I’m tired of skinny women eating—the cultural obsession with it, at least. While svelte starlets and even revered (thin) role models (I’m looking at you, Liz Lemon) deride their diets and depreciate themselves, food prices are doubling for the world’s poorest 2 billion, edging them toward starvation. It’s a psychological paradox that feasts on socioeconomic forces, and the mixed messages are practically all a girl can stand.
That’s why it’s refreshing that Lee Price approaches our culture’s multifarious mania through her own.
Lush, nearly life-size oil-on-linen works depict Price herself, always with food, always alone and always from above. She’s a lithe woman eating (nonlite) food—with which her relationship is complicated.
Even in a medium safely distant from glossy magazines and silver screens, no black-and-white message arises from these vivid images, just a general unease engendered by her clandestine binges. Why is she eating so much, so poorly and in secret? Most pressing of all: Why does she seem so unhappy about it?
The exhibition’s title, Full, is stuffed with irony. The sheer quantity of food consumed should sate anyone, and the wise-words assumption is that, were Price full, she’d stop eating.
The photorealistic paintings capture her near-painful expressions as she devours unseemly confections while lying among the life-like crinkles of their voluminous packaging.
One piece, coyly titled “Happy Meal,” shows Price reclining on a bed, wearing a silky blue robe that matches the rich stripes on her sheets. Eyes closed, she is midway through a meal, which is two Big Macs, large fries and an apple pie larger than a Happy Meal, scraps from which are scattered on the bed around her. She’s entrenched in a gluttony too severe to be blissful, the look on her face a mix of rapture and worry. Similarly, in “Butter,” Price is lying on her bed—this time, one or two deep into a box of cinnamon buns, apparently dipping them into an open tub of butter.
Price appears deep in thought, almost defiant. Pictured alone, she seems to direct that defiance toward herself.
Lest one think her negative emotions are divorced from the food she eats, check out “Ice Cream.” In it, Price lies mostly submerged in a tub alongside a row of six half-eaten pints of ice cream. Price’s hands, one of which still holds a spoon, cover her face, the water around her inexplicably blue.
This is not a sitcom; although, in all the works, the food, its paraphernalia and the positioning of Price’s body appear almost humorously calculated, like the set of a television show. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be happy endings.
“Sleeping with Peaches” is singular for three reasons. First of all, it’s a triptych. It shows, in the first two panels, Price sleeping next to a bowl of peach slices and, in the final panel, an empty bed and a smattering of slices left behind.
Secondly, the food is not a “bad” one. Perhaps accordingly, Price’s relationship with that food seems more casual, healthier, controlled. She is unconcerned enough to doze in its presence and, when awake, to consume a normal amount.
This work cements, at least in the world of the exhibition, the possibility of change—that she can alter her behavior, whatever its impetus or underlying reasons. The food she consumes doesn’t have to be all-consuming.
What the exhibition says about Price and our culture at large’s relationship with food is unclear; although, it would be easy to rattle off assumptions about eating disorders, negative/positive associations and coping or, more flippantly, product placement (especially for women). What is clear is that whatever is going on is complicated, with many conflicting and underlying factors—not unlike the forces that created it.