For Angela Rowe’s latest series of food paintings, the inspiration always begins at the same place: her grocery list. Where she ends up shopping and what she ends up buying for the night’s supper has made its way to the walls of Pinpoint in downtown Wilmington. Rowe’s “Homegrown” opens Tuesday, November 12, hosted by Art in Bloom and Checker Cab Productions. Iconic edibles in North Carolina’s landscape show up in the 24-painting series, ranging in size from 20-inches-by-20-inches to 30-inches-by-40-inches ($500-$950). Colors spark with life and technique Rowe has perfected during classes with Margie Worthington at CAM’s Museum School and from receiving her AFA in visual arts from Cape Fear Community College.
“I previously said I disliked [still-life] painting,” Rowe tells with emphasis. “Then one of my ACME studio mates, Angie Sinclair, invited me to be a part of her annual summer show. I started thinking about what was the essence of summer. In my case, it meant lunches at my grandmother’s house, built on the bounty of summer produce.”
The few pieces Rowe churned out for Acme grew into a larger series, appropriately making its debut on the heels of Thanksgiving. The work allowed Rowe to reminisce about her youth growing up in western North Carolina, surrounded by grandparents who were superb cooks. Like many locals, Rowe’s first food memories are of traditional Southern eats.
“My paintings have captured many of them,” the former architectural historian says, “but not in the way I grew up eating them. I have chosen to paint the fresh produce as the vegetables have incredible color. So corn is painted in the husk versus the creamed corn or corn on the cob I grew up eating. I am also missing a couple of whole categories of wonderful food memories such as breads: cornbread, biscuits, homemade yeast rolls. Oh, and the desserts, such as caramel cake and pound cake. Maybe not so picturesque but oh so good.”
Her three favorite paintings are of turnips, collards and okra—each showing off pops of color and richness of harvest. The fine line between work and breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks often never ended during the creation of “Homegrown.”
“One day this past summer, I talked a friend of mine into taking a break from working on projects, and we headed across the river to Eagle Island Fruit and Seafood,” she says. “In the show, you will see a painting of cantaloupe. Well, two of them came back with me to ACME. The cantaloupe was warm and so fragrant it just begged to be cut open and shared. Four of us sat around the kitchen table and ate this unbelievably sweet melon. So good.”
Rowe works from photographs she takes of the bright produce or seafood she shops for during the week. She chooses them carefully, and not everything makes it to the canvas like it does the dinner table.
“I am looking for interesting shapes and colors,” she notes. “A much as I dearly love potatoes, they are red or a range of browns which can be a little drab to paint. Likewise, foods like beans, peas and butter beans—stars on the table in my house—have lots of small repeated shapes that don’t lend themselves to a dynamic painting. Though I am open to changing my mind on that. I am looking for food which expresses the season [and even] shows the setting: the back of a truck filled with pumpkins at a farmer’s market in the mountains, the dock of a seafood house or the produce stand display.”
Over the summer Rowe was staring at two shelves overbrimming with tomatoes: Asymmetrical German Johnson heirlooms speckled about in green, deep maroon and stripes, while Better Boys were uniform in size and bright red in color. “I chose to paint them just as I found them, showing the contrast between the old and the new varieties,” she tells. “The German Johnson tomatoes took longer and were more interesting to paint as they were so unique. But there may have been a bit of bias, too, as I prefer the flavor of those bumpy heirlooms.”
Her love for food comes honest, as her grandmother’s home was surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens in the Davidson River Valley. Meals came from the garden, without recipes—only love and care.
“A typical summer weekday lunch included okra and squash rolled in cornmeal and fried, creamed corn, green beans, peas or lima beans, and a large platter of sliced tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and occasionally radishes, plus hot cornbread with homemade butter,” Rowe tells.
Canning the bounty carried those fresh flavors into winter, along with the cooler harvest of crops. “She also made apple sauce and jelly from apples from the orchards in nearby Hendersonville.” Thus, apples appear in “Homegrown” as well. It’s an homage to family ties and inherent, deep nurturing.
“Creating these paintings gave me a chance to remember her, her kitchen, and her dining room table, covered with delicious things to eat,” Rowe says. “I think there is a deep comfort in remembering and cooking the foods of our childhood.”
Eastern NC eats also show up from Rowe’s palate—like crabs and Spanish mackerel from Mott’s Channel, or figs and crowder peas. “This time of year I love to cook a peck of Stump Sound Oysters, sweet potatoes baked in the oven until the natural sugar oozes out and a bowl of butter beans,” she says. “I also cook food that reflects our travels and favorites that have developed within our family over the years.”
Rowe’s collards recipe actually comes from a grocery clerk in Burgaw. It all starts by cleaning the greens to perfection: no grit and no bugs.
“Then roll the collard leaves up like a cigar and cut them crosswise into narrow strips,” Rowe explains. “Place the cut collards in a large pot and cover with water. Add seasoning, ham or a meaty bone, and salt to taste. Simmer slowly until the collards are tender.”
In true Southern fashion, serve with hot-pepper relish and vinegar.