Viva Vasarely

Saturday, 1 July 2017

He was mercurial, just like the furious flames of the stove. In a matter of explosive seconds, he upbraided me for being the worst waiter in the restaurant. Naturally, I was always caught loitering in the alleyways of the kitchen, which I presumably called Dante’s chamber. Hell was where he was, the rustic ovens, fiery copper pans and the grunts of enervated chefs. Purgatory was a small backyard cloaked in limp greyness, where the skittish chefs enjoyed their last puff of hope by the diminishing cigarettes. Many hoped to stay or get out of their job, and then came heaven, the patisserie room. 

The cleanest white room with hints of Warhol’s silver* fantasies that tempted me with the chocolate éclairs, the fig tarts and blackcurrant macaroons. The kitchen was a hermetic space at night. But by dawn, during my early shifts, its loneliness was liberated by its livening tones and its tryst with light. Nothing comforted me more in this job except when I peered through a window, I’d see the customers who strolled in for their tea sessions. A time or two, I noticed him stroll in, Monsieur Vasarely.

Monsieur Vasarely lived for over thirty years in this town. He had a very composed gait, and always wore a pair of well-tailored trousers. The restaurant I worked at was not too far away from Denger- Rochearu station. One day while he boarded on the Ligne de Sceux, he sifted his way through the pacing commuters. Amongst the shuffling feet sporting the newly fashioned block coloured kitten heels, the sea of coloured coats, Monsieur Vasarely shifted platforms, and then he stood for a moment. He saw something.

The trains trundled below our feet, and my boss was assured by an influx of the many commuters. He was a fool; his eyes were only set on the cashier, and how frequently the doors opened. It was a shame how he never noticed how often Monsieur Vasarely dined at the restaurant. Especially how he left a few smudges of pencil lead on the serviettes. Monsieur Vasarely always looked through a folder of his work and many times was in discord with himself, he was impulsive and in many ways compulsive.

My art of eavesdropping and stalking eventually got me the sack. One fine evening while serving, I tripped and the beverage spilt all over his sketch-dizzying patterns of black and white. My boss certainly endorsed my public humiliation. But Monsieur Vasarely was kind hearted, he asked me why did I want this job, “ The kitchen is enfolded in colours that always leaves me open to interpretations.” To my surprise he looked at me, “At Dengert- Rocheareu I saw these beautiful white crackled tiles and I wondered how could I perfectly frame them. Your impulse will always prevail over the know-how.” He patted me on my back and tipped me graciously.

I untied my apron, stole a lime green macaroon from the kitchen, and held onto the note that Vasarely gifted me.

Why Vasarely 
I would not be able to say much after the story I began with, mainly because it’s a lie. In fact, I never lived in that era to even imagine Vasarely having a cup of coffee. But what’s the harm of time travelling and having an anonymous identity? Don’t we all have that moment where we see something in the unconventional or even mundane in reality or our dreams?  A few weeks ago, over a Friday night dinner of some Jägerbomb, wine, classic herbed potato roast and Annie’s experimental mochi crepe dessert. I joked about how the wine complimented the green crepes, not because of its taste but because burgundy and green were something Sir Isaac Newton* would have loved as well.

Many of us may never know how much color plays a role in life. In a space we sit, our sight is solaced with a sight of something breathtaking wherein we could have been enveloped in darkness. I could easily say that Vasarely’s huge paintings displayed in exhibitions made me agape. His works are wondrous, but this story is not going to be a biographical piece, for the internet has profusely dedicated words to him. Especially that typical ending in most articles, “He continues to be an inspiration.” The only question, how?

Paper artist, Phillipe UG crafted a book that featured 8 interpretations of Victor Vasarely's famous paintings 

To me, it happened with an art piece by Philippe UG, a paper artist who converted some of Mr Vasarely’s famous artwork into a pop-up book. Perfectly cut and folded, he aptly interpreted the artwork with meticulous details such as the yellow circle on a blue square and how a green trapezium in the painting looked like a slanting roof in the pop-up. Vasarely once wrote in his journal, that originality always lay in the idea and never the object. I was amazed how he did justice to the form by showcasing Vasarely’s nonpareil fidelity to light, color and depth. This questioned me about my fascination with food and its colors. The imaginary waiter or real me, I knew the redness of the wine and greenness of the dessert appeased my hunger for color juxtapositions. And in Vasarely’s world of limitless combinations, I wanted to experiment with food styling and colors.

