Breakfasts with Molly Atryzek
What did you eat for breakfast? A bowl Honey-Nut cheerios. Corn flakes with soy milk and a banana. Stop by Dunkin' Donuts for a medium iced coffee and bagel, toasted. Do you even remember? Are you the kind of person that eats the same thing every day or do you skip the meal entirely. When you stop and think about it, your breakfast is a snapshot of who you are. A clever, marketing major from LA with a habit of making dad jokes. A list-loving virgo with a major in Writing and dyed ginger hair. Or maybe a high school teacher in a small Connecticut town.
College is a great and pivotal time in many people’s lives. A time of growth, change, and improvement. However, with all these opportunities and experiences who often also have to leave your home for the first time. Along with your home, your friends, family, and pretty much everything you know is far away. Whether you move across the country, the state, or even just moving into a dorm within your home city. No matter how far you travel, one finds themselves thrown into a whole new situation. It’s in these moments that we look for ways to connect yourself back to the things that matter most to us. Two years ago, when Molly Atryzek was doing her masters at the Massachusetts College of art she chose to take a different spin on the concept of a portrait.
What is a portrait? Were most people see a basic drawing of a person’s face, Atryzek saw an opportunity to do something more out of the box. The portrait is defined as a painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person. Most people take this literally, sticking to head and shoulders. At first glance you might be confused at Atryzek portrait collection. Paintings of breakfasts are not what you expect when you hear portrait but the stories behind the food are deep and meaningful. Atryzek utilized a fascination with breakfast foods and decided to look deeper at what our daily morning ritual. And by the time you hear the stories you will have no doubts about if these paintings are portraits.
"Its just kind of like connecting to my friend in DC, that I never get to see, in a different way. It was interesting."
A sort of mint sage blue and yellow, white, and red. A cup of coffee. Starbucks. And there are fruits. Strawberries and watermelon. That’s what you see but what you don't see is a friend. A friend who is far away. Living in Washington D.C. A friend who that you can’t visit often. You see the starbucks cup but not the person who is crazy about her Starbucks. The watermelon, the strawberries, they are the breakfast of a health nut. A reflection or even an impression of a person. By painting it, Atryzek made the distance a little bit closer. She called her friend up, and asked her what she was eating for breakfast. So not only did she get a conversation with her friend out of it but the closeness, the intimacy of knowing something so personal. We don’t really think about how personal something like breakfast is. But really it is a beacon of our tastes, choices, views. Breakfasts are usually shared between families, people who wake up and share a table together. It’s not often when one find’s himself really looking into what they eat. Yet it didn’t stop there. She made the distance between them even closer still. While she still was at school, a professor suggested she make the breakfast for herself. Well, that was kind of a foreign concept to her. She was studying illustration and this was almost like a performance piece in itself. However outside her comfort zone it was, she agreed and gave it a shot. She made the breakfast and took a picture in addition to the painting. And then, after all that, she ate it. It connected her to her friend in really unique and significant way. So her friend, all the way in D.C., maybe wasn't so far away. Maybe even as close as the kitchen.
"There’s one of my Great-Grandfather. There’s a pepper mill in the picture, it looks like a woman. My mom told me about what he would eat and how it looks so old fashioned."
A yellow table, crossed with shadows like a placemat for the hexagonal plate. Slices of buttered toast are nestled together with a hard boiled egg that sits in a porcelain egg cup, laced in blue. A white mug filled the extracted nectar of coffee beans. A pepper grinder stands to side, a sentinel of the meal. There is a face in the pepper grinder, a woman of another age. A meal of another age. This is a portrait of her great-grandfather’s breakfast. Atryzek called her mother and they talked about the breakfast. The old fashioned breakfast, fashioned for a man born in a time years before hers.
"He would eat the same thing for breakfast everyday. He wasn’t supposed to have orange juice later in his life but sometimes he would sneak it. And I thought that was kinda funny."
A wash of orange mets into red. The corner is tan like sand against a sunset. A flat green plate is muted like a dried herb. The edge is ringed by yellow embellishments, a flourish. Brown toast, scrambled eggs and sausages sit apart on the plate, separated. A metal fork sits to the side, ready to dig in. A glass of orange juice accompanies the meal, a color bright and light like a ray of sunshine jutting into space. That’s Atryzek’s Papa, her mother’s godfather. He was like a grandfather to Atryzek. He ate the same breakfast everyday but as he got older he wasn’t supposed to drink orange juice any more. But that didn’t stop him from sneaking a glass. His daughter, a close friend of Atryzek’s mother, told her about this. She thought that was pretty funny. Of all the things, orange juice. If that doesn’t tell you a little about the guy who drank it, you weren’t reading close enough.
"I decided since I have some fascination with breakfasts, and all the things that go along with breakfast like morning and plates and coffee, to do a series that represented a lot of loved ones through what they had for breakfast."
Atryzek did several of these paintings, all representing separate individuals. One is even a grandmother she never got to meet. Through interviewing her mother about her, Atryzek got to learn a bit about her grandmother. It is amazing the things that connect us. Food and eating are something we all must do to survive. It is something we all can connect to and yet through this universality it has become mundane to most. Yet here Atryzek challenges this mundanity and all the individuality of the human experience shine through. So look at each painting. Look at their choices and see the people who make them. Maybe not all of them. Maybe not even the most important bits. But yeah see part of them and that's the point. Just like a portrait where you just see a face, eyes with crinkles at the edges or a mischievous upturn nose. You just see part of a person. I guess that’s a portrait. Part of a person.
Check out more of Molly Atryzek's work at mollyatryzek.com.