Food Art: Christopher Boffoli's Big Appetites
The girls hopped up and down as they bounced their eyes from a photograph of a miniature car going through a carwash of long linguine pasta, to another of a tiny doll lawn mowing the zest off of an orange.
Boffoli’s photography was part of Winston Wachter Fine Art’s exhibit, which was part of the greater weekend-long Art Platform exhibition located at the Barker Hangar in the Santa Monica Airport.
The art show ran from Sept. 28 through Sept. 30 with a special preview day on Sept. 27, and featured galleries and artists from all over the United States and the world.
International galleries’ interest was what jumpstarted Boffoli’s art career, even though his background includes literature studies, philanthropy, and journalism.
The writer sat down to talk with Neon Tommy about the path that led him to what he does today:
Boffoli grew up in New England, and traces his fascination with miniature forms to his childhood.
“There was so much media when I was a kid that had to do with little people in a big world,” said Boffoli. “There was a show on Captain Kangaroo, and there was an ongoing segment with little people who lived in an animal cracker box on bookshelves…I was just fascinated by this.”
Model toy trains and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” were a large part of Boffoli’s interests growing up, but food and family were influences too.
Boffoli’s grandfather was first-generation Italian-American, who made a pot of sauce every Sunday.
“He’d start it Saturday night, and it was a meat-based pasta sauce. The pork was the secret to all the flavor.”
Boffoli’s grandfather only had an eighth grade education and had worked a hard life.
Boffoli recalled the hard skin on his grandfather’s work-roughened hands, which hurt to shake.
“But he understood the chemistry of that sauce, and he knew exactly what to put in there,” said Boffoli. “He knew how to love it, nurture it…it was simmered for sixteen hours, to the point where the sausage and the meatball would just kind of fall apart, just fork tender. It didn’t take me long to figure out that there was something really important going on there.”
Boffoli studied literature and communications, and then set off on a career in philanthropy, fundraising for colleges across the country.
Change of scenery
But after several years working in the industry, Boffoli faced life-altering events, which made him take a second look at his life and occupation.
In September 2001, Boffoli moved to New York City to start a new job, and had lived in his lower Manhattan apartment for only two weeks when Sept. 11 struck.
“Watching 3,000 people die from your kitchen window is something you never forget,” said Boffoli.
Then on a hiking trip up Mount Rainier, Boffoli had a near-death experience when he slipped and fell across a snowfield, injuring his foot.
“But you know I always say that horrible experiences can have a richness of experience in themselves,” said Boffoli. “And the one-two punch of 9/11 and the near-death accident when I was recovered and back at work…I was sitting in these conference rooms under fluorescent lighting looking out at windows of snowcapped mountains and thinking, what am I doing here?”
Boffoli decided to take a yearlong creative sabbatical in August 2005 to travel and see what he wanted to do next, and never looked back.
He traveled around the world working on his photography and settled in Seattle, where he writes and photographs for different publications.
“I’ve done photo journalism all along. I’m a writer…really this kind of found me,” he said, talking about his art. “This has become my full time job for the past year. I did this for years, nobody really cared. My little niece loved them but I started this project in 2003. It didn’t really become famous until last year and now nobody wants to talk about anything else except for this.”
Time to create
Boffoli got his inspiration from viewing Jake and Dinos Chapman’s “In Hell” exhibit, which depicts graphic artwork using plastic models and mannequins.
He also was inspired by Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz’s series "Travelers," which uses small scale figures in scenes set in snow globes.
“I love the idea of snow globes,” said Boffoli. “They’re something that are whimsical, and something from childhood. But when you got closer some of them were horrifying, like adults holding little kids over a well about to drop them, people hanging from trees…I thought, oh my gosh, this is brilliant.”
Boffoli started creating his own scenes, using fruit and pastries from local Seattle markets and bakeries, and small hand-painted figurines.
Marta Masferrer Kirsch, a friend of Boffoli’s, was very supportive of his work.
“The moment I saw those, I was like, 'these are brilliant,'” said Kirsch. “They say a lot about life. They’re partly inspired by his life…it’s just so him, they’re so witty and smart.”
Both Kirsch and another longtime friend, Shannah Striker, mentioned Boffoli’s incredible memory as a defining feature to he was.
“He might remember instance in his past, and he has something to draw from for subject matter,” said Striker. “Just the fact that he knows a lot about everything probably helps.”
“He remembers everything,” said Kirsch. “Even things from 5 years old. It lends him to be a great writer, to be very empathetic…it makes him a great friend and a great artist.”
People across the world seem to agree with Kirsch. Boffoli has had successful showings across the world, including England, Morocco, now Santa Monica, and in a few weeks, Toronto.
“We just sold a small piece last week,” said Meghan Richardson, gallery director of Marcia Rafelman Fine Arts in Toronto. “We get a chuckle out of everybody. People appreciate the humor in his work. It's also why they're reproduced so much in magazines and online.”
The dark side
Some issues have risen up due to Boffoli’s popularity online. In the beginning of September, Boffoli filed a lawsuit against Twitter, who had failed to respond to his requests for their aid in taking down unlawful use of his photographs on certain Twitter user accounts.
“There’s a certain tipping point I think where having people exposed to my work by showing a few images has helping me gain exposure,” he said. “But then there are these websites that are gaining traffic and advertising revenue with my work. A lot of people aren’t putting attribution with my photographs, so people don’t even know it’s me… visual artists aren’t getting compensated for the presence of their content there.”
Despite Boffoli’s legal struggles with the internet, gallery directors have nothing but praise for his work ethic and professionalism.
“I think a lot of times, artists get a bad rep for being difficult to work with,” said Megan Des Jardins, director of the Winston Wachter gallery in Seattle. “But he’s continually professional, and really on top of deadlines and things.”
“He’s very accommodating and professional, and has a great sense of humor, said Richardson, the Toronto gallery director. “He keeps things light, but gets down to business…I feel like I know him really well, even though I've never met him in person.”
Art patrons in the Santa Monica exhibition stopped to smile and laugh at the whimsy of a photograph of tiny chefs working on brightly colored macarons, with a caption that reads: “Phillip stepped forward to take credit for all of the work.”
One can’t help but think, maybe they know a little bit about Christopher Boffoli, even if they’ve never met him before too.