I recently became fascinated by the work of Montreal-based artist Shelley Miller, specifically her sugar murals. Yes these intricate and beautiful tile murals are created from sugar and frosting – they’re perfectly edible.
My love of these murals is three-fold. First I am drawn to their beauty. Then I love the surprise of the medium and what she can do with it. Finally I love all the contrast; the juxtaposition of materials some would consider for the elite used to create public, outdoor, art; fluffy frosting on a hard, rock, wall; something that at first appears so durable is so ephemeral; the list could go on. The more I learned the more I came to love these transient pieces. I am very pleased Ms. Miller granted me an email interview, which follows. All images are used with permission of the artist.
My Food Friend: Your pieces remind me of painted tile murals in a very posh neighborhood where I live. Yet I’ve seen your work called sugar graffiti? How do you classify your work?
Shelley Miller: I call it sugar graffiti or sugar murals.
MFF: Where did you get the idea to put sugar and frosting on a wall? What was your inspiration?
SM: Originally the idea came from a home decorating perspective, where I was imagining decorating your house with a domestic material that was also a form of decoration. Those early installations were indoors, on walls, and played more off of the idea of aesthetic “taste” (as in what constituted good vs bad taste in decorating). Then I decided to take that idea outdoors in an effort to bring a domestic reference into a public space.
MFF: Do you do anything to make the sugar and frosting more conductive to painting on a wall or is this confection like we’ve made in our own kitchen? Are they edible?
SM: All my murals are completely edible. I use edible cake decorating inks and icing recipes.
MFF: How are they received, what is the response of the public, at the installation sites?
SM: People are usually surprised when they find out what it is. Often people don’t believe me and I have to eat some to prove that it’s edible. The reaction is usually always positive.
MFF: About how long do the pieces last? What is most destructive to them?
SM: Great question. The time varies from location to location. Weather factors are the greatest contributor to their erosion. The most destructive type of weather is heavy rain or just rain and a lot of humidity. The sun helps to “bake” them hard, to a plaster-like hardness, but rain and humidity wash and erode them.
MFF: As you can see I am intrigued by your work. I painted on cookies with food coloring for a while, but don’t have the right constitution to work with such a transient medium. What is your approach? How do you think about your work having such a short life span?
SM: For me, the work begins when I finish installing. That to me is the most exciting part: to watch them change and erode. It’s also rewarding because most of my physical work is done and then I just get to go back and watch, enjoy and take photos of the degeneration. I would never want them to stay pristine. I’m more interested in the contrast between decadence and decay, and the story that gets told as the murals fade.
Here is a brief look at how her Velocity mural altered after time and rain.
Shelley Miller is a serious artist with a Bachelors in Fine Arts from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 1997 (Calgary, AB) and a Masters in Fine Arts from Concordia University in 2001 (Montreal, QC) as well as the recipient of numerous fellowships and grants. Miller has quite a list of permanent public installations to her credit and her work has been attained by the City of Montreal and museums in India and Brazil.
For more information on Shelly Miller and her work visit the artist’s website at http://www.shelleymillerstudio.com/.
Or check out the book “The Popular History of Graffiti: From The Ancient World To The Present” by Fiona McDonald which features photos of some of Millers street art work from Montreal, Brazil, and Australia.