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OFF THE WALLS

In this monthly series we will pick a piece from the Schwartz Art Collection to discuss in the hopes of starting conversations about art on campus and beyond. We don’t claim to be experts, just fans of interesting art excited to talk about what we see.

VS: This month we will be talking about a delightful discovery we made the other day on the second floor of Aldrich—Emily Eveleth’s impressionistic painting of a half dozen jelly doughnuts titled “Break.” Given the recent cronut craze, it’s only fitting that the good old jelly doughnut gets its due.

RBN: Agreed. Eveleth does a tremendous job of humanizing the doughnuts so that the painting looks less like a heap of Dunkin’ rejects and more like bodies piled atop one another, reminiscent of some sort of military battle or ritual slaughter. The blues and creams of the doughnuts are punctured by streaks of deep red jelly, which looks eerily like blood in this context.

VS: And look at that pool of coagulated “blood” that has formed at the base of the doughnut heap. It makes you flinch just thinking about these anthropomorphic forms being stabbed and having this blood-like substance come gushing out, doesn’t it?

RBN: It really does. This piece actually reminds me of classic paintings of Saint Sebastian—usually shown with his young body pierced through by arrows—by, among others, Hans Memling (whom Eveleth has mentioned as one of her influences). In any case, the degree to which Eveleth has been able to invest these sugary baked goods with beauty and pain is astonishing.

VS: I think you’re onto something. Claes Oldenburg, the ‘60s Pop artist best known for his huge, floppy sculptures of hamburgers, ice cream cones, and other foods, had the uncanny ability to make gallery-goers feel gluttonous and even guilty after viewing his mammoth slabs of cake. His work is mystifying even to this day—is it a celebration of the American dream, or rather, a (literally) oversized critique of blind consumption? And I think the same applies here—Eveleth’s doughnuts are the size of our heads, distorting our normal relationship to them.

RBN: For sure. And while the painting in Aldrich is medium-sized, some of Eveleth’s doughnut paintings are more than six feet tall, using extreme scale to further distort our perception. Apparently, the doughnut has been Eveleth’s signature image for decades, so she has spent a good deal of time and energy studying her unlikely subjects.

VS: There’s definitely some irony in how she’s taken a mass-produced item—you can picture these jelly-filled donuts flying straight off the conveyer belt at Krispy Kreme—and has treated it with such sensitivity and care. Look at how she has been able to convey the light, airy puffs of dough on the one hand and the thick, sickly-sweet drips of jelly on the other, all with the same brush. She devotes endless attention to something that most people devour by the dozen without so much as a second thought.

RBN: I think that this move you’re talking about, the re-humanization of mass-produced goods, is something we are seeing in lots of places today—even in doughnut-making. Over the past century, international supply chains and factory automation have made mass production cheaper and quicker. But in doing so, we have dramatically increased the distance between end consumers and the sources of their goods. Now it seems as if we are beginning to grow wary of these character-less products. As a result, people are increasingly turning to personalized production—whether it’s communities on Etsy, local farmer’s markets, or even 3D printing—for more bespoke solutions. Even in the world of doughnuts, we are seeing a resurgence of artisan doughnut shops as a rebuke to the big chains. To be honest, I couldn’t be happier about this. In fact, my great-grandfather opened a doughnut bakery in Buffalo when he first immigrated to the U.S.
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VS: No way! How was business?

RBN: Well, my grandfather used to tell me that back then they sold doughnuts for only 20 cents a dozen, and 12 cents wholesale. But family lore says that we made a lot of dough. Ba-dum-ch!

If you see something and want us to say something, shoot us an email at rniles@mba2016.hbs.edu and vsung@mba2015.hbs.edu.

April 11, 2014
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