His art, Our Art

On a hot summer in his hometown at Hungary, young Vasarely was confined to bed rest after he injured his forearm. But in his idle time, he gazed at his gauzes and was fascinated with its crisscrossed mesh, which he jokingly said that led to his fine liking for stripes. In no time, his sketch books were plagued by locust- frenzy like lines. Though his art skills sprouted during his younger years, Monsieur Vasarely had a strong inclination towards science and pursued medicine. Two years later, he dropped out of med school to pursue graphic design. He packed his suitcase and moved to Paris.

Blue curaçao, gin and vodka lollies 

Dark chocolate cupcakes paired with icing coated strawberries 

Vasarely’s work is riddled with precision, science and surprisingly spontaneity. When it came to food styling, there wasn't a nook or corner of the pop-up book that did not inspire us. Beyond looking at the color combinations, Phillipe’s interpretation of shapes and ratios were interesting as well. While planning the food shoot, the dining table was filled with sketches, many times with the question, “What should we concoct in our kitchen?” Our personal toughest was Meta and Gestalt Blue, “What’s blue?” Blueberries or M&M’s. It was only until our experimentation with lollies we thought of Blue Curacoa, vodka and gin. Inspired by the green squares we thought of making mochi cubes paired with hints of lavender to resemble the indigo of the art piece. For Gestalt Blue, getting those cool blue tones was the personal hardest, but what was worth it was whipping up some black icing to dip the strawberries into.

Black and white liquorice candy

When he first painted his abstractions, they asked, “What does this mean.” At first, he could not find an answer. But in time, his abstractions became more than an interpretation and later something as concrete as Vasarely’s modular museum at Aix–en- Provence, France. Looking like a huge dice, the museum is whimsical tribute to his work. Trying to stay loyal to the pop-up and the museum, it was by luck we spotted the black and white lollipop and the stripe- like stringy liquorice.

Monsieur Vasarely wrote very avidly in his journal and he was relentless to stick to his comfortable form and color combinations. By the 1960s, he Vasarely experimented with color and it got explosive. Louise Bourgeois once quoted, “Color is stronger than language, it’s a subliminal communication.” For Monsieur Vasarely the color interaction went beyond just a display. He created the ‘unites plastiques’, a combination of fundamental units and different geometric shapes. With its various permutations, his alphabets create infinite possibilities for art. One could remix and work on these letters to speak a different language. And personally, this was the most fun one we had to style. Although,  stacking the fruits on the meringue was a challenge. Artigas was my personal favourite, it had the perfect blend of Vasarely’s work from the 1930s and 1960s, the stripes and the bold contrast between the orange and purple. We were in luck when our hallmate had the perfect purple plate, and yes how the stunning strawberry coulis looked on the freshly toasted waffle.

Waffles with strawberry coulis 
Apart from making all of the food and having an old fashioned time bonding in the kitchen, there was a certain joy executing our innumerable interpretations, from Monsieur Vasarely’s art to Philippe's work. After Vasarely truly meant it, “ A creation must stimulate an imaginative process in others.”

And this time for real, I untie my apron, enjoy the last bit of the waffle, left a note on our kitchen counter, “Done with food experimentations, don’t get drunk on the lollies.” I imagined Mr Vasarely saying, “How did you pull through Gestalt Blue.”

There’s a code name for this shoot, ‘Ants in our Pants’. I would like to thank my kitchen mate, Annie Huang for photographing this project and special thanks to Ektha for helping with logistics, controlling the light and makings sure the meringues did not pull of the leaning tower of Pisa. Also, the stories about his bandage and the white tiles were all in his journal, thus not all facts are fictional. The fictional waiter did serve some honest facts.

Until next time.


  1. You would have nearly gotten me in the waitress story, if I hadn't known you.
    It was nice discovering about M. Vaseraly.

    1. Thank you, it's a good thing that I did mention it was a lie in between :)
      Happy you enjoyed the story

  2. Food in art is a new concept to me. Well written Atheena. Even a layman can get easily acquainted with Vaseraly through your story.

    1. Thank you so much, so happy you picked up something new about Vasarely!

  3. Through your description i can imagine myself being there. Great use of words atheena. Weldone mole.

  4. Very passionate writing Atheena.
    Superb verbalisation And you have done your job very well in expressing food as an art . waiting for more blog and keep writing.

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  6. Well written Atheena...Your language is simply amazing and it's making me really envious..! Keep it up girl..!!

  7. Today looks like a good day to express my feelings and not have it misconstrued. I love you and your work. This is phenomenal writing, admirable work. I wish you a jolly good birthday along with other adjectives for feelings that may come your way today! God bless your inspiriting soul Atheena Wilson.

    1. Master Henry, it's these birthday presents that count.
      Thank you

  8. Amazing & Inspiring! what a cool matching within the artist, the tale and the food. Loved it!

  9. Voilà!! Thank you dear for an inkline!