Since reaching the 2011 semi-finals of Britain's Got Talent, artist Nathan Wyburn has thrilled countless people with his food-based celebrity portraits — though he's worked with other non-traditional media like toothpaste and cat food as well. A graduate of the Cardiff School of Art and Design, Wyburn takes pop/internet culture and current events as inspiration for what is often political art. Last year, he even published a book, Not That Kind of Art, which explores his creative process and personal history.
Wyburn's recent Trump portrait perfectly illustrates how his work and choice of media (in this case, nachos and Tex Mex squeeze-bottle salsa) provides political commentary. Reached by email, Wyburn took the time to answer some questions about his work.
About 5 to 6 years ago. I saw a newspaper headline about Simon Cowell which read "You either love him or hate him," which made me think of Marmite, because that's their slogan. So naturally us Brits have Marmite on toast, so toast seemed to [be the] most fitting canvas. I put the time lapse video of it on my YouTube and the reaction was amazing, and I've not stopped since. It's branched out into all kinds of everyday materials from pizza [to] make-up, mud, sweets, baked beans, and even cat food. I've also painted using fingerprints, made a portrait of Miley Cyrus entirely using my tongue, David Beckham using my feet, and Justin Bieber using lipstick kissing the entire canvas with my own lips.
How do you choose your subjects and which materials to depict them with?
There's usually some obvious connection, a surname like Lord Alan Sugar using sugar or something like Britney Spears [being] America's sweetheart, so I depicted her in a snack favorite, peanut butter and jelly. There could be a reference like Judy Garland as Dorothy in Wizard of Oz made using Rainbow Drop sweets because of the song, or even a little more political and ironic [figure] such as Donald Trump in Mexican food or Maggie Thatcher in a Welsh Coal.
Is your work on display anywhere? Do you sell it?
Mostly it's social media-based; I love that people can watch my whole process on YouTube. I exhibit prints of my perishable works and many originals in pubs, shopping malls, and museums. I like that the fun, pop cultural, witty side of it speaks to everyone, not just the people who'd usually visit galleries or have a knowledge of art.
Food spoils. What does the transient nature of your work mean to you? Is your work ever eaten, when all is said and done?
The concept is quite unique really, it's almost a conceptual equivalence between a commercial product (baked beans) and a celebrity. It's comparing a row [of] beans in a supermarket to a row [of] magazines with that celebrity's face plastered over them. It's the mass production and the public over-consumption. And like food, celebrities have a sell-by date; once an actress is too old to play a part or a singer is no longer making the top 10, they're swiftly replaced by another, recycled almost, which is what happens to most of my food art if it isn't eaten by the animals at the local farm or nibbled by myself along the way.
Why did you choose food as the primary medium for your art over, say, paint or other conventional mediums?
I just love people's reactions. People see the portrait before they see the food. I've often had people tell me how beautiful a painting it is and when I explain it's made with toast, or sweets, etc. they're taken back by it. It really questions people's vision on things and how we can often limit our own creativity by assuming things are the normal. Think outside the box.
What else do you do with your time?
I'm a full-time artist, and I'm extremely grateful for that. I take part in making creations for exciting restaurant openings, visit schools, and inspire children with my work and also raise a lot of money for various charities. I think it's important once you make a name for yourself that you give something back and use the platform that you have.
What upcoming projects do you have planned?
I have a list of about 100. My mind is constantly in overdrive. I plan on using many more unusual materials this year — I'm also going to do a series on my favorite artists. So you can expect to see the likes of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst included in that.