Walking out of a meeting at Village Hall, I turned into a hallway that turned out to be an art gallery.  People were hanging paintings. The paintings were of food and the people who make and/or deliver the food: bakers, farmers, butchers and others.

That caught my interest.

The artist, Nancy Fong, was there with Camille Wilson White of the Oak Park Area Arts Council, who was hanging pictures (which are for sale) in this well-lit corridor of Village hall.

Fong says she wants “viewers to have a dialogue with the figures while the breads, pastries, vegetables and hams offer luscious shapes, textures and colors.”

One painting that immediately attracted my eye was “The Baker.” It’s a very simple picture, just the baker looking out at the audience, eye-to-eye, and it was arresting. It instantly reminded me of Édouard Manet’s classic”A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.

In both paintings, there are inanimate objects (breads in the case of Fong’s, and bottles and a huge reflecting mirror in the case of Manet’s), and in the foreground of both is a woman, looking dead into the camera, frontal, almost confrontational, in a way that seems to animate the objects behind her.

If you click through the picture above, which is Fong’s, you’ll see Manet’s picture, which is very similar in structure though quite dissimilar in tone: Manet’s bartender is almost morose, with a world-weary seen-the-evil-that-men-do blankness. Fong’s baker is not quite cheerful, but friendly looking, with a slight Mona Lisa upturning at the edges of the lips, an attitude of “can I help you?” which is totally appropriate for a shop keeper (and I understand this scene was modeled in the Great Harvest store that used to be at the corner of Lake and Oak Park Avenue).

As someone who spends a lot of time in restaurants, bars and retail food locations, let me tell you: I’d much rather do business with Fong’s baker than Manet’s bartender.

“The Baker,” it turns out, was Fong’s first painting in this series, and in her other works you can see how she played with the theme of the solitary person, frequently looking into the camera, in a food-related work environment.

I liked “The Baker” a lot, though the others were quite beautiful, too: lots of earth tones, a sense of solidity, and mostly women who are doing their jobs, not unhappily like Manet’s bartender, but with a sense of purpose and all-American optimism.

Fong’s work will be on display until October 29th. The OPPAC Gallery at Village Hall of Oak Park, M-F, 8:30-am – 5pm

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

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