Studio Leigh opened in 2015 in a former Shoreditch tramshed above what is now Mark Hix’s Tramshed restaurant, and it’s an apt setting for the gallery’s latest exhibition, Fickle Food Upon A Shifting Plate (September 15-October 14), which brings together the work of 10 international artists to explore the parallels between art and food as objects for consumption.
Fine art and fine dining have each evolved to meet increasing consumer demand, according to gallery founder and curator Tayah Leigh-Barrs, who previously worked as an art director for Mario Testino. “Both seem destined for insatiable palates that are somehow very spoiled yet perpetually hungry,” she says. The exhibition emerged from a discussion between her and artist Laurence Owen – a Royal Academy of Arts graduate whose work has been exhibited at the Serpentine Gallery and the Frieze Arts Fair – around “the similarities between looking and tasting, understanding and chewing, investing and digesting”, Leigh-Barrs says, and it asks us to think about when pleasure becomes over-consumption, and how much is too much. It’s also a playful spin-off from Hix’s restaurant below, in which a Cock ’n’ Bull installation by Damien Hirst refers to the steak- and chicken-based menu.
The show’s highly textured works (paintings and photographs from £4,000; small ceramics from £800; sculptures from £4,500) straddle the line between attraction and repulsion, seeming to ooze in some cases, while in others they appear to be sickeningly sweet or decomposing. Owen’s painting Refuse Recycler hangs from large ceramic pins at the far end of the loft space, sitting beyond a tripartite table (positioned to echo a banqueting hall) dressed with his abstract ceramic sculptures of fish, pork, chicken and lamb. On the surrounding walls, Tyra Tingleff’s rich impasto piece Crimson swells with a sense of gorging, while Alex Olson’s minimalist abstract Return layers icing-like swipes of squeegeed modelling paste to saccharine effect. In contrast, Helene Appel’s pared-back Distribution of Wheat drops grains of wheat onto a linen backdrop.
The exhibition takes its name from the 1702 Emily Dickinson poem, Fame is a Fickle Food, which discusses the ephemeral nature of artistic success through the language of feast and famine. Alex Frost’s sculptures explore similar territory – Adult (Slimatee) and Adult (After Eight Mints) both depict food packaging through lumps of broken mosaic ceramic tiles – while works by Nicholas Cheveldave (Part-Time Dreamer – 28 Reasons to Defer Reality) and Knut Ivar Aaser (Untitled) also pepper the room. Two panels of interlocking laser-cut board by Rhys Coren (the amusingly named Pirate With Farmer Tendencies I and Pirate With Farmer Tendencies II), meanwhile, are mounted back-to-back on jutting walls to create an inverse mirror effect.