Let’s talk a bit about the man who turned mushrooms into giant trees. You know who, the creator of Mushroom Savanna, Carl Warner. Don’t frown at the screen. It’s unbecoming. Haven’t heard of Mushroom Savanna? Have a read.
Words: Denisa Rosca, Subeditor: Toni Hart
Mushroom Savanna is Carl Warner’s first foodscape (a landscape constructed out of food that is), a mind-tripping landscape composed entirely of mushrooms, rice seeds and beans. He bought the mushrooms from a market on Portobello Road; thought they looked like trees from an alien planet. I guess if you squint your eyes, maybe close one of them, they do. Here’s hoping there are trees on other planets! But no, seriously, that foodscape will send you on a trip around the galaxy. First class, too.
Carl Warner was born in Liverpool, England, in 1963 and moved to Kent with his parents at the age of seven. Early into his childhood Carl discovered his infatuation with arts. He would spend hours every day listening to music, drawing and making sketches of imaginary worlds (haven’t we all…) inspired by the works of Dali, Patrick Woodrooffe and Hipgnosis .
He went to Maidstone College of Art with the intent of becoming an illustrator but quit after his foundation year and moved to the London College of Printing where he took a three-year course in photography. The art of playing with light proved to be a better fit for his talent, providing a more dynamic playground that would soon burst his creative bubble.
He left in 1985 and went on to become David Lowe’s assistant, a photographer based in Knightsbridge. The rest is pretty much textbook nonsense. By that I mean the man did everything by the book. He set up his own studio, went on to work with ad agencies and started groping some serious success by the end of the 80s. But that wasn’t enough for him. Great art plus little recognition equals happiness. Money plus success equals a very unhappy artist. As his interest began to whither, the demand for his work was less and less. That was until one day he found himself walking home from the market with a bunch of really cool mushrooms in his pocket. Now don’t get any thoughts, dear reader. Mushroom Savanna, remember?
Time to fast forward a bit. Since Christmas is a hop, skip and a beat away, let’s talk about Crockerville. Don’t let the name fool you. It’s got nothing to do with Crocodiles. Sadly. It was an ad commissioned by the American agency McCann for General Mill’s product Betty Crocker, the cookie dough.
According to Warner, “this was by far the most elaborate and time consuming scene” he’d ever made. For this particular assignment, the artist had to shed some of his proud British skin in order to try and think like an American for a change. The goal was to understand the emotional attachment of the American people with the Betty Crocker product.
“As this was a Christmas ad, I decided to create a scene that had all the magic and atmosphere of a Christmas card. I also needed to create something which could be constructed using the cookie shapes and textures, so after looking at many images and illustrations, I decided that a traditional New England village lit by moonlight would be the ideal scene to recreate” Warner says. Funny how the British heritage kicked in.
The first stage of all his foodscapes commences with a sketch- a rough fiddling that allows him to visualise the work yet to be done. “I tend to draw a very conventional landscape using classic compositional techniques as I need to fool the viewer into thinking it is a real scene. It is the realisation that the scene is in fact made of food that brings a smile to the viewer, and for me that’s the best part”.
After the initial stage was complete, Warner’s hard-working team built polycard buildings as templates to determine the size and scale of the scene. A few weeks later, with the help of Lorna Rhodes, specialised baker who had been working for Betty Crocker for several years, the cookie modeled houses, the barn and the stores had arrived at the studio in all their splendour. And since the cookie houses were in, the building process began. Layer by layer, brick by brick the dreamy, snow-drenched scenario came to life. And since the village had to look as if it were snowed in, fresh Apple Streusels were required to create the illusion of snow building up the sides of the road.
“Lorna spent all weekend baking even more cookies in order to dress the landscape around the buildings. Trees, walls, chimney stacks, bushes and clouds were all baked fresh, and the studio was filled with the smell of ‘cookie heaven’, though my long lost sense of smell meant I didn’t float around the set as well as the rest of the crew.”
After six weeks of preparation and three long days of construction, everything was in place but the hour was late so Carl decided “to call it a day and shoot the following morning so we could all look at it with fresh eyes. But that night I lay awake imagining what damage a very lucky bunch of mice could inflict upon the set, and wondered whether I would enter the studio the following morning to find our village in ruins with half a dozen extremely bloated rodents lying fast asleep in the middle of the town square.”
Lucky Carl, his imagination was just playing tricks on him. I guess that’s what happens when you spend so much time with the floodgates to imagination open – you wake up drowning in a sea of curious thoughts.
“After I had taken the final exposure of the scene, we all stood for several minutes in near silence, staring at this incredible edible scene which we had all worked so hard on. Having captured the magic atmosphere and beauty of this Christmas Cookie Wonderland, it was now my sad duty to finally ask the team for it all to be dismantled” Warner says. So much for our happy ending. The sad truth is that most of the food he uses in his works ends up super-glued to the table and therefore inedible. But let’s not dwell on that too much.
Here are some more amazing foodscapes from Carl Warner-