When artists we love have birthdays.
We like to try to make a cake about it. Or in the case of Jasper Johns, who turned 83 yesterday, a classic American grilled cheese sandwich.
L: Jasper Johns,”Bread”, 1969 from lead relief series. R: our grilled cheese sandwich, 2013
If he still lived in New York, we surely would have found his doorstep and left a birthday cake on it. Johns is best known for his painting Flag (1954–55), which he painted after having a dream about it. When the Jasper Johns retrospective went up last Fall at SFMOMA, we had some dreams of making all sorts of things based on these flags. But when curator Kate Mendillo escorted us down to get a sneak peak at the lead relief series that was being stored downstairs before being installed, our minds went from cake to bread. Neither of us were familiar with his lead works, so it was nice to refer to something we could learn more about. Using what we did know though, of Johns’ affinity to American icons, we settled on a classic American grilled cheese sandwich. Caitlin had the idea of serving the sandwich on an over-size board so I went back down to the storage space with the ruler, measured the board and the slice of bread and scaled it down to a reasonable size (the board was still 16″ x 11″).
Not only were our visitors delighted by a savory option amidst a selection of sweets, there was this element of surprise when they were delivered this over-sized board to eat it off of. The reference was clear. And it was delicious.
When we can, we love to throw birthday parties for our art heroes. Even if they can’t be there. When Thiebaud turned 90 a couple of years ago, we brought down our Thiebaud exhibition catalog and pulled out all the stops. Lollipops, pinwheels, hotdogs, a giant slice of cake raffle box, buttons…
We looked into things he liked. We learned that he greets everyone with a “Howdy!” And so we made a series of postcards and guests were invited to write him a birthday greeting that were sent to him in a package by SFMOMA. It was truly endearing to know how many people showed up and who’s lives he has inspired though his paintings and his teaching.
Two years later, for his 92nd birthday, we made a selection of cakes from one of our favorite paintings of his, ‘Display Cakes’, 1963.
Oh, and ice cream cones.
Piet Mondrian’s birthday is March 7. I guess we sort of celebrate it everyday (sometimes twice a day) making the Mondrian cake like we do. He would be 140 years old by now. One year on his birthday we decided to throw a tiny celebration in his honor.
Another one of our all-time favorites, Ellsworth Kelly, will be celebrating his 90th birthday at the end of this month. The Chatman series will be up at MOMA and a special selection of his paintings will be on view at SFMOMA. So while we are in New York, we are working on something with chefs, Sandra Mennino and Lynn Bound, to celebrate his birthday at MOMA, while we are home celebrating in our own sweet way at SFMOMA. A bi-coastal birthday party for a painter who greatly inspires us anywhere we go.