How Ed Ruscha and Jules Olitski Saved Dinner

As I was rinsing up some pots and pans, the Cuisinart, that was whipping my black beans into soup, leapt from the counter and crashed on the floor sending copious amounts of  brown sludge onto the floor, stove and walls.  My first thought, as I saw this gigantic splatter was, “Is there a painting in this? Can I make art out of this?” As I sifted through my mental catalog of art that might inform this decision, I thought of Ruscha’s drawings made with mustard, catchup and other culinary items.











Ed Ruscha, Very Angry People, cherry stains on waterfall rayon
20 H x 24 W (inches), 1973

And then, when I dug out my flat pastry blade to scrape up the thick soup, I thought that this was a painting tool that Jules Olitski would appreciate. Even Walter Darby Bannard made a brief appearance, when I slid the scrapper across the floor and left thick brown lines at the edges and smears in the middle.

Jules Olitski, Shekinah Light* (1990), acrylic on canvas







Walter Darby Bannard, Old Battles

Happily, once I cleaned up the floor, stove and walls there was still enough soup left in the pot for dinner.

Ed Ruscha: In his drawings, prints, and paintings throughout the 1970s, Ruscha experimented with a range of materials including gunpowder, vinyl, blood, red wine, fruit and vegetable juices, axle grease, chocolate syrup, tomato paste, bolognese sauce, cherry pie, coffee, caviar, daffodils, tulips, raw eggs and grass stains.[27] Stains, an editioned portfolio of 75 stained sheets of paper produced and published by Ruscha in 1969, bears the traces of a variety of materials and fluids. Ruscha has also produced his word paintings with food products on moiré and silks, since they were more stain-absorbent; paintings like A Blvd. Called Sunset (1975) were executed in blackberry juice on moiré. However, these most vibrant and varied organic colourings usually dried to a range of muted greys, mustards and browns.[28] His portfolio Insects (1972) consists of six screen prints – three on paper, three on paper-backed wood veneer, each showing a lifelike swarm of a different meticulously detailed species. For the April 1972 cover of ARTnews, he composed a Arcimboldo-like photograph that spelled out the magazine’s title in a salad of squashed foods. [Wikipedia]

Jules Olitski  evolved a radically innovative technique of laying down atmospheric blankets of colored spray on the canvas, marked at first by barely discernible straight-edged value changes near the edge of the picture and later by acrylic paint dragged along portions of the edge. He exhibited internationally in the late 1960s and was selected as one of four artists to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1966. In 1969 he was invited to exhibit large, aluminum, spray-painted sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art becoming the first living American artistto be given a one-person exhibition there.

He taught at Bennington College from 1963 to 1967.

In the 1970s Olitski returned to the thick impasto surfaces which characterized his work in the 50s but with innovative techniques that took advantage of the newly improved polymer and gel acrylic mediums. [Wikipedia]

*The Hebrew word shekinahis a feminine term for God’s transcendent presence, which doesn’t “actually descend down from heaven, but rather is described as the light that occupies everywhere.”

Walter Darby Bannard began using the new acrylic mediums in 1970 and his paintings evolved into colorful expanses of richly colored gels and polymers applied with squeegees and commercial floor brooms, which continues to the present. [Wikipedia]


Albrecht Dürer and the Pig Farm


Heritage Pig from Flying Pig Farm

Heritage Pig from Flying Pig Farm

Shushan is a tiny hamlet in upstate New York located on the famous trout fishing river the Battenkill. We don’t have much in the way of industry as the shirt and collar factories were burnt down at the turn of the century by none other than our police chief — Shushan hasn’t had a policeman since. But what we still do have is a lot of farming. A few years ago Michael Yezzi and Jennifer Small bought a large farm  at the top of a hill overlooking the Battenkill where they raise heritage pigs mostly for the New York City restaurant market. These pigs come in a range of colors and are smaller than contemporary pigs.

Albrecht Dürer

Albrecht Dürer

I tend to see the world through the filter of art history and one of the pigs reminded me of this drawing by Albrecht Dürer.

