What colours come to mind when you think of a dimly lit parking garage in the heart of an urban city centre, a Saskatchewan sunset at the beginning of autumn or a big, creamy scoop of Saskatoon berry ice cream? A visual artist and pastry chef in San Francisco, Leah Rosenberg returns to the palette of her Prairie roots to create both dynamic technicolour paintings and edible works of art.
Rosenberg grew up in Saskatoon and studied fine art at the University of Saskatchewan and the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver before earning a masters at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She also developed a love of baking during a part-time job at the city's famed Miette patisserie. With that new passion, Rosenberg ended up working under celebrated pastry chef and author, Caitlin Freeman: Starting in 2009, the pair created whimsical installations at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, displaying edible interpretations of the museum's work in its top floor cafe until 2013.
Since her time at SFMOMA, the artist-meets-pastry-chef has done a plethora of vibrant art installations for restaurants as well as travelled to different parts of North America for a variety of artist residencies. Most recently, her work brought her home to Saskatoon, where she arrived with an explorative eye, splashes of colour and, of course, satiating eats and drinks to execute her series, Everyday, a Colour.
Rosenberg talked to The Globe about finding inspiration in the Prairies and how she uses food such as cakes and colour-morphing cocktails in her multidiscipline art form.
You just finished a month-long artist residency in Saskatoon – how was that?
My collaborative show with local artist Tammi Campbell was a very meaningful way to revisit my hometown. Usually, my visits home are quick and family-related … they're a bit rushed.
Growing up on that landscape does something to a person. Coming back to this sky and the beautiful sunsets on the Prairies and really having some time to take it all in makes me realize that these surroundings are a part of who I am.
Do you think growing up in Saskatchewan gives you a different perspective on things while working in the United States?
My brother and I both ended up in California and we both feel the best in close proximity to the ocean. The ocean was not so tangible living in Saskatchewan, but there is something about looking out onto Prairie fields that go on forever. … Or maybe it's the horizon line that gives a similar feeling of expanse, openness, possibility and also clarity.
You've become well-known for having confections, typically a colourful cake, at all of your art openings. How do you approach these creations?
The first cake I presented in a gallery space was on a pedestal, like how a traditional sculpture might be presented. When I cut into it, it revealed a colourful layered inside and that it was, in fact, a cake. The delight and expectation from then on became an additional medium [for my installations].
I once made a site-specific, seven-foot-long cake. When the cake was cut, brightly coloured cake layers were revealed to reflect the stripes of the works that hung on the wall.
Guests could eat their cake while taking in the corresponding work on the wall.
You've embraced a new, more interactive, but still colourful project: 'choreographed' drink/art performances where you curate drinks to change colour and flavour throughout an evening. Is that more exciting than simply serving a cake?
I do think there is more of a theatrical, performative and choreographed element and aesthetic to the drinks. There are props, uniforms, actions involved that result in a captive audience.
Cake is more of a linear thing. You bake it in an oven, it's assembled at a kitchen table, installed as a sculpture, cut into to reveal a connection to an artwork, and then it gets served and consumed.
The common thing between the cake and the drinks would be the consumption. In the end, they are gone. They are something that the audience has witnessed, participated in and if they have consumed it, they leave with it.
If a person knew hardly anything about food or interpreting art, what piece of advice would you give them to help them understand?
Sometimes I don't think art or even dessert should be something to "understand." It should be something that surprises you, that you experience and are made to think about after. It can be about helping to see everyday things in a new way.
But I imagine, if I was really trying to make a point to a person, I would sit them down at a yellow stool, with a slice of yellow cake in front of a yellow painting and tell them to report back with a feeling or thought in an hour!
Is there an ingredient or a certain dish in Saskatchewan that you love, but can't find in California?
Saskatoon berry anything. Oh, and my mom's cooking, of course!
Leah Rosenberg's co-exhibition with artist Tammi Campbell is titled Mono / Chromatic and is on view until Dec. 19 at the Kenderdine Gallery at the University of Saskatchewan.