Arnout van Albaba 'Jell-O Lemon' painting for Blacklisted Magazine

Racial commentary through textile installation

Dutch artist Arnout van Albada speaks about his tantalizing food portraits and his obsession with creating picturesque expressions of mundane objects.

Published: May 16, 2018Words: Arnout van Albaba & Sophia MillerArtist Link: www.vanalbada.nl

As I sit and write this, I’m halted by the behavior of a group of young women a few tables from me, as they casually punctuate their conversation with moves to takes snaps of their lattes. This is the new normal. The glorification of the common. Coffee cups with laptops, sunglasses on the beach, stylized desserts and meals, these are the modern still lifes. Caravaggio’s ”Basket of Fruit” has been replaced by a mass flood of breakfast fruit bowls on Instagram.

Now I wouldn’t say that I’m a traditionalist, but this cultural attitude of instantaneous “reverence leading to disregard” for subject matter, tends to leave all subject matter lacking in value. If the reverence for one iPhone photograph of a latte only lasts until the next “iPhone photograph of a latte”, then what value do either of them have. And yes, I realize I’m exposing my grey hairs by writing that.

This rumination on the subject of the “idolization of everyday objects,” comes in lieu of digging into the background of Dutch artist Arnout van Albada. “ Albada takes his passion for glorifying the things he loves far beyond meager mobile photography. In contrast, his detailed paintings of simple mundane foods and objects take references from the techniques of the past more than from current technology.

Using classic techniques of egg tempera underpainting, followed by layer upon layer of oil washes, his paintings are anything but instantaneous. And that is what I love about them.

Albeit may be somewhat peculiar to glorify rubber gloves; there is a true for value for composition and subject matter. Albada’s placement of the objects. His color palates. Everything has been thought through. When Albada captures the mundane, it takes months, not seconds – and that is what should be revered.

Prior to writing this, I spoke with Arnout van Albada about his work – inquiring about his fascination for elevating common or mundane objects into something that can be revered inside the halls of a gallery.

Arnout van Albaba 'Coppa di Parma' painting for Blacklisted Magazine

Your work often uses food or common household objects as the subject matter. Can you tell about your fascination with these objects?

The attraction of food for still life painting I find in shape, skin or texture of surfaces. Often in combination with packaging, labels, strings, etcetera.

To bring about a sense of tension, I search for contrasts. For example, a salami sausage cut in two. The rough, greyish and dusty skin of the outside, a sharp cut, and then the dark red meat of the inside.

I think you need to be in love somehow with the subject you’re working on as an artist. Getting totally involved, almost obsessive, willing to try and derive the essential nature of your subject. To me, being a food lover, the choice is obvious.

In recent years I am increasingly fascinated by strong colored objects. Maybe the practice of painting and mixing colors for years is pushing me to explore new boundaries. Again in pursuit of contrasts and tension within the painting, I find household gloves an attractive choice.

I enjoy that your work focuses heavily on composition and color. Can you tell me what led you to that?

There has been a shift in my work throughout the years. At first painting, the subject itself was my main objective. Just making a good and convincing still life painting.

In the end, just this was not very satisfying. In my opinion, a good piece of art has a sense of timelessness. Therefore I try to lift an everyday subject out of the ordinary.

Composition (the strong hierarchy I mentioned above) and use of color are my main instruments to achieve that goal. They enable me to adjust and fine-tune tension and contrasts.

Arnout van Albaba 'Household Gloves' painting for Blacklisted Magazine
Arnout van Albaba 'Regout Puddingmould' painting for Blacklisted Magazine

In the end, I try to catch the elusiveness of an object, isolated from its context, in a timeless and magical image.

I find it fascinating that you incorporate your signature into some of your work as almost a graphic element. Where does that idea come from?

Luckily my initials (AvA) make a strong and symmetrical signature. It fits well with my paintings. Often this signature is a welcome addition to the composition. Of course, adding an eye-catching signature has been done before, by Albrecht Dürer for instance.

At first, I played with it a few times. Some empty background needed a ‘fly on the wall’. It can be used to steer around the viewers’ eye through the composition. Even to prevent it from leaving. Finally, my signature has become an inseparable part of my work. Almost as a trademark.

I’ve read that you work with live models, rather than off a photograph. How do you preserve something that can visual change over time?

Painting food has its disadvantages. It takes special measures to keep away decline as long as possible. I use cooling elements and styrofoam boxes. Puddings have to be moisturized every hour, to keep them glossy.

At the end of the day I melt them in the microwave and put them in the fridge overnight, so there is always a fresh pudding to stare at. Cutting a slice of meat or cake gives a fresh new surface again.

You work mainly with egg tempera and oil paint, which are mediums that take a level of skill and knowledge to use correctly. Do you have a formal training that taught you the techniques of using these mediums?

At the Academy of fine arts, we learned the basics (and only the basics) of oil painting. I tried some underpainting with acrylics, which was not very successful. I’ve never liked working with acrylics.

Later on (after graduating) I read an article about portrait painting by the old Flemish masters. This was the first time the technique of tempera underpainting was revealed to me in a practical and useful way.

My first experiments with the technique were in portraits. Later on, I found egg tempera to be a very good basis for still life painting too. It took years to further improve my skills.

What is subject matter interesting to you right now?

Surgeon gloves, band-aid gauze, and a bottle of olive oil in gold-colored foil. Food and strong colored things (like plastic cake pans from my kids’ sandbox). Also medical stuff.

Arnout van Albaba 'Coppa di Parma' painting for Blacklisted Magazine
Arnout van Albaba 'Jell-O Lime' painting for Blacklisted Magazine