Over the past 35 years, Oakland-based artist Kerry Damianakes has amassed an extensive body of unconventional and playful works directly informed by her desire to reproduce the everyday. Damianakes remains primarily committed to an ongoing series of velvety oil pastel drawings - faithful tributes to foods that alternately elicit a state of well-being or decadence.
From a distance, fields of saturated color are boldly outlined in black and appear flat, but a closer look reveals her idiosyncratic application of pastel. The nature of Damianakes’ hand is such that her gestural marks occupy the entire surface in a way that would seem assertive when filling a sheet of Letter-size paper. In fact, most of these works are almost three times that size; images of Damianakes’ works fail to communicate their scale and stunning monumentality. Central in each reductive and pragmatic composition is a slice of cake, sandwich, or soup bowl of imposing bulk and volume, exaggerated much larger than actual size. Damianakes diligently documents each completed drawing with handwritten dates and titles indicating specific meals, often to accompany certain holidays - Chicken Noodle Soup for Lunch for New Year’s, Chocolate Cake Vanilla Frosting for Dessert, and Grilled Cheese Sandwich Potato Chips Cottage Cheese for Lunch for Labor Day.
Damianakes’ dedication to the familiar, typically recreations of what Creative Growth describes as “classic foods”, tend to garner comparisons to pop art. The subject matter isn’t just ubiquitous, however, but also highly evocative of comfort and indulgence, including various iterations of chocolate cake, tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and vanilla ice cream. These drawings can also be clearly associated with the classical tradition of still life painting, especially due to Damianakes’ tendency to place these foods on a prominent rectangular shape that suggests a shelf or table.
Damianakes’ work is divergent from both pop art and traditional still life, however, on a fundamental level in the conceptualization of the drawing process, its intentions, and relationship to the subject. Whereas in traditional still life the subject is merely a starting place or vehicle to pursue the process of painting itself, or in pop art, creating imagery is utilized to reference popular ideas, decisions made in Damianakes’ works indicate extraordinarily different intentions. Examination of her work exposes a series of choices which seem to embody an aspiration beyond visual representation; drawing is conceptualized not as a means of image-making, but instead for bringing an object into existence.
This can be observed in a consistent deconstructing and rendering visible all aspects of her subject. Bowls of soup are always drawn in cross section and Hamburger Sandwich, for example, is highly distorted to reveal its contents enveloped by the bottom bun. An important, somewhat unique example is Turkey and Cheese and Tomato and Lettuce Sandwich (pictured above) in which she mimics the physical process of building an actual sandwich - drawing one component on top of another from an aerial perspective, ultimately obscuring each previous layer. Here, visual representation is a plainly subordinate priority to a greater power imagined in the process of drawing traditionally reserved for religious or spiritual icons and totems. The central proposition of her work is the application of this meta-magical approach to common, yet essential aspects of our world.
Kerry Damianakes (born 1949, Alameda, California) has maintained a studio practice at Creative Growth in Oakland since 1983. Her work has been exhibited recently in Visual Oasis at the Capital City Arts Initiative and previously at the California Culinary Academy, Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco, Palitz Gallery in New York, the Oakland International Airport, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art in Korea, and widely at Creative Growth. Damianakes is also a recent recipient of a Wynn Newhouse Award (2014).