March 21, 2020
Some meals leave an impression—you might remember the cherry pie your grandma always made or a multi-course dinner consisting of toast and caviar, a mound of shaved truffle topping pasta, and wagyu tartare. Rather than solely rely on his memory to envision the fare he’s enjoyed, though, Japanese chef Itsuo Kobayashi has been painting and describing in detail the dishes he’s eaten for the past 32 years in a series of notebooks and standalone works.
While an interesting look at Kobayashi’s nourishment, the detailed projects are also a growing collection of outsider art. N. Kushino, who runs Kushino Terrace gallery in Fukuyama, Japan, and represents Kobayashi, tells Colossal that the artist begins by writing detailed passages of what he eats before going back to create his appetizing illustrations.
What stands out is that all of these drawings feature an overhead perspective so that all of the ingredients of the food Kobayashi depicts can be seen. Furthermore, in the blank spaces in his compositions, the artist writes the names and prices of, and his opinions about the food and the ingredients he portrays. He adds positive descriptive words about his subjects, such as “delicious,” so that he may provoke good memories when he later looks at the drawings.
For many years, Kobayashi cooked at a soba restaurant and provided meals for schools until he was diagnosed with alcoholic neuritis, a debilitating condition that reduced his mobility. Now, the artist mostly works from home, ordering take-out often and continuing to detail his meals at length. Since he started the creative project at age 18, Kobayashi has produced more than 1,000 illustrations. “For him, painting and living have the same meaning. The disease (makes it) more and more difficult to walk, but he does not stop painting,” Kushino says. Most recently, Kobayashi has begun shaping pop-ups in his works featuring bowls of tempura seafood and piles of noodles.
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