Dürer again used pigs in his illustration “The Prodigal Son Among the Pigs”.

Albrecht Dürer, "The Prodigal Son Among the Pigs"

Albrecht Dürer, “The Prodigal Son Among the Pigs”


Study for Albrecht Dürer's, "The Prodigal Son Among the Pigs"

Study for Albrecht Dürer’s, “The Prodigal Son Among the Pigs”

If you want to find the passage in the Bible where this came from you can go to this website, which connects art with Biblical references to the passage in the Bible that it relates to:

Here is the passage for the Dürer:


If you go:

Michael Yezzl
Flying Pigs Farm, LLC
246 Sutherland Road.
Shushan, NY 12873

(518) 854-3844



Categorize This: A Test For Artists

Ken Kensinger, my anthropology professor in college, walked into the classroom carrying three bags of groceries, which he emptied on top of his desk. There were eggs, milk, stewing beef, aluminum foil, cat food, kitty litter, strawberry jell-o, lettuce, frozen peas, beets, dried beans, rice, Comet cleanser, coca-cola, and that was just one bag.

On this day, he asked us to take out a pen and paper. He wanted us to put the groceries into categories. A simple task.

The first item that caught my eye was the strawberry jell-o. It was in a red box. So, my first category was “red”.  But the box had writing on it, so the second category was “box with writing on it.” I could probably put the cereal and pasta in this category, although the Cheerios box is yellow and the Mueller’s pasta box is blue. The jell-o itself is a powder, so I need a powder category. Then you add hot water and it becomes a liquid, but when it sets it becomes gelatinous. OK — powder, liquid, gelatin. And, of course, the color changes from pink to red. My first item has five categories, six, if you count the change from  pink to red. I looked at the desk and dozens of items remained. How would I categorize all of them?

What next?  Comet. That could go in the same categories as the Jell-o. It starts as a powder, you add water and it changes color, but it doesn’t become gelatinous and it’s not in a box but a cylinder that is green and shiny.

“OK, stop,” said Kensinger. “Anyone want to share your list?” He called on a student in the back of the room. He read, “Edible items, non-edible items, edible by humans, edible by animals, meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, legumes.”

My face flushed and my hands began to sweat. In twenty minutes I took two items and expanded them into a dozen categories. If I continued I would expand three bags of groceries into a spinning vortex of chaos. But how can you categorize anything? Do you do it in its current form, in its potential form, evolving form? Do you categorize a plant by its seed or its fruit; gasoline by its source, its use, or by the extremes of its potential as liquid or fire?

I had not only failed the test, I came to feel that there was something desperately wrong with me, that I was incapable of divining order in these three bags. In page after page I listed colors and qualities, potentials and transitions. Fragmented items that have been powdered, diced, ground, minced — some wet, some dry. Maybe I could take the bag of groceries and explode it into a thousand post-it notes, one for each way that the item fits in the universe.

As student after student recited an equally simple pattern of categories, I thought what is wrong with me? Am I suffering from some sort of “category dyslexia”? It was especially surprising, as I like so much to put things in order. I arrange my books by category and alphabetically by author. I occasionally move my poetry books from the bottom of the shelf to the top because I change my mind that poetry is not the foundation of literature, but its apex. I have a refined sense of hierarchy: it just isn’t based on anything concrete.

After a few other students recited their orderly and logical responses, I timidly raised my hand. “Dr. Kensinger, I have a problem.”

“What is it?” He asked.

I read him my list of categories.

After a long pause he asked. “Are you an art major?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Then don’t worry about it.”

Books of interest:


Let Them Eat Cake: I Don’t Think So

My friend Andrew loves to bake cakes. He is completely comfortable baking a cake without a recipe. So, when I called him and told him that I wanted to make a cake called “Vert-Vert” with green fondant fromMonet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet , he couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. The cake called for, among other things:  pistachios, kirsch, 2 1/4 cups of butter, about 8 eggs, and spinach for coloring. We headed for Hannafords and about $50. later had our ingredients.

