MEET KERRY ESCOBEDO
Qompendium: Kerry, where did you study art and how did all of this happen?
Kerry Escobedo: I studied fine art and art history at the University of Utah, receiving my BFA in 1998. Shortly after graduating, I moved with my husband to Atlanta, Georgia, back to my southern roots. In 2000, I started a family and didn’t pick up a paint brush again until 2014 when I painted my first raw meat painting. As soon as I started painting that steak everything began to flow. I was instantly, deeply connected to that subject. It poured out of me as if I was suddenly speaking a language that I had forgotten I knew.
And then the commissions came in …?
Yes, the commissions started coming in so fast that first year that I didn’t have time left in the day to complete them. I started working at night too and became completely obsessed. The next few years I continued to take commissions and sold in the Atlanta Hambidge Art Auction through Paddle 8.
When did your big breakthrough happen?
In 2017, my work was featured in Atlanta Magazine. 2017 was also the year of the Me Too movement. My art becoming more public and the movement happening at that same time made me feel part of a larger social consciousness. Ideas and parallels that I had been making between animals and women were not just personal, they were applicable to our nation’s voice, and our history as women.
Who has influenced your work?
Female artists have had a major influence on my work, namely Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago. Schapiro by expanding domestic craft into high art, and Chicago through examining the role of women in our society. Pop art is also in there, as well, as I nod to the “consumer” in my work.
Will your art and painting change with time?
My list of commissions is still filling my days, although I feel like my work is transforming. I’m not sure what the end result will be. I think raw meat is still my subject, but I’m ready to go darker, bolder, maybe more organs or entrails? I wonder if my clients will transform with me?
Qompendium: It is sad to see how much negativity has been embedded in the subject of meat lately. Yet, meat embodies many meanings. What does it symbolize to you, Kerry?
Kerry Escobedo: Nearly everything I’ve ever worked on has a singular theme, the female. The concept of meat holds both positive and negative connotations throughout history. My paintings make metaphoric comparisons between the treatment of animals and societal treatment of women. The meat could be singular in purpose as a beautiful sacrifice, simply about food, or it could become a metaphor eliciting words like: used, consumed, desired, sacrificed, or meat market. Personally, for me, it becomes all of these things. My work maintains an element of the sensual and the carnal, it becomes objectified, framed, ready for gaze, frozen in this moment.
What has drawn you to this subject? How did you start?
Prior to my meat portraits, I felt particularly tormented about subject matter and my inability to create something that really mattered to me. One night as I was cooking dinner, I set a big steak on the cutting board. It was framed just like a portrait. The fat and the marbling of the steak created little images- female bodies, animals, breasts and genitalia. This piece of meat had a story, maybe one that I was projecting onto it, the way you do with clouds in the sky, but it was clear and beautiful. Meat became a symbol for me of sacrifice, of rawness, of my own femininty. The brutality of the loss and the blood was both beautiful and meaningful.
Are you a carnivore and do you like cooking meat?
Yes, I’m a carnivore but I cook vegetarian dishes at least half of the week, if not more often. One of the first meat dishes I was really proud of was my roast. It’s so simple but there is honestly nothing more satisfying than a Boston butt with vegetables. I prefer to cook things in one pot and love slow cooked meats which builds so much flavor.
A roast is indeed divine and a dish that reminds us of our family unions … what meat dishes do you love to prepare? Any recipes you want to share?
I rarely cook with recipes, but I can give you the general idea of how I make my roast. I use a cast iron Dutch oven, heated on the stove top with a bit of olive oil in the the pot. While I heat the oil, I rub the Boston butt with salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and a little cinnamon for warmth. Then, brown the roast on all sides. I throw in some thickly cut onions while the pot is still hot, and add some liquids over the already browned roast. Add chicken stock, 14 ounce can of chopped tomatoes, a cup of red wine a whole bunch of herbs- thyme, rosemary, maybe a few bay leaves. Put on the lid and pop it in the oven at 250 degrees for 5-6 hours. Usually we get impatient and I turn up the heat for the last hour and also add some veggies in there at this time- peeled potatoes, carrots, more onions. I usually shred up the meat and put it into tacos with the veggies. It’s delicious!
Communities have really started to understand the idea of local, seasonal, humanely raised, and organic. I don’t think these are trends. I think people care. I think we are headed for a healthier and kinder relationship with food.
Qompendium: what do you think of veganism?
