Welcome to the new notebook. The first question you may have about my work is, why toast? I spent about 18 months producing 30+ pieces of art on the subject of toast and that might need some explanation…
So, before we go any further in this notebook, I wanted to take a few minutes to share the story of the toast art and why it became such a thing for me…
Success & Toast & Failure
Since 2013, I have been a vegan food blogger at OneIngredientChef.com. In that time, I produced about 300 recipes/food photos that have reached millions of people. It has been a crazy / incredible / complex journey and those experiences were the inspiration for this toast collection.
But why toast, specifically?
In 2014, about a year after I started the One Ingredient Chef blog, 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 starting to get a little crazy.
Around that time, I decided that the first product I was going to create would be a set of four fine art photo prints of… toast. I had done a recipe with shots of toast on white backgrounds and thought they would make great prints. So, I spent a week recreating the four toast photos, had them printed as 8×8-inch photo prints, 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 followers offering these prints for sale and everyone loved them. When I say, “everyone loved them,” I mean people said nice things about them; I do not mean they sold well. They sold exactly zero copies. I had thousands of customers on my list at that point, 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.
That, on its own, was no big deal. But the same month, my One Ingredient book was a big hit with the publishers… but got no offers. And the restaurant guys were complete losers. I continued to work on the blog and post weekly recipes for the next four years. It was an amazing experience, but things were never the same as they were in the pre-toast days. The site continued to grow, but things were different. The energy leading that early growth just kind of stalled out after that.
Over time, the “failed toast sale” began to be seen as a symbolic thing, an inflection point in my life/career. It came to represent the complexity of that experience which includes both success and failure. 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.
These are just photos of hippie cinnamon, chocolate strawberry, tofu ricotta with pistachio, and avocado toast on white backgrounds, but I look at them a lot. And they seemed to look back at me. They became an incredibly complicated symbol with all of the context and story behind them. I couldn’t put it into words, but underneath their simplicity is a much more complex story trying to be told about life, success, failure, emptiness, hopes, dreams, art, money, and more.
“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 10 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 that One Ingredient Chef blog. “Hey, you should start a blog with unprocessed vegan recipes” and that didn’t turn out too badly either…
I noticed something similar about 18 months ago, at 28 years old. My intuition simply said, “hey, you’re an artist 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 (somehow) became an artist. I read every art-related book I could get my hands on, from technique to economics to art history. I went to every museum I could find (including two trips to New York). I learned to draw and began painting religiously.
It was immediately obvious that I needed to paint these four toasts, which were one of the most powerful symbols in my life, and I began to form this vision of an entire collection of toast-related art, like an entire exhibit from the mind of a food blogger gone mad.
So, much of my time over the last year or two has been spent producing this work. You can see photos of the collection on my art page, and I’d like to take a minute to describe each piece and what it means to me below…
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 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 space of the canvas. In a way, I see them as so rich and dynamic (even alive), but also flat and two-dimensional. That contrast between inner complexity and exterior flatness (in a larger sense) became an important theme in this project.
The other thing that’s important to me here is the repetition. I spent so many years running this food blog, day after day, the same process, the same work, just grinding it out. It’s the same process anytime you’re chasing your goals in life, that relentless process of doing the same thing over and over again. For creators “every day is groundhog day” as Austin Kleon says, and the repetition of one toast after another came to symbolize the entire creative process for me.
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 three 30-inch screen prints of these in the same white, flat style as The Loaf. These are “Expensive [color] Toasts” and I made them in pink, teal, and black flavors (so far):
The various levels of symbolism, especially in the expensive pink toast, are what I find most intriguing about these. They have the same flat, white, shadowless style highlighted by the distorted currency, the bread, and the color choices. I can never fully grasp what they are trying to say, and I think that makes them a great mirror because their meaning seems to shift around for me depending on what I’m feeling.
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 mad. To me, they highlight the more pensive, nostalgic aspect of this toast collection. 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. I have nothing further to add at this time.
Toast Sponges & More
More recently, I was 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 the 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. Update: I wrote more about these in the note: How I Made the Decorative [Toast] Plates.
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…
As I got to the end of this collection, a friend suggested that I also paint a bread clip, as if nothing is left but the clip that seals the bread bag. I thought that was a great idea, but I took it to another level and sculpted / painted these larger-than-life 36-inch wooden bread clips. There’s a red one (below) and a yellow one…
That brings us pretty much to the end of this collection (so far). But every time I think I’m done with the toast, I come up with new things that I have to create, so who knows!
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 (30+ so far), any additional stuff, plus a crazy installation or two that I have in mind.
It would be amazing to have a real-world space where you can all come see this toast in person. Bringing together the community at One Ingredient Chef and the art world at large, I think we could create a toast show that would be pretty remarkable. If you have any ideas or whatever, you can use this form to contact me.
I think that’s all for now. Again, welcome to my notebook here on this new site. I am super excited to get it off the ground and share more of my explorations in art / music / the 100 other things I’m working on. If you want to stay in touch, be sure to…