“Vert-Vert”, detail of photo by Jean-Bernard Naudin from “Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet”.

The cake was to be cooked in a single pan, sliced into three layers and filled with pistachio cream – thus the need for 2 1/4 cups of butter. Andrew, who is not known for his patience, decided he would “soften” the butter in the microwave. A few seconds later we had enough melted butter to cover all the artichokes in Castroville, California. If we were going to proceed we would have to go back to the store for another pound of butter. But first, the cake had finished baking and was ready to be pulled from the oven.

Andrew Ciccarelli with my painting of him.

The half pan of batter had baked into a half pan of cake. It didn’t rise. Instead it buckled and lifted from the pan like a ribbon. It also had a rubbery consistency. It was obvious that three layers could not be cut from this frisbee  sized hockey puck. Absolute, utter disaster!

One bite confirmed what our eyes already told us – this cake sucked.  And there was no way that the green coloring seeping  from the spinach was going to make the icing assume the luminous green glow that it had in the book. Khaki green fondant was not what I had in mind.

On top of that, we had already invited a friend we ran into at the grocery store to come over and sample the cake. Andrew and I agreed that the hockey puck, iced or not, was not going to be served.

Undeterred, Andrew emptied my cabinets and in under an hour produced a perfectly tasty chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache icing.

Andrew’s Cake

Later that year, when I had a chance to speak at the New England Culinary Institute about ” Monet and his Gardens in Giverny”, I challenged their students to produce the cake. I was happy to see, that while edible, it seemed nearly as squat and unspectacular as our version.

This is what happens when you are seduced by the color of a cake and have no feeling for its ingredients. Clearly, something was lost in translation.

Books Mentioned:

Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet

Text by Claire Joyes, Photographs by Jean-Bernard Naudin

If You Want to Try Your Luck:

Recipes of Claude Monet

Recipe that Andrew Recommends

If You Go:

Claude Monet Foundation

84 Rue Claude Monet, 27620 Giverny, FRANCE

Castroville Artichoke Festival

P.O. Box 1041, Castroville, California 95012. Tel (831) 633-2465 • Fax (831) 633-0485

New England Culinary Institute

56 College Street  Montpelier, VT 05602 – info@neci.edu877-223-6324

NECI has several great restaurants on campus.


Andrew is a master gardener and great cake baker living in Granville, New York.

Since Andrew makes up his recipes as he goes along and doesn’t write them down, I asked him to recommend a recipe for a cake that he loved.

Andrew’s Favorite Cake Recipe from Food and Wine Magazine:

Double-Chocolate Bundt Cake with Ganache Glaze

Recipe by Kate Neumann


    1. Vegetable oil spray
    2. 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
    3. 3/4 cup canola oil
    4. 1 cup sugar
    5. 1 large egg
    6. 2 cups all-purpose flour
    7. 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
    8. 1 tablespoon baking soda
    9. 3/4 teaspoon salt
    10. 1 cup strong-brewed coffee
    11. 1 cup buttermilk
    12. 1/3 cup heavy cream
    13. 1/2 tablespoon corn syrup
    14. 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with vegetable oil spray. In a small saucepan, melt 2 ounces of the chopped chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly. Scrape the chocolate into a medium bowl and let cool slightly. Whisk in the oil and sugar until smooth, then whisk in the egg.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add half of the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture along with 1/2 cup of the coffee and 1/2 cup of the buttermilk; whisk until smooth. Add the remaining dry ingredients, coffee and buttermilk and whisk until smooth.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the lower third of the oven for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Let the cake cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn it out and let cool completely.
  4. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. In a heatproof bowl, combine the remaining 3 ounces of chopped chocolate with the corn syrup and butter. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand until melted, about 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Let the ganache glaze cool until thick but still pourable, about 5 minutes.
  5. Pour the ganache over the cooled cake. Let the cake stand until the glaze is set, at least 30 minutes, before serving.

Make Ahead The glazed cake can be stored in an airtight container for 3 days.

Andrew with yet another great cake. Note the fleur de lis on his shirt!