Kerry Escobedo: I was actually a vegetarian for about six years through my late teens into my early twenties. I spent about a year as a vegan. Before I dated my husband, I dated this guy we called Meat is Murder. I was friends with my husband at the time, and he gave this guy that nickname because he was a vegan. Meat is Murder and I had similar views about the treatment of animals and the conditions in which they are raised. That is still very important to me. One weekend, he invited me to break into a slaughter house to set the cows free. I got really pumped at the idea, and I called my mom to brag about my newly found “social activism”. My mom is really laid back, a former hippie and calmly said, “Well, where will the cows go after you’ve freed them? Will they suffer on their own, walk into the road and cause an accident?” She was right; that was a terrible idea. Meat is Murder and I did not set the cows free that night.
How do you see humans and their future eating habits?
Humans consume, often without reverance or purpose. I am guilty of this too. We are shipping foods from all over the globe and can basically have anything we want at any given moment. We have become used to instant gratification, totally losing the connection to the difficulty and time it took to get that food on your plate. Communities have really started to understand the idea of local, seasonal, humanely raised, and organic. I don’t think these are trends. I think people care. I think we are headed for a healthier and kinder relationship with food.
What else do you do to finance a standard of living in Atlanta?
I have been extremely fortunate to be as busy as I have been with commissions for the past few years. My husband has been a huge support reminding me that this IS a career, like any other. Would a lot of people be supportive of their spouse painting raw meat for years? I’m not sure! Somehow what I love to do makes money. It surprises me every morning.
I have the most adorable little seven year old neighbor. He comes over to play with my daughter all the time. He really likes to watch me paint and stands silently, leaning his head to one side and the next, arms folded over his chest. One day he said, “Kerry, you are so good at painting, really good! I think you are so good that maybe you should sell them! That’s a great idea, Kerry. Don’t you think?”
One day he said, “Kerry, you are so good at painting, really good! I think you are so good that maybe you should sell them! That’s a great idea, Kerry. Don’t you think?”
Qompendium: Please, do tell us about your painting process, where do you start, we surely would not mind knowing about your techiques and secrets!
Kerry Escobedo: I begin with choosing a cut of meat at the butcher. This part of the process is stressful because it forces me to be high-maintenance. I usually make the butcher pull out a whole pile of meat as I scan over each piece looking for something interesting. The photographing of the meat is fun because I can be outside and obsess over the details. My front yard isn’t as sunny or as flat as my neighbors, so I lug my legs of lamb or steaks over to their driveway. I leave a sweet little blood trail down their yard and drive, but this is art! I’m sure it’s worth it for the collective good of the world. Printing the images is next. It’s difficult to get the color and the sharpness correct, so that part of the process is tedious. Once that is finished, I draw, referencing my chosen subject and begin blocking out the colors in oil. The rest is just building layers upon layers of color. Sometimes I have a tiny five haired brush and I have to hold my breath as I paint tendons or tiny dots. I feel like I have a duty to record each detail exactly as it exists because that is part of their story. Sometimes I see images emerging in the flesh of the meat. I either embellish this image to make it more obvious to the viewer, or I paint it as is. Either way, people tend to see their own things in the finished painting. Maybe that’s part of their story.
Would you explore seafood or poultry or does the client determine that?
Absolutely! I have actually done an oyster before. The gills were challenging. I found out that part of their anatomy is called the labial pulp. Well, that seems fitting! I love the parallel between raw meat and women, so the labial pulp reference was so very apropos. I thought, “I’m going to paint the prettiest labial pulp in the world.” The client usually determines the subject matter, although recently I’ve been more vocal about telling them what I think will be more successful. The most successful works are normally what has inspired me, or a subject to which they feel deeply connected.
One last question, why have you chosen Atlanta as your home?
I’m originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, so I have deep roots in the south and I understand its complexities. I used to come to Atlanta in high school to see shows, or visit the High Museum, or shop. Atlanta has always seemed so alive. I adore big cities but I’m a southern girl at heart. I picked a big southern city. Atlanta is so rich in culture. The people are from everywhere, but it somehow still manages to keep that southern vibe of meat and three, or biscuits and greens. If I go eat BBQ for lunch my kids can smell it on me hours later and ask where I ate. The south is exactly like that. If you visit and stay for awhile, it gets in your soul and you’ll have to return again.
I’m going to paint the prettiest labial pulp in the world.