“My Salad Years,” the title of Adam Higgins’s debut exhibition at Chris Sharp Gallery, was a paean to innocence, channeling the halcyon instances spoken of in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (1623), the place “inexperienced” connotes youth as a lot as lettuce. But the artist’s deft, almost photorealistic renditions of salads—Caesars extra particularly, preserving with the classical theme—do belie this, as they counsel durational observe and studied command of portray’s gadgets as an alternative. In any case, Higgins has labored on this topic completely for the previous two years. (An iterative physique of labor from 2019 targeted on California halibut, and was executed with an analogous formal and conceptual method.) The set up right here contained eight oil-on-canvas-mounted-on-panel compositions of various measurement, a few of which have been overwhelmingly, even preposterously, massive (the most important was 5 by six ft). Regardless of the shifts of bodily and pictorial scale, all shared a constant framing machine hovering at some indeterminate distance over the neatly composed meals that, within the artist’s fingers, was made unequivocally and viscerally unusual. Caesar salad with gulf shrimp and crimson chard (all works 2022), as an illustration, featured some chopped romaine and darker, crimson-veined leaves layered with oddly projecting crouton geometries and glistening prawns, whereas Caesar salad with hen and housefly contained gruesomely gelatinous morsels of uncooked poultry atop waxy puddles of dressing.
Evidently commensurate with methods of merchandising and industrial delicacies images—or its social media counterparts by way of the food-porn gurus—the works however made clear the extent to which they’re engaged in histories of portray (and the medium’s preeminent standing inside the artwork market), in addition to in conventions of picturing, of world-making inside the representational order of a given body. They earnestly recalled the style of nonetheless life, from seventeenth-century Dutch meditations on abundance, consumption, and mortality to Édouard Manet’s personal self-conscious renditions of white asparagus and splayed oysters. Higgins’s variations in another way picture the scenes from above, making their passage to the verticality of the wall that rather more pronounced. For his half, the artist additionally names the affect of Jackson Pollock’s allover spreads, and there may be in Higgins’s imagery—vis-à-vis Leo Steinberg’s flatbed image aircraft, however realized as a tabletop at a series restaurant or the bounty of a proud dwelling prepare dinner—a hyperlink to Pollock’s floor-bound abstractions, at all times meant for upright wall show.
Higgins’s downward stare upon gadgets propped again up, arrayed, and shot underneath harsh gentle typically occludes his material, regardless of the work’s technical prowess. Caesar salad with pecorino romano lump is particularly gnomic: Flush to the plate (or bowl, or countertop, or generalizable and defiantly nondescript assist) are crisp cuts of inexperienced drizzled in dressing that alternately oozes and clumps. Gingerly resting atop the entire thing is a wedge of cheese that glows aggressively incandescent, a monochrome impediment on the portray’s heart.
With Caesar salad with lemon wedge, boiled egg, and baguette slices, Higgins suggestions the aircraft of desk upward and dims the lights. It’s a terrifically perverse form of nocturne. Beneath an indeterminately hued solid, extra intact leaves funnel the identical mixture of olive oil, egg yolk, pepper flecks, garlic, and the remaining to the sliced bread that awaits. Uncooked substances stay intact, too: A sectioned lemon sits within the image’s upper-right nook, with a half of a hard-boiled egg beneath it. The unique recipe for the Caesar, concocted in Mexico by Italian restauranteur Caesar Cardini, who left the USA throughout Prohibition, known as for lime. But crossing the close by Tijuana border meant swapping lime for lemon and, extra typically, banalizing the dish whereas effacing its origins.
It’s tempting to learn one thing of the historical past and geopolitics of the salad from Higgins’s props, and to posit these inanimate objects as bodily surrogates (because the anchovy carcasses are already). However this interpretation coexists with the mutability of creamy dressing and paint, and the unshakable reality of the salad as pretext for formal play. Meyer Schapiro famously argued that realism re-creates the world by a “sequence of summary calculations of perspective and gradation of shade.” On this present, Higgins carried out as a lot. In salad years, one can have it each methods.