a blog with unprocessed vegan recipes” and that didn’t turn out too badly either…
I noticed something similar about a year ago. My intuition simply said, “hey, you should start making art now…” Where did it come from and why? I have no idea, but it has been an entirely non-optional part of my life ever since. I suddenly had this vision of an entire collection of toast-related art, like art from the mind of a vegan food blogger gone mad. 🙂
Much of my time over the last year has been spent creating this art. If you have a minute, I’d love to give you a tour of some items in this collection and what they have meant to me…
The first thing I knew I had to do was make painting versions of those original four toast photos. When I finished those, I kept making more. And more. And more. After many months of painting, I ended up with an entire “loaf” of bread. Fourteen slices each with a different topping, plus an opening heel and a closing heel to bookend the entire loaf. All 8-inch acrylic paintings on canvas:
There’s a lot I could say about these, but when I look at them all together, the one thing that strikes me the most is the contrast between flatness and form. Within the crust, each toast is very detailed and textured. But the toast itself feels lost in the raw white canvas. Very flat and two-dimensional, almost like a sticker. That contrast between inner complexity and exterior flatness somehow became an important theme as I was painting these.
One of the other cornerstones of this collection that I envisioned early on was a giant painting of a hundred dollar bill distorted into the shape of toast — in various shades of pink. I ultimately made four 30-inch screen prints of these in the same white, flat style as The Loaf. These are “Expensive Toasts” and I made them in pink, teal, grey, and gold flavors:
I am also doing a series of four “Cheap Toasts” in the same style with a one dollar bill.
A Column of Dirty Dishes
The dirty dishes is a sculpture with 50 melamine plates suspended over 6 feet tall, each painted and designed to look like a dirty dish, all stacked on the base of a cutting board:
This piece embodies the vision I had for this collection as something from the nightmare of a food blogger gone crazy. Every time I look at these they remind me of an Alan Watts lecture on emptiness: “there’s a kind of nostalgic beauty to it. The banquet hall deserted after the revelry, all the guests have left and gone their way. A table of overturned glasses, crumpled napkins, bread crumbs and dirty knives and forks lies empty and the laughter echoes only in one’s mind.”
The Big Heel
A 24-inch painting of a heel. That is all.
Toast Sponges & More
More recently, I have been making sculptures from cellulose kitchen sponges that are shaped, sculpted, dyed, and painted to look like toast. I put together a full loaf in a bread bag from these sponges:
There are also a number of toast sculptures on dishes that look like paper plates. These are kind of a play on the idea of decorative wall plates and they are some of my favorite pieces in the collection. What strikes me about these is they way they highlight such a mundane thing — a piece of Ezekiel toast on a cheap ‘paper’ plate — and suspend it forever in the present moment:
In addition to the single slices, there is also a 6-slice sculpture of a grilled cashew-cheese sandwich which kind of speaks for itself…
That’s pretty much it (so far). Each time I think I’m done with this collection, I have new ideas and can’t stop myself from creating them. (At the time of writing, I just realized I need a whole series of three-foot wooden bread clips and I’m woking on those next…)
Update: Yeah that happened too…
I wanted to share all of this with you firstly just to let you know what I’ve been working on lately. It has been a significant project for me over the last year and I thought you might find it interesting to see what I’ve been doing.
All of this is actually being produced under by alter-ego of label. or drew label. Moving forward, I wanted to create a kind of artistic brand that can combine art and electronic music and potentially other mediums like film and product design and who knows what else. My vision is to create one central brand / studio / identity that can produce work under the generic label known just as label. I’m sure the name is also a kind of commentary about the way we value things based on the brands (labels) that are slapped onto them. Or something like that.
If you’re interested in this kind of thing, I have a new Instagram devoted to the art and music behind this label. thing. I post quite a bit and share a lot of stuff I’m working on, so I’d love to count you among my 12 followers if that’s something you’re into – follow @labeldot on Instagram.
Toast: The Exhibit
Ultimately my dream for this toast collection is to show it to you. I have this beautiful vision of a show called Toast: The Exhibit with all the pieces above (35+ so far), some new ones I’m still working on, plus a crazy installation or two.
It would be amazing to have a real-world space where you can all come see this toast in person! Between the One Ingredient community, the larger vegan world (veganism was a big influence on this work and you can see hints of that throughout), and the art world at large, I think we could create a toast show that would be pretty remarkable.
The thing is, the art world is kind of new to me. I don’t have a ton of contacts or resources in this area and I just wanted to reach out and let you all know what I’m working on and what my goals are for this project… if you or someone you know works in this space and might have some insights or ideas about where to go from here, I would love to talk with you. You can reach me on my contact page or at email@example.com.
Thank you for all your support over these last 5 years. From the 275 recipes, to the One Ingredient course, to The Cheesy Vegan eBook, to all the experiences in-between… that, “hey I should start a vegan food blog” idea in March of 2013 turned into a pretty amazing experience. (And also thanks for not buying those toast prints in 2014 so I could have this story to tell you today.)
That’s all for now! I appreciate you reading this and letting me share this passion with you. Nothing is changing here at 1IC. I’ll be back with more regularly-scheduled vegan noms soon 🙂