Anna Barlow creates art you want to eat—really, desperately want to eat. Barlow’s ceramic and porcelain ice cream sculptures are sweet, oozing a palatable decadence that borders on the obscene. Expertly executed and slightly disappointing for those of us hoping to chow down on the sundae of our dreams, Barlow’s work resonates deeply. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Barlow about everything ceramic, porcelain, frozen, and saccharine:
Fameless Quarterly: What was your initial interest in sculpting ice cream?
Anna Barlow: I started out purely trying to capture ice cream in its temporary state—trying to catch that one moment at its best.
I was also interested in what ice cream means to us—it’s not necessarily important but it has significance in our lives as being celebrational and therefore special.
FQ: What is your artistic process like? How do you construct your pieces? Do you work on more than one piece at a time?
AB: I tend to produce batches of work. I combine both porcelain and earthenware clay in my pieces, which have very different firing temperatures; I start by making lots of cones, wafers, sprinkles and flakes which are made from porcelain and are fired to a very high temperature. I then use these components to construct a piece using earthenware clay that is “scooped” to make the ice cream and piped through an icing bag for whipped cream. The whole piece is then fired again, glazed and then fired three more times.
I usually work on around three pieces at a time.
FQ: You are fascinated by the rituals of food and the ephemeral nature of ice cream—how do you think the power of pleasure informs your work?
AB: It completely informs my work—I guess I am always looking for the most gorgeous, most extravagant, most fantastical treat possible! This can sometimes run alongside another theme as a contrast to a more thoughtful idea.
FQ: Many of your works are incredibly realistic in detail—such as the way your ‘ice cream’ melts and drips—yet they are staged in bordering-on-the-unrealistic scenes. What role do you think fantasy plays in your work?
AB: Usually I’ll work from an image which has popped into my head—it will take me some time to work out what it’s about and usually it’s actually based on life in some way. The cushion pieces seem to be inspired from when I was trying to write about my work for a show catalogue which I find quite challenging—I have a habit of working on the sofa, and one day I looked up and realized each cushion had a leftover plate or bowl on it and I thought: “Ah! That’s why I want to put food on cushions—it’s weird, but probably quite normal to a lot of people!” I made some ice creams that have been smashed across a wall which I think might be inspired by my brother and sister telling me about the time my mother threw an entire hot fruit pudding—plus the dish—at my father in pure frustration (she’ll hate me for saying this!!), but we all think it’s quite funny now….
FQ: Critics of your work find it obscene–what do you think lends your art to that interpretation?
AB: I think it’s interesting how people react to my work. They either love it, are repulsed by it, or don’t get it. I have a theory that this reflects on how they feel about food or their relationship with it.
FQ: Recently you have been branching out into some more collaborative projects, such as creating the piece “Anticipation of a Thousand Moments” for the Big Egg Hunt–a project wherein several artists were asked to design two-and-a-half foot high fiberglass eggs which were auctioned off for charity. How do you see your artistic practice expanding in the future?
AB: I really loved that project! I am beginning to think that it might be fun to collaborate in some way as I would love another set of ideas to work with. We’ll see…..
FQ: How do you, as an artist, make working in a specific medium and within a niche subject area continually interesting?
AB: It’s funny—I never thought I’d stick with ice cream for so long; just as I feel I must be done with it, a whole set of new ideas pop up to keep me going…. at the moment I am interested in how our individual tastes affect our perceived identity. I made a piece called, “Look, it’s so you!” where pink ice creams and treats dominate a mirror’s surface so that you can only glimpse a little of your own reflection.
FQ: Your works are becoming more and more monumental–do you see yourself moving towards creating larger pieces in the future?
AB: Yes—now I am represented by Scream Gallery, and they prefer to take larger work. I am really enjoying spending a lot of energy on one major piece at a time and really going for it on intricacy and extravagance—it’s a really great challenge!
FQ: Any new and exciting projects on the horizon?
AB: More ice creams!!