When Food and Art Meet for Lunch
- Gabriella Bennett
- 14 June 2016
The Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design and the Year of Food and Drink have plenty to share, reflected in a number of cafés, restaurants and projects located in Glasgow and the west of Scotland
From primitive animals etched into cave walls to a bowl of fruit in a still life, food has long been a favourite subject matter in the art world. Currently, it's the ethics and practice of growing, cooking and eating that seem to be consuming people working in the creative industries like never before.
Increasing numbers of Scots artists, architects, animators and designers are choosing food not just as their inspiration, but also their medium. Some are swapping paintbrushes for paring knives. Some view it as a lens through which to see the world, while others are using food as a way to drive social change and reexamine our relationship with our surroundings.
Engaging with the wider community is at the core of many of these new food / art hybrid ventures. Bakery47, located on an inauspicious street in Glasgow’s south side, is the brainchild of Sam and Anna Luntley, a photography and tapestry graduate, who swapped their jobs in a gallery and as an artist’s assistant to bake full-time.
Bakery47 excels not just at what goes into the oven, but the ideas that are sown and grown from their regular pop-up nights with florists, macramé makers and restaurateurs. As it did in their art, collaboration has been a major factor in the Luntleys' current work and lives.
‘We both decided that cooking, entertaining and providing experiences for others were what we liked best and what we wanted to do,' explains Sam.
‘I love making bread and I love people coming in to enjoy what Anna and I make together.
‘We see our bakery as our studio, which is sometimes a bit far-fetched for people to believe. But we create and play with ideas and methods in a similar way to how an artist might try new materials.’
Crucial to the Luntleys’ success are the goods that tempt west-enders south of the river (rhubarb and almond buckwheat polenta cakes, or wild Iona leek and Dunlop cheese croissants, to name just two). Their socially-minded approach to trading is also turning heads.
The bakery hosts a monthly ‘bread barter’ where customers can take away a loaf of sourdough in exchange for anything but money. The Luntleys recommend fresh herbs, garden fruit or an old book, among other ideas.
‘We hope that our bread will act as an initial capital and that perhaps, over time, others will have items they want to offer for barter,’ says Anna. ‘Something which motivates bakery47 is our interest in the function of food, particularly bread, to generate or encourage a sense of community.’
Other food venues have drawn from the artistic skills of their owners to create a sense of self. This is the case at Inver, a small west coast bothy that serves new Nordic cuisine inspired by its proprietors’ time working in Noma.
Situated in the remote village of Stracthlachlan, Pam Brunton and her partner Rob Latimer have transformed the space into a thriving business with serious ideas for the future. Among other plans, accommodation in the form of four self-contained units is scheduled for next year.
Latimer is a former animator who spent a decade working for London firm Studio AKA, but he is not the only creative mind who has helped sculpt Inver into the restaurant it is today. Its bar was created by his sister, an interior designer, while Brunton's dad, an architect, worked on the overall redesign when they acquired the building in the spring of 2015.
Now almost a year into business, Latimer's keen eye for design (he masterminds the branding of Inver’s posters and graphics) has helped the couple to create an identity that is easily distinguishable by its clean-lines, pared-back look and Scandi-inspired interiors.
‘The most helpful way a background in design has informed what I do now is the way we try to think outside the box,” Latimer says.
‘When we approach something we try to not to think ‘OK, we’re a restaurant, what should a restaurant do?’
‘When we do things we try to make them interesting. We don’t overthink things or try too hard. It’s more about how we can make things ‘us’.’
Thinking outside of the box is also at the heart of Glasgow’s first pay-what-you-want café, Stan’s Studio. Its owner, musician and artist Sarah J Stanley is fond of a different approach to business.
The coffee shop serves its own blends (the snappily titled Get Up, Stan Up), as well Stanley’s own baking, which include sesame salted caramel millionaires, chocolate muffin ‘sammies’ and volos, a glorious portmanteau of vegan rolos. Her home-brewed ginger ale is another popular choice.
As the café’s name would suggest, Stan’s Studio forms part of Stanley’s own workspace where she holds music tuition lessons and practices her art. But opening Stan’s was never about being a business impresario. Sarah conceived the café simply as a way to fund her other creative endeavours: ‘I’m not an entrepreneur – this is just survival,’ she says.
A clear message of the café relates to sharing. When Stanley posts images online of her hangover-busting toasties, she invites her customers to enjoy one too. And if new working relationships are forged in the process (the public space of the café hosts the occasional exhibition) then all the better.
Like Stan’s Studio, Perspective Café uses the currency of food and drink as a way to bring art to a wider audience.
Devised by Yasmin Soliman, a recent graduate of photography from the University of the West of Scotland, it will involve a series of cafés hosting temporary exhibitions, film nights and spoken word nights. Art for everyone, she believes, is the driving force of the venture.
‘As we are hosting our events in the familiar and social backdrop of a café environment, we hope to welcome anyone and everyone,’ she says. ‘That opens up the possibility for the general public to walk in off the street and stumble upon our events – hopefully encouraging families, children and the older generation to participate too.’
As Soliman and Stanley prove, not all artists and designers working in the food world have turned their backs on art for good. Some, such as social project Soil City, have kept it at its heart.
A long-term scheme by Open Jar Collective, a trio of artists driven by community engagement, it aims to assess the Glasgow’s soil with a series of mini archaeological digs, clay collections and worm surveys.
Clementine Sandison, one third of the group, hopes that the study will inspire conversations about Glasgow and new ways of passing information on through the city’s residents.
She says: ‘Oral storytelling traditions, such as painting, sculpture, and songs, used to be essential ways of passing information from generation to generation – creative ways to communicate important messages about the seasons, which wild plants were safe to eat, and methods for preserving food.
‘I hope to bring a little of the everyday rituals that surround food into my work.’