A mixed menu of food and artworks

Food seems to have always played its part in artwork. The SFU Liberal Arts & 55+ Program presents A Visual Feast: Images of Food and Dining in Western Art, and art historian Efrat El-Hanany will discuss on Oct.7 how food and its consumption has inspired artists over the centuries.

Untitled (Three Ice Creams) by Wayne Thiebaud. | Photo by Wayne Thiebaud

The edible art connoisseur will enjoy these dishes served for the inquisitive palette: from the Stone Age up to Pop Culture.

In her lecture, El- Hanany will draw on old masterpieces such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, Vincent Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters as well as Pop artworks by Roy Lichtenstein, Wayne Thiebaud and Andy Warhol. Recent provocative works including Jana Sterbak’s Vanitas Flesh Dress and Gina Beaver’s large scale oil paintings and installations depicting edibles, originating from photos gleaned from the Internet and social media, will be investigated as well.


Going back to the Stone Age, cave painters used animal fat and the juice of vegetables as binding agents for their paints. In ancient Egypt, pictographs of crops and bread were carved on hieroglyphic tablets.

The Renaissance saw Giuseppe Arcimboldo paint amusing, complicated portraits in which facial features were composed of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. During the Dutch golden age, paintings of feathered duck carcasses were regally displayed on shiny silver platters. The French painter Paul Cézanne is still famous for his brightly coloured apples and oranges.

Main course

Vanitas Flesh Dress by Jana Sterbak. | Photo by Jane Sterbak

During the pop art era (mid 1950’s–70’s), American artist Wayne Thiebaud famously painted rows of pies and cakes using bright pastel color. In the spirit of the Surrealists tradition, British artist Sarah Lucas’s 1997 Chicken Knickers provocatively posed with a raw, plucked chicken strapped to the front of her underpants. American artist Dan Colen used chewing gum in lieu of paint in his early 21st-century canvases.

Suggesting the Catholic ritual of consuming the body and spirit of Christ, British sculptor Antony Gormley, built his Bed (1980–81) using 600 loaves of bread and paraffin with depressions in the middle of the artwork suggesting recumbent bodies.

The Cuban-American artist Félix González-Torres spilled gray licorice candies on a gallery floor, invoking a fallen hail of bullets, alluding to the Persian Gulf War, in 1991.

In Asia, the Chinese conceptual artist He Xiangyu boiled down 127 tons of Coca-Cola into an oil-dark residue that he used as ink to emulate paintings from the medieval Song dynasty for his 2009 Cola Project.

Closer to home, Canadian artist Ron Benner’s Anthro-Apologies (And the trees grew inwards – for Manuel Scorza), 1979–80, was a mix of gelatin silver photographs, paper, textile, wood, metal, dried and fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and spices. The London, Ontario based artist is fond of investigating the history and political economics of food cultures through his artworks.

About the lecturer

El-Hanany is a faculty member in the Art History and Women and Gender Studies departments at Capilano University. An art historian, she specializes in the visual culture of the Italian Renaissance with additional interests in traditions of Jewish art, contemporary art, and the art of China.

She graduated from Hebrew University in Jerusalem with a BA in the history of art and East Asian studies and a BA in education. After several years’ experience teaching and developing educational programs at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, she went on to earn an MA and a PhD from Indiana University. Her PhD dissertation, Beating the Devil: Images of the Madonna del Soccorso in Italian Renaissance Art (2006), focuses on issues of iconography, gender, and social and religious history.

She has published on diverse topics, presented at numerous academic conferences, and taught for many years at various cultural institutions around Vancouver and beyond.

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