FOOD IS ART IN CONVERSATION WITH FOOD PAINTER MARYAM ARSLAN
How cool is it to paint food? Scrolling through Instagram we stumbled upon Maryam’s art page and we just wanted a bite right out of her paintings. In this month’s ‘Art’ feature, we exclusively spoke to the artist on her profession, painting inspiration and more. Read on…
Hello Maryam! Tell us a bit about yourself?
Hey! So I am an avid reader, attention seeker and educator. Travelling is the fuel I use to keep my productivity level up. Other than that, I am an infamous makeup junkie. Makeup surely helps me physically present my different moods and personalities aptly. I also love to smile and wave my problems away. (Smiles)
‘Out of all the mediums, painting gave me courage and that courage fetched out the artist in me’
When did you realize there was an artist in you?
I have a rather peculiar answer for this. I realized it when I stopped using art as an escape and started using it as a mirror. Out of all the mediums, painting gave me courage and that courage fetched out the artist in me. This did not happen until my post-grad. I was 25-years-old when I understood that there is something in me which needs not to escape my reality, but to coexist with it, for better or for worse.
What’s your earliest memory of being in this creative field? Are you self-taught?
Painting clay pots was my favourite activity besides reading in my childhood. I sometimes would read a scene and then paint it on the pot. My pots would sell during the school fundraisers. I used to get sad because I wanted to bring them back home with me. Little did I know I would want the opposite one day! The 7 to 12-year-old Maryam would be horrified by my current earning means. (Laughs) I am not self-taught, I am in immense debt to my family and teachers who were kind enough to share their extensive support, knowledge with me and let me be me. In hindsight, it was meant to be.
Your art is all about food. Is there a reason behind this? Why food?
Food brings people together. Be it, Eid, a vacation or a trip to nani's house, I am always the most joyous about food. I let this joy seep into my work and started painting comfort foods. These kinds of sugar-laden, fatty foods cause the brain to release certain neurotransmitters called dopamine and oxytocin, which induce the feeling of relaxation, pleasure and enjoyment in an individual. Later, help increase the visual appeal of not only the item painted but the medium as well. And help me spread a little bit of joy!
Where do you find inspiration from? And how do you overcome creative roadblocks?
My career is a yin-yang of teaching and painting. With teaching, I’m constantly learning things which feed my art practice and the new discoveries I make while practising and creating, I then get to teach. Other constant muses are Taylor Swift, Wes Anderson, Van Gogh, Mufti Menk and horror podcasts. I also enjoy reading Urdu horror novels. My favourite authors are M. A. Rahat and Anwar Aligi. The context and the language make the stories relatable. If you haven’t given it a shot, you’re truly missing out!
‘Food brings people together. Be it, Eid, a vacation or a trip to nani's house, I am always the most joyous about food. I let this joy seep into my work and started painting comfort foods’
Which mediums do you prefer working on? Give us a brief synopsis of your artistic genre?
Painting is my vocation, so paints are all I work with. I craft food portraits, using conventional materials like oil paint, acrylics canvas, translucent base and enamels, to put forward the visual lushness of the mediums used.
Tell us about the colours on your palette and anything new you have been experimenting with.
Seasons play a vital role in directing a body of work. My colour palette is cooler towards the start of the year and gradually becomes warmer over the year. My most recent inspirations are the infamous 'Djinns of Karachi'. I’m truly intrigued by the ‘Karsaz ki Churail’, which can be seen only by men around 3 AM at Karsaz road. I have previously painted her for a project as I am a huge fan. Walking around the roads of Karachi at 3 AM? She is living one of my dreams!
One piece of work very close to your heart and why?
In 2017, I painted a buttered toast. I applied pale yellow paint on the painted toast like I was applying butter on a real toast with a pallet knife. I felt like I have cracked a code by turning something so mundane into something so tempting. I was not wrong. Plus, if you were to ask my other paintings the same question they would probably chant all day long, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, butter toast is the delectable of all’.
What does art mean to you?
Art is an aspiration that inspires generations.
A pro and con of being an artist?
Being an artist sharpens your observation skills and you can see the good in everything. A con would be that you can also see the bad very evidently with those skills. (Sighs)
In your opinion, how important is art to society?
With art, you may taste,
Fear of the composed.
With art, you may offer,
Little empathy for the misunderstood.
With art, you may travel,
Even to the forbidden neighbourhoods.
To transcend the societal complexities,
Art is and will always be the grass root.
What are your thoughts on Pakistan’s creative field? How can it improve?
We need empathetic viewers. There is an expectation from the emerging artists to have ‘conceptually’ substantial work. Not all young artists have the privilege to talk about social issues from the get-go. In real-time, they’re just trying to make ends meet. Some do not have the capital to support their ideas, some do not have the privilege to practice without a day job. Furthermore, we need more dialogue on art economics and how it can be used as a guide to the art market. Lastly, we also need to smile and wave a lot more, it’s contagious!
INTERVIEW: SAFA ADNAN
PHOTOS: COURTESY MARYAM ARSLAN