Artist Carmen Argote uses pizza and RXBARs to create art prints –

If someone could have visited Carmen Argotelast spring and summer, they would have been struck by the strong aroma of pepperoni pizza mixed with hints of chocolate and peanut butter. Los Angeles-based Argote was busy making impressions from the oils in pizza slices and RXBARs – minimalist and seemingly healthy branded snack bars – for Dog Hand Glovea three-room solo exhibition that opened in July at the Commonwealth and Council, Clockshop and Stairwell LA.

The spark for the project was a editing Argote had produced LACE for the non-profit arts, which led her to think about the mechanics of “one surface touching another surface”. With the help of engraver Eric Gero, Argote began making “impressions” with RXBARs by placing them on sheets of Stonehenge paper – following Gero’s recommendation – until the bars’ natural nut oils were washed away, leaving irregular grease stains that Argote described with a pencil.

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That the bars were able to ooze came as a surprise to Argote, given the product’s marketing as a super clean “real food,” with simple ingredients listed on the front of each package in a no-frills font. “The oil transfer created this mark that revealed something harder to see behind the brand image or the system that he inhabits,” she said, alluding to the classist and elitist world of health foods and the wider wellness industry, not to mention the abstraction of nature-derived nutrients into recommended daily calories and percentages.

Argote began incorporating oil flecks from Domino’s pizza slices, initially thinking they would provide a point of contrast to the bars. According to her, RXBARs are “healthy” while pizza is comfort food; the first is intended to be consumed individually on the go, the second shared at leisure. But the proof was in the fat. “You are told that these [foods] are opposed,” she said. “And then using them, I thought, wow, these two things have a lot more in common than we’re being told.”

It wasn’t the first time that Argote had worked with food. In past projects, she’s used avocado, guava leaves, lemon juice and cochineal, an insect commonly ground into red dye for everything from artificial crabs to maraschino cherries. She recently tested prints pulled from a bed of shaving cream drizzled with store-bought strawberry syrup.

“Why do I gravitate towards these materials?” she asked. “They are difficult to work with, sometimes they don’t dry out, they are ephemeral.” But foodstuffs are attractive precisely because of their volatility – the inevitable transformations they undergo as they oxidize, rot, mold and disintegrate – as well as their ability to succinctly articulate larger socio-economic and political systems. wide. For Argote, RXBARs and slices of pizza also bring the artwork closer to the body, generating “a realization that, just like our bodies, the artwork has a lifespan.”



Carmen Argote's RXBAR printing process

Carmen Argote’s RXBAR printing process
Carmen Argote

Argote said that when she started experimenting with RXBARs, she “found that the peanut variety” – a flavor simply called “peanut butter” – “offered the best stain.” When the heat waves hit Los Angeles, she also started using the Peanut Butter Chocolate Bar, for the extra “marks” left by melting chocolate pieces.

2. Prang Pencils

Argote described the initial stain left by each RXBAR with a pencil, in part because “the pencil is in many ways like food itself”. She prefers Prang pencils – which are made with soybean oil – because she “likes[s] the way they slide. Like a chalk outline at a crime scene, the crayon captures the stain at a certain moment, but the oils continue to flow uncontrollably through the fibers of the paper, generating multiple time clues.

3. Dominos Pizza

Carmen Argote uses pizza for engraving

Carmen Argote uses pizza for engraving
Carmen Argote

The idea of ​​using pizza slices to create prints came to the artist during long walks around town, during which she frequently encountered discarded, oil-stained pizza boxes. With fears of surface transmission looming in the early weeks and months of the pandemic, she dared not bring the boxes home, but instead took advantage of a Domino’s special to order fresh pizza. to be printed. “I always got the same kind of pizza,” she says. “I would have pepperoni, cheese and more.” When the pizza inevitably got stale and tough, Argote applied a heat gun to extract some more fat from the pepperoni.

4. Hershey’s Syrup

Argote noticed that some of his described fat spots had an anthropomorphic quality – that they resembled, in his words, “creatures”. To play up the drama between the creatures on the page, Argote has layered another food item on some of its prints, inspired by the melty chocolate in its RXBARs: Hershey’s Classic Chocolate Flavored Syrup. She used a dropper to add a single globule of chocolate to their “eyes”, working vertically “so that gravity extends the line” of the drip, making them look like they were crying.

5. Graphite powder

Carmen Argote's pizza printing process

Carmen Argote’s pizza printing process
Carmen Argote

After the work of Dog Hand Glove had already been exposed, Argote continued his experiments by applying powdered graphite to greasy pizza stains with a soft brush. “I started working with graphite because I wanted to find a way to outline the area of ​​the stain instead of just the perimeters,” she said. “The grease stain from the pizza acted almost like a magnet for the powdered graphite,” catching the oil bloom on the second or third day. The visual effect was quite different from pencil outlines. The silvery, dusted fat looked cosmic, “reaching”, in Argote’s imagination, “toward the celestial”.

Carmen Argote, "frenzy" (2020)

Carmen Argote, “Binge” (2020)
Carmen Argote / Commonwealth and Council

Elaine F. Brim