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On Exhibit: art a la carte

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Artist Don Stahlke began using food as a medium four years ago. At first he used a tattooing machine to inscribe tiny images on fresh produce. As the fruit rotted and dried, the tattooed images--animals, skulls, family portraits--shrunk and acquired the mysterious quality of petroglyphs. In a gallery exhibit two years ago Stahlke showed the fruit alongside miniature etchings on cats' and dogs' teeth.

His latest pieces, however, have moved away from the themes of decay and impermanence, dealing instead with preservation and plenty. With "Cornucopias: Work on Food and of Food," currently on view at the Aron Packer Gallery, Stahlke has captured in ceramic and cast iron a wide range of comestibles at their peak of freshness--fruits, vegetables, steaks, turkeys, cheeses, and breads. Many bear drawings of domestic scenes; all are destined never to wither or fade.

"I've always been intrigued by the kitsch quality of plastic and ceramic foods," says Stahlke. "I wanted to play around with the idea of mass-produced overabundance."

Last summer Stahlke's work was included in a group show at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center near Sheboygan, Wisconsin. That led to an 11-week residency at the Kohler plumbing-fixture factory. Stahlke "slip-cast" more than 400 actual food items in ceramic using plaster molds; he also crafted several pieces in iron, including a 65-pound roast. His ceramic vegetables are uncannily lifelike; in laboring to replicate their subtle colorings, surface stains, and rutted textures, Stahlke hopes to help people find beauty in items that are "all over your life."

When he returned to Chicago, Stahlke took a job waiting tables at a Lincoln Park restaurant: "Now I'm constantly surrounded by food again!"

"Cornucopias: Work on Food and of Food" continues through October 11 at the Aron Packer Gallery, 1579 N. Milwaukee (room 205). Call 773-862-5040 for more. --Jeff Huebner

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): "Turkey" by Don Stahlke photo by IMKAC.

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