Inspired: the paintings of Lee Price

Lee Price, Boston Creme, 2011 Oil on Linen

When I discovered Lee Price and her hyperrealist paintings, I was captivated, specifically by her series on Women & Food. Let me reiterate – these are paintings, not photographs. The detail makes these works all seem so real at first glance but, alas, they are oil on canvas.

As someone who is currently trying to work through my relationship with food and my body, I could see bits of myself in each one.

Lee Price, Jelly Doughnuts, 2010 Oil on Linen

It’s not just about the food pictured – mostly processed junk food and sweets. It’s about the subtleties of shame felt when they’re consumed. It’s about the repetitive nature of indulging in these things in excess, and alone. It’s about numbing with sugary cereal at 11:30pm and scarfing down donuts in my sunday dress before heading off to church. These are things I may know something about.

Lee Price, Sunday, 2007, Oil on Linen

Lee Price, Cocoa Puffs, 2009, Oil on Linen

Lee Price, Butter, 2010, Oil on Linen

I wanted to know more about her, where she came from in creating this series, many which are self-portraits. In one interview she shared what sounded so close to my own story and the stories of many women I know:

“Since I was very young, I struggled with issues related to food and body image. I can remember being in grade school, the thinnest and tallest girl in my class, yet trying to loose weight. A critic once commented in regard to the subject matter of my paintings that “the women aren’t grossly fat or pathetically thin, but their lives seem to be oppressively ruled by food.” (Greg Stacy, OC Weekly, May 1, 2008)  And that would be a very accurate description of the role food has played in my life as I bounce between abstinence and complete loss of control. The loss of control comes when I use food to pacify myself and to fill voids other than physical hunger. I use it when I can’t conceive of more appropriate avenues for filling myself. Then I experience guilt over this loss of control and fear over weight gain, so the pendulum swings back to abstinence. It’s been a very, very long road to get to a less troubled place with food and I still gravitate in the direction of eating compulsively when my life is out of balance.”

Happy Meal, 2010 & Blueberry Pancakes II, 2011

I look back on my teen years up to this point right here and now and I see tons of disfunction and abuse in my relationship with food. I see a teen who was insecure, scared, and hurting. To an immature girl, the best way to take control of these feelings seemed to be an eating disorder. That teen still lives inside of me and once in awhile she raises her immature voice to say I should either binge on junk or starve myself in order to feel in control. That part of me resonated strongly with her painting, Refuge.

Lee Price, Refuge, 2009, Oil on Linen

I wrote in my last post about my choice to return to healthy habits in what I eat. It’s not so much a choice as a matter of fact. The stuff I have been feeding myself has been making me sick. After years of chronic pain and digestive problems, the migraines finally pushed me over the edge to make the choice to feed myself differently. The struggle for me lies in the same place within me that connects to these paintings. Unhealthy eating habits have become just that – habits. And habits, in my experience, are really difficult to break. Sure, I can cut out sugar, gluten, processed foods, alcohol, and cheese. But staying away from these vices when I want to feel comforted by them is going to take a militant retraining of my mind and my stomach.

Wish me luck. I don’t want another three week long migraine, but sometimes I just really want to eat chocolate cake.

Lee Price, Lisa in Tub With Chocolate Cake, 2009, Oil on Linen

In my core, though, I don’t want to continue the vicious cycle. Lees words are a timely, important reminder for me:

“As I’ve been working on my latest pieces, two new thoughts have been popping up. First, I’ve been considering how we give objects of obsession/compulsion (in this case, food) qualities that we should be giving to a higher source (e.g., God or our inner voice). We see food as sacred. In Blueberry Pancakes the model is seated in the tub in a posture that resembles meditation. She’s holding a solitary plate of pancakes in her lap as if she is worshipping it. However, the lower third of the painting, where the model is seated, is compositionally very busy, cut-up, and frenetic in comparison to the top portion of the canvas—behind the model there is peace, but she would have to put down the pancakes and turn around to see it. My second thought, and this one was initially unintentional, is about how compulsive behavior can snuff out your life. I mean this literally, as in the case of drugs or alcohol or even food if used to an extreme degree, but I also mean that this behavior deadens you. It anesthetizes people from their actual life. In Blueberry Pancakes, for example, I started to see the tub as a coffin.”

 

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