“Laughter is the best medicine”: Sam Keller on his humorous artworks made from fast food

The New York-based artist has built sculptures out of Cheetos and the White House made entirely out of McDonald’s french fries.

Date
2 March 2022

Cheetos, drinks cans and pizza slices – just one look at Sam Kellers portfolio and you could easily assume that he’s obsessed with food. Well, that’s not too far off the truth. Born in New York City, Sam attended Rhode Island School of Design for Painting and approached his conceptually riddled briefs with a more “light-hearted” approach. As a result, he began working food into his objects, starting off with his Beef Jerky paintings. “Later, in looking for a food-based analogy to the processed-based paintings I was working on at the time, I ordered a pizza, ate everything except for the crust,” he tells It’s Nice That. “Then using everyday materials such as wire, staples and tape, I reattached the crusts back into a circle and finally hung it onto the wall.” On display, he soon noticed how the crusts didn’t grow mould and stayed relatively in tact over time. This inspired many more food-based artworks to follow. And there you have it.

A few pizza crust sculptures later and Sam transferred his works from circular form to spherical, in turn producing a large piece crafted from Cheetos – “a popular, curved, cheesy, corn-based snack item and what I call The Cheetosphere,” he notes. These particular pieces were constructed between 2012 and 2015, then the pandemic hit and he could only leave the house for groceries. “I began to treat the supermarket as an art supply store and revisited my Cheetos sculptures,” he says. Only this time around, his artworks became more complicated as he incorporated more complex structures and forms, “such as two interlocking spheres, as well as a small sphere inside of a large one.” Like a web of dusty cheese, the works are both wonderfully entertaining and a comment on the world’s infatuation with fast food. “Untreated and enclosed in a custom vitrine, the oldest Cheetos sculptures still exist in people’s homes today, looking unchanged as time passes. It makes me wonder that by eating artificial and processed foods, perhaps we are engaging in the act of self-embalming. On a personal note, I actually stopped eating Cheetos years ago.”

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Sam Keller: Portrait (Copyright © Sam Keller, 2022)

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Sam Keller: Cheetosphere (Copyright © Sam Keller, 2022)

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Sam Keller: Cheetosphere (Copyright © Sam Keller, 2022)

Humour plays a key role in the work that he produces, so we won’t be surprised if you let out a little smirk or smile when you flick through these works – we did too. It’s an effective technique employed to make light of heavier topics, including the “frenetic” hyper-capitalism and its increasing grip on society. “I like to take something familiar and twist it into something that makes you look twice,” he explains. In one of his recent projects, Sam put aside the crisps and built a model of the White House, constructed entirely of McDonald’s french fries. “It was made in response to the horrific Donald Trump presidency,” he says. “While it was a well-known fact that Trump loved McDonald’s, this work references a celebratory dinner that Trump threw for Clemson University’s championship-winning baseball team.” Catering the dinner was a handful of fast food restaurants, amounting to stacks of fast-food sandwiches served on silver platters. “This very iconic and surreal image was taken, which ultimately inspired this piece.”

Other works include glitzy drinks cans sourced from the street and flattened; plus his own political take on the USA-branded tube man – the inflatable stick figure that looks somewhat similar to a Cheese String. “I don’t want to sound corny,” he concludes, “but laughter is the best medicine, especially if the world is going to shit and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

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Sam Keller: Cherry Coke (Copyright © Sam Keller, 2022)

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Sam Keller: Modelo (Copyright © Sam Keller, 2022)

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Sam Keller: White House (Copyright © Sam Keller, 2022)

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Sam Keller: La Croix (Copyright © Sam Keller, 2022)

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Sam Keller: The Audacity (Copyright © Sam Keller, 2022)

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Sam Keller: LSC Cans. Photo by Tim Johnson. Courtesy of the artist and Louis Buhl & Co. (Copyright © Sam Keller, 2022)

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Sam Keller: LSC Cans. Photo by Tim Johnson. Courtesy of the artist and Louis Buhl & Co. (Copyright © Sam Keller, 2022)

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Sam Keller: LSC Cans. Photo by Tim Johnson. Courtesy of the artist and Louis Buhl & Co. (Copyright © Sam Keller, 2022)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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