This is the story behind my latest (and strangest) commission yet and how it evolved.
Eons ago, shortly after the dawn of time, but before the noon of time, great and terrible breakfast foods roamed the earth. Deep within the bottomless mimosa forest in the shadow of the erupting Mount Java, an armor-plated Wafflesaurus prepares to ward off an attack from the undisputed apex predator of prehistoric breakfast, the dreaded Benedictusaurus Rex, while a Baconsaur and a Bagelsaurus (apparently a water bagel) nervously look on and Croissantdactyls circle overhead.
The genesis of this painting goes back to 2001 when I began taking the lithography course Alyse Bernstein at the Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia.
My subject matter for the prints I produced centered on walnuts and peanuts. I felt that their textures and grey tones were perfectly suited to the lithographic process. As the series continued, the compositions referenced a variety of visual genres including bird illustrations, religious frescoes, and even criminal mugshots.
Fast-forward fifteen-plus years to Washington, D.C. where my pun-loving friends David and Alison, having seen my walnut and peanut prints while over for dinner one evening, commissioned me to do something in a similar vein to commemorate the birth of their first child Adelaide. Since they had taken to calling her Peanut, I was inspired to do a mixed-media drawing based on my longtime observation of how the rounded vaulted coffered ceilings in the D.C. metro stations resemble inside-out peanuts.
A few years later, they asked for a new drawing for their second daughter Penelope. In my search for inspiration, I researched the origin of the name. In addition to references to weaving and a type of pea, I found mention of a species of waterfowl. While kicking around a few ideas of how I might combine these elements into a single image, Debussy’s Clair du lune was being played on the radio, and suddenly the phrase “Clara du lune” popped into my head. Quickly lune became loon, and I began working with the idea of Clara, the heroine of the ballet The Nutcracker, riding on the back of a giant Canadian loon across a lake on a moonlit night whispering something into the bird’s ear. The Debussy and Tchaikovsky connections were obvious and because my friend David is a composer, I knew he would understand the third musical reference to the
composer John Adams. The third movement of Adams’s orchestral work Harmonielehre is based on a dream that the composer had of his infant daughter Emily (nicknamed Quackie) floating through space perched on the shoulders of the 13th-century theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart whispering secrets of grace into his ear.
Next, we jump to October 2022 where I was at a residency at Chateau Orquevaux, an artist retreat in France. One morning at breakfast, I found myself contemplating a contortively-curved croissant on my breakfast plate.
The opposing ends of the pastry reached out to me like a pair of claws. Afterwards in the studio, I dashed off a drawing of an entity that was half croissant, half crab.
Shortly after my return home, I received a message from David and Alison telling me that they and their children loved seeing my crab-croissant on my social media, and asked if I could do a painting or a series of drawings of more breakfast food come to life. I immediately thought that it wouldn’t be a real breakfast or brunch unless the foods were interacting. The very first image that came to mind was a prehistoric tableau of battling dinosaurs as I had seen in countless movies and books as a child. I suppose one could now say that brunch is served until 3:00 pm or until the meteor hits, whichever comes first.