You’ve received a lot of press and attention this past year. How does that feel? Share with us the journey!
After the first cheese painting (the Gorwydd) in late 2010, I needed a new body of work for an exhibit. Since the Gorwydd was the first painting I had really enjoyed in a long while, cheese seemed obvious as a choice. Faced with no clue on how to choose them, I recalled meeting someone who did, Tenaya Darlington, AKA Madame Fromage, at a foodie party. Our obsessive love for food was clearly something we both could talk forever about. I contacted her through her website. She had me come over that very night for some cheese tastings, and donated some of my early subjects to the cause! Since then, she has been supportive, enthusiastic and generous to occasionally share my images with her readers. That in turn exposed me to the perfect audience. I still can’t believe I have had the chance to absolutely love painting a subject and show it to an audience with equal or greater love for it.
Tenaya’s website is so great, it was no surprise it lead to Elaine Khosrova, the editor of Culture Magazine, contacting me to offer an opportunity to be in the Winter 2011/12 issue as the issue’s photo essay. Eventually, one patron introduced my work to the editors of the New York Times dining section. The result was a number of portraits accompanying a great interview by Jeff Gordinier on April 18, 2012. It led to a tsunami of sales and attention. I am still benefiting from that interview today. I was overwhelmed for weeks. The remaining cheese portraits that hadn’t sold as a result of Culture Magazine were gone before noon on the day of the article. My other food art began steadily to sell all over the world, too. Then I was hit with requests from nearly 50 people asking to be on my email list to announce any new available cheese portraits. That list is closer to 100 now. Every month or so I send out a newsletter-like email and share my latest news along with attached images of the latest available paintings so they’ll have first crack at them. Most months, the handful of portraits is sold within hours of the email. The email has inspired those with less fortunate timing to simply commission cheese portraits of their own, so I’ve been painting commissions on a regular basis ever since.
As you have delved into the food culture, what has struck or surprised you about the experiences and the people you’ve encountered? Have you got any stories you’d like to share?
Generally the “local food” series continues to amaze me. Besides originals, I continue to sell archival prints of many of my sold paintings. People who’ve relocated from Philadelphia often buy my local food art. A woman who relocated to San Francisco bought the original “Tastykakes” painting and explained she’s never been able to forget them since. It has become clear to me that the impact of food memories affect not just me, but my audience as well. Cheese is even further rooted to memories and sense of place and identity. It seems to conjure up a nostalgia, according to many of the stories patrons have shared with me.
The cheese world has been very good to me. Everyone seems to have their own cheese stories and knowledge to share and as a result, my education has advanced exponentially. At the American Cheese Society’s annual conference in Raleigh, NC, I had so much fun meeting hundreds of people directly connected to my subject. While it was no less than a treat to meet the makers of many of the cheeses I painted, it was the cheesemongers who really won my heart. It was so heartening to know that this subculture is populated with the most passionate and warm people. They treated me like a rock star, which I found completely foreign and initially unsettling. Honestly, It’s one of the reasons I try my best to keep my prices as reasonable as possible.
What is your relationship with food? Has it changed as you have painted more of it?
My focus on food has always been there, though I feel it’s sharper now. I do find myself subconsciously eyeing potential subjects as they end up on my plate. I have realized I need another subject, one without a waiting list, so between cheese portraits, I am delving into the world of sushi. It reminds me of so many other qualities of food that I enjoy. I am less familiar with sushi, and perhaps it will be my next direction of education.
What is in store for you in the near future? Is there a book in the works? Exhibits? Special appearances?
Ha! A book? This interview and my ability to infinitely ramble on about food and art make that idea sound less crazy. I do not presently consider it an option. Of the various opportunities, I had a Skype interview for a reality show on the Food Network, I’ve been interviewed live on a great foodie radio show in Brooklyn (The Food Seen), and been featured in Esquire, Spain and Cooking Light magazine … all of which made me realize that anything is possible. Oh, the power of food!
Currently I’m still enjoying opportunities from the cheese portraits and the exposure (and food money) they provide. This month I had an interview in Der Feinschmecker Magazine, and next month The Food Network Magazine will feature my work. I hope to get better at organizing my energy level and maintaining the necessary rigorous studio pace I teach in an art school so it competes some with my studio and social life. I do hope to produce another body of work for the gallery. I’m looking for excuses to fly to California more, especially in winters like this one.
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
This interview made me so hungry.
Thanks so much, Mike, for your time and words!
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All images are owned by Mike Geno, and are reproduced here with his express written permission.