Sugar dependency is at the core of artist Peter Anton's work, where the visual appearance and chemical character of chocolates and other confections inspire massive, hyperrealistic sculptures. For his latest exhibition, Sugatarium, now on at The UNIX Gallery in New York City, Anton's created sculptures of cherry pie, confetti cake, ice cream sundae, and a chocolate bunny, amongst other treats, then smashed them. Unlike Stéphanie Kilgast's adorably tiny food sculptures, Anton's are gigantic. It covers similar conceptual territory as Sultani Bashir's salt-based artworks, but Anton doesn't stop with the sculptures—he turned The UNIX Gallery into an asylum of sorts that visitors must sneak into, replete with institutional beds for "new patients." At the April 27th opening, visitors could speak to Anton through a glass partition outfitted with a phone intercom, as if they were trapped in sugar-induced looney bin.
Like many, Anton played with his food as a kid. He'd move it around the plate, closely inspecting it. As he tells Creators, he loved the variety of colors and textures, as well as how the entire composition looked on a plate. Instead of of becoming a chef, however, Anton made food his focus in his sculptural art practice, which began 25 years ago.
"When I first began these works they were more representational and I was not at all interested in them looking particularly real," he adds. "At that time I had OCD and I learned that as I created more and more work and focused on the art the OCD was mostly transferred from my daily life to getting my sculptures to look more and more realistic."
Anton wants to a few things clear: he is not against sugar, and he isn't comfortable telling people what to do, especially when it comes to the pleasures of life. Instead, with Sugatarium and other bodies of work, Anton is cautioning that things might be getting out of control.
"Throughout history something sweet was offered in many cultures after a religious holiday or meal—this was to celebrate and it made eating sweets special," says Anton. "Then we started using sweets to comfort ourselves when we had a bad day. Currently. we eat our favorite treats as a reward for something that doesn't deserve a reward, like looking both ways when crossing the street. We are now eating sugar just for the sake of eating sugar."
In Sugatarium, the treats are both quintessentially American, like the cherry pie sculpture, but some also have a more aristocratic flair, like Anton's macarons.
"I threw in the macarons for the snobs out there," says Anton. "However, even more important was the visual part of it. I wanted to show amazing colors and different textures. I also wanted to convey high energy and drama—that is why the works are smashed and thrown."
The smashed sculptural works also lend the simulated asylum an added metaphorical air. Sugar chemically acts on the brain, but it doesn't result in madness. Then again—and not to take this too literally—sugar addiction is a chemical imbalance of the mind, so maybe Anton is onto something with Sugatarium.
Anton knows people who can enjoy a sweet and walk away. He also knows many, many others who think too much is never enough. In a sense, he thinks a sugar-addicted person is somewhat equivalent to a mentally unbalanced person, but he cautions that he is neither doctor nor researcher.
"Another reason I am placing these new works in an 'asylum' is because I want to see if my work can trigger the same emotions people usually have when it's placed in a creepy and disturbing setting," Anton notes. "Usually my works bring out people's fond memories and they escape for a moment. Will they have the same experience here?"
"It's like when you are experiencing unpleasant things in your life: you can briefly forget the bad things while indulging in a favorite dessert," he adds. "It is my challenge to see if that will happen in a sanitarium environment."
The process of making these sculptures and installing them, as with all of Anton's work, is long and labor intensive. It involves sculpting, carving, sanding, and painting, as well as a lot of experimentation and manipulation of materials like wood, resin, clay, metal, acrylics, oils, and so on.
"It can get quite complex and difficult to achieve my vision," Anton says. "The asylum feeling of the space will be achieved by the retro hospital color scheme and the placement of institutional looking beds that visitors can lay in when visiting the gallery."
Anton says he is unsure of how he will behave or react behind the glass partition and when speaking through the phone intercom. He is going to see how it goes, and decide what to say in the moment. It will be, by necessity, performance art.
"Will I be 'insane'? Will I be 'normal'? I'm not sure," muses Anton. "The only dialog will be private through old-fashioned telephones, so I am interested to see what people will say. Since I always feel unnatural and uncomfortable speaking with people at my art openings, it will be fun to turn the tables and make them feel weird and awkward."
Anton will be bringing more works in every week to Sugatarium, which runs until June 17th at The Unix Gallery in New York City.
Click here to see more of Peter Anton's work.