Isabella Huffington is a New York City based artist, primarily focused on the question of art accessibility. She is drawn to everyday materials and process and inspired by everyday life. Her collages and mix media work often reference food (including pineapples!) and female power. Inspired by Buddhist art, particularly mandalas, Isabella uses repetition and the exploration of one image or detail, to create opportunities to pause and reflect. We chatted with Isabella about her journey as an artist and all things food and femininity.
All photos courtesy of Isabella Huffington.
pineapple DC: So you grew up in DC...what about the city influenced your life path?
Isabella: I lived in DC between the ages of two and six - I remember the smell, the colors and being in nature. I missed that in LA and I think my love for color and natural elements was formed at this early age. DC also influenced my awareness for politics - I’ve always believed in the power of government to do good and growing up in DC had that impact on me. I’ve visited on and off over the years and the sense of community is unique. The creative scene is really growing - artists are starting to move to DC and new museums are opening. I am interested in the accessibility of art to people of all means and DC does an amazing job of ensuring that the museum spaces are open, accessible and not intimidating. I live in New York City now and, in contrast, even if the museums are pay-what-you-can, no one feels comfortable doing that and so it adds up if you are interested in the arts or trying to take your whole family with you.
pineapple DC: Tell us about your art. How does food/your relationship to food influence your art?
Isabella: I have always been interested in everyday objects. There are so many beautiful things we see every day but would not consider fine art. This includes food - it can be interesting, unusual, and really beautiful but it’s not something we automatically think of as something art. I love taking these everyday objects, stripping them of their context and then manipulating or repeating them enough that it looks like something else. If you have a single pineapple, it is exactly what it looks like, but if it is repeated and arranged, it becomes an abstract pattern. It becomes something new that’s worth paying attention to.
I make collages. I grew up making collages with my friends. It’s so easy and cheap to do - you don’t need anything more than paper, scissors and glue. Unlike most art, collage is an accessible medium. I love that if kids see my collages, they can go home and make their own, no matter where they are from. When you’re younger, it’s almost a form of journaling and I love that you can look back at these pieces and get a glimpse of where you were at that point in your life. A lot of my work is a reflection of the fact that we are all moving so quickly all the time now but if you can find a way to look at everything like you’re looking at it for the first time, you realise that you have beauty all around you every single day. It makes life so much more varied and interesting when you are able to see things as if they are new and beautiful even if they are commonplace.
pineapple DC: We are obsessed with your pineapple creations, 'Audrey' and 'Hawaiian Gold'. What is the inspiration behind these pieces?
Isabella: We usually go to Hawaii for Christmas and pineapples have become this symbol of relaxation for me. I made these pieces when I was going through more fast-paced periods and wanted to make art that relaxed me. When else do we eat pineapples other than during the summer or when we are on vacation? I also love the pineapple itself - it’s fascinating to look at. It has this sharp little head but when you open it up, it is sweet and something completely different. I love that it’s very funny looking, playful and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
pineapple DC: How do you celebrate women and femininity in your artwork?
Isabella: I grew up in an all women household and so I’ve always been surrounded by strong female role models. I didn’t realise that it influenced my art that much until a few years ago. But it does - I use a lot of images from my family and imagery associated with femininity. We always think of beauty as a luxury and a privilege but I see beauty as a necessity. I also think that people look down on things that are overtly feminine so I wanted to be assertively feminine in my work and own that. I think we often feel like we have to occupy the male space to succeed but instead we can claim our own space and in what feels comfortable to us.
I usually name my pieces after female role models, both from the past and the present. It’s a mixture of friends, public figures, and fictional characters but they’re all incredible women. Some are more obvious to others and some only I understand.
pineapple DC: What are the lessons you've learned about crafting your own career path? What are the factors that have both bolstered you and that you've had to overcome?
Isabella: My mom is the strongest woman I know so it’s never been a question of if women can succeed but rather, how we would go about it. I’ve always been shy, a people pleaser. I did not know how hard it would be to chart a different path, not doing what is conventional or expected. I’ve realized is that things tend to seem extremely significant in the moment but it’s never going to be just one event or experience that is going to dramatically change the course of events. It’s hundreds of many attempts and life experiences that will lead to something working out a certain way.
I’ve also been learning when I need to stand up for myself and when it’s ok to let things go. If there is something that I feel strongly about and need to stand behind, I will, but I can let certain other things go. That came up in this election cycle. I’m doing a show in May on women in politics and not being afraid of being called certain adjectives - nasty, pushy, bossy, etc. I started the show thinking Hillary was going to win but, in some ways, this feels more necessary now. This is the first election that feels deeply personal. It feels like we all lost in some way. Like women lost. She did all the work and still lost to someone who is everything parents teach their children not to be. And then when you see that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump you have to wonder what’s going on.
pineapple DC: You wrote an incredibly personal, moving article, "Underfed", about your struggle with anorexia in your youth. Every woman has her own story--and struggle--with food. Why was it important for you to share your story?
Isabella: I had an eating disorder at 11 and it felt like such a cliche that I almost did not want to write about it. But I realized that many of my friends had some insecurity related to food and felt ashamed. I see an eating disorder as a form of addiction. Something you need to be aware of on a daily basis and every day is different - some are good, some are bad. I wrote this piece in an attempt to make my friends feel comfortable speaking more openly. So many men and women struggle with this. One of the ways you deal with addiction is to understand that you are not alone. When you are isolated in your struggle, it wins.
A big part of my journey was learning to love food again. I had to entirely reset my relationship with food and start from scratch. I realized I didn’t need to eat the entire box of cookies or binge. But also that I could have as much as I wanted and it was ok. Everything in moderation, including moderation. That is my food philosophy. It’s about what feels right for you and your body.
pineapple DC: At pineapple DC, we're all about creating a better food system in ways big and small. What's one hope (or more) that you would have for DC or our country's food system?
Isabella: I think that good food should be for everyone and not just a luxury reserved for the elite. In many countries, access to good food is easy because the connection to the land is there and there is a culture of appreciation for fresh ingredients. But here people live in food deserts and only have access to fast food.
Food is so important to your well being and I find it really offensive that we don’t make it a priority for everyone to have access to it. I went to college in New Haven and the was no grocery store until my junior year. It was a food desert before that. That’s just insane. It left fast food as the easiest, most cost-effective option.
My hope is that we take something that feels like it’s only for a special group of people, and put it place mechanisms that recognize and address that everyone deserves good food.