Life is a little sweeter this spring in Goldsboro, as foods from designer cupcakes and culinary confections to Twinkies and Frosted Flakes are explored by artists

in GreenHill’s spring exhibition, SWEET, on display May 3 through July 14.

Painters Rachel Campbell, Bethany Pierce and Stacy Crabill; and multi-media artists Kristine Baumlier-Faber, Jillian Ohl, Paul Rousso, Robin Frohardt and Ed Bing Lee investigate the cultural significance of food and the emotions triggered by the senses of taste and aroma.

“Sweet foods are portrayed by these artists as symbols of pop culture, ephemeral triumphs of the baker’s craft, and magnets for consumer taste buds, engaging visitors in a sensory exploration of food as an object of beauty and temptation,” says curator Edie Carpenter.

Raleigh artist Kristen Baumlier-Faber’s photographic installations present familiar processed foods such as doughnuts and Tang in innovative ways through combining photography, mixed media and food. Large format close-up photographs mounted on circular panels are presented next to 4-gallon bowls of the foods portrayed. The glittering surface of a pool of Tang appears depthless in Baumlier-Faber’s photograph and evokes one of the unique qualities of this early processed food, which came on the market in 1959: Tang uses sugar in a unique way so that there is no sweetness saturation point, Baumlier-Faber explains. She hopes that her work will open conversations about how the food industry influences what and how much we eat; manipulating consumer tastes for food in ways we are largely unaware of.

Asheville painter Bethany Pierce’s paintings of desserts transform oil paint into luscious textures of frothy cooked icing or creamy ganache. Painting desserts can be difficult, she notes: “Beneath the spotlights, they spill and slip and lean, forcing me to work with equal parts spontaneity and deliberation. Inevitably my perfectly composed still life arrangements fall apart. The ice cream melts, the doughnuts mold, the cakes calcify.”

The popularity of culinary television shows devoted to desserts speaks to our ongoing fascination with extravagant cakes and sweets. For Pierce this is no surprise, and has “nothing to do with sustenance and everything to do with how we feel or want to feel. We bake them to express love; we buy them to indulge. They soothe our broken hearts, even as they invite guilt and glut.”

The paintings of Rachel Campbell suggest celebrations in which cakes and desserts play a starring role. Inspired by a recent trip to Germany, Campbell’s paintings of rows of cakes are deployed like a corps de ballet – each element unique yet complementary. Elegant tiered pastry servers and titles such as “Afternoon Tea” evoke Old World traditions.

Delicate forms of ice cream cones and pie slices by contemporary fiber artist Ed Bing Lee are made from woven fibers. Lee’s knotting process stems from his attraction to the work of George Seurat and the technical aspects of pointillism, the placement of individual and differing dots of hues, values, and intensity to create a field of color and imagery. Lee’s works will be seen in North Carolina for the first time in SWEET.

Artists Jillian Ohl, Stacy Crabill, Robin Frohardt and Paul Rousso are all inspired by the colorful packaging of candy, cereal and other treats. Ohl contrasts the experience of eating cereal to the heroic figures that are featured on cereal boxes. Crabill combines fortune cookie texts, labels and vintage photos in collage-like works that suggest the hidden messages sweet foods can project. Frohardt fabricates trompe l’oeil cakes and other foods out of plastic bags to heighten our awareness of the impact of mass-produced food. Rousso’s monumental wall reliefs based on candy wrappers function both as abstractions and as odes to the history of candy, contrasting contemporary designs with older two-color candy wrappers.

SWEET is accompanied by a host of family-friendly associated programs designed to educate the public about nutrition and healthy eating habits through art-making activities. Two community conversations will be hosted at GreenHill addressing food marketing and consumer choice, as well as “designer foods” that are fabricated to make us always want more.  A multi-generational food and art party for sweet-lovers of all ages, “Play With Your Food,” will be held on July 13 and feature drop-in art workshops, cake decorating demonstrations, cupcake contests and more to savor the summer.

Admission to GreenHill is $5 per person (suggested). Gallery hours are Tuesday-Thursday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m., Friday: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday: 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.; closed Monday.

GreenHill, located in downtown Greensboro, is a nonprofit visual art center with the vital mission to support and advocate for the art and artists of North Carolina. For more information, visit www.GreenHillNC.org.

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