Meatpaper TWO

Eating the Air on Promise of Supply
interview with Barbara Weissberger by Sasha Wizansky

MEAT IMAGERY turns up frequently in Barbara Weissberger’s artwork. It appears in the form of collaged hamburger photographs, detailed watercolors based on cuts of meat, drippy gouaches of hamburgers with their condiments flying out into nimbuses of pickles. In 2007, Weissberger was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Recently, Meatpaper had the opportunity to ask her about the role of meat in her work.

“Eating the Air on Promise of Supply” was a banner that appeared in Pittsburgh during an art festival. Would you tell us about the title?
The title is a quote from Henry IV, part 2. It refers to Hotspur “who lined himself with hope / Eating the air on promise of supply / Flattering himself in project of a power / Much smaller than the smallest of his thoughts: / And so, with great imagination / Proper to madmen, led his powers to death / And winking leap’d into destruction.” Sounds sadly familiar. Out of context, “Eating The Air On Promise Of Supply” suggested something environmentalist to me, as in using up natural resources through misguided overconfidence. I used a photograph of the sky — multiplied four times — as a background. So there’s a somewhat literal connection between the image and the “air” of the title.

How do you feel the rorschach-like symmetry functions?
Years ago I did a series of small silhouette drawings that I describe as flash-card-like. They are mostly silhouettes of fantastic figures and are meant to trigger psychological association. The Rorschach — if slightly hokey — taps into this idea of associative thinking and invites the viewer into a receptive state. I’m interested in the pleasure found in pattern and decorative structure. Then there’s the dissonance that happens when you get close and see the strange combinations of cuts of meat and butterflies, or cut up muscle-bound arms and trippy patterned shapes made of mirrored doublings of fragments of crocheted blankets.

Cuts of meat and hamburgers have been a consistent, iconic thread in your work. When did you start using meat imagery?
The hamburger entered my work several years ago the way most imagery does, through play and following narrative lines. I had been making cartoon/comic inspired drawings with lots of hungry figures.

There is a certain machoness to meat and yet feminist artists have used meat to investigate issues related to the body. And now, significantly, meat production is emblematic of the larger issue of sustainability.

What are the associations that meat imagery has for you?
I was thinking about greediness, and alternately about the Hungry Ghost stuck in a perpetual state of unsatiated craving — the hamburger popped up in that context. The hamburger is cheap and ubiquitous, a great icon for consumer culture. I find it funny as a subject. I also like that it is one of the great American icons. The hamburger led to cuts of beef and pork.

Do you consider yourself part of a lineage of artists who consider meat in their work?
I do see myself as part of a lineage that includes Francis Bacon’s meat and flesh, or Soutine’s paintings of meat.

Your recent watercolors combine cuts of meat, details of human muscle from muscle magazines, crocheted blankets, butterflies, and other imagery. How do you describe what is created from this combination of elements?
A super-sized, dizzying, cobbled-together world that attempts to reflect our own.

I started with the meat/muscle combinations. Flesh obviously connects the cuts of meat and human muscle. Because of that connection, the initial iteration of this work was more visceral than I wanted. So I decided to add other imagery — sweeter imagery like butterflies and flowers. Advertising likes to do this: temper the body’s messiness with so-called pretty images of nature.

As the series develops, the vocabulary of imagery expands. I am interested in how collage creates its own logic — the synergy of odd pairings. My source is a growing archive of photographs — my own and collected. I categorize the imagery as either the product of culture or of the natural world. The meat and muscles are both: processed, enhanced, transitional.

You’ve written that Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma have inspired your recent watercolors. How does the current culture of meat influence your studio practice?
Coming from the perspective of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it’s not hard to look at food production as a nexus for larger issues: environmental, economic, and social. How we produce and consume speaks to our relationship to the planet and to other species.

I find meat particularly interesting because as a metaphor or symbol it can be considered in several ways. Embracing meat could be a rejection of vegetarianism and by extension values linked to the 60s and 70s. There is a certain machoness to meat and yet feminist artists have used meat to investigate issues related to the body. And now, significantly, meat production is emblematic of the larger issue of sustainability.

I somehow feel I should add that I spend a lot of time in Montana, where I enjoy grass-fed, and non-grass-fed, hamburgers and steaks.


This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Two.