Los Angeles based artist Andrew Pasquella utilizes bold clean lines and vivid colors pay that homage to a pop art aesthetic while grabbing viewer attention with propaganda-esque text and symbols in his USDA Series. During a career working alongside the U.S Department of Agriculture, Pasquella gained invaluable first-hand insight concerning food policy and advocacy to influence his work as an artist. Pasquella’s experience with the USDA has allowed him to formulate a critical assessment of the food industry and its oftentimes negative effects on consumers. Employing the recognizable and controversial USDA organic logo, Pasquella’s USDA Series challenges viewers to take on a more censorious attitude when thinking about issues related to the food that we eat. How are we manipulated as consumers? Who can we trust with our food? Am I educated about products I consume? Can we rely on government organizations to act with integrity? USDA Series calls forth these questions and countless others.
We contacted Pasquella to learn more about his USDA Series currently on display here at Lexington Art League.
Lexington Art League (LAL): What choices or influences in your life have led you to pursue a career as an artist?
Andrew Pasquella: I come from a creative family. My father has his MFA and grew up with the likes of Ed Ruscha in OK, my mother was an amazing landscape architect and photographer and my brother is a talented, published, author. Creativity was abound but it wasn’t until I had gone through a career working in the health, wellness and food industry and witnessing things in those industries I wanted confront that I turned to art full-time as a way to contribute to the conversations circling those industries.
LAL: What first got you interested in making art about food issues and policy?
AP: Part of my job duties was working closely with the USDA to maintain organic certifications. The more I learned about the USDA, not to mention personally witnessed, the more conflicted and angry I got. The illusion of what I believed “organic” to be fell away to the realities of corporate interests and politics.
LAL: What is it specifically about the image of the USDA “organic” certification label that inspired you to use it in the work?
AP: Because my personal experience was specifically in the organic world, the logo seemed like a no brainer as a starting point. It’s also a recognizable symbol so when it’s transformed into something else you have the immediate understanding of what it is derived from and you can take the viewer on a journey depending on how you’re transforming it.
LAL: Anything specifically that inspired this work and your other work?
AP: The canon of pop art.
LAL: I have heard only a little about how misleading USDA Organic labels can be and how it is really difficult for consumers to know what is actually in their food. Could you explain a bit more about the controversies addressed in your work?
AP: My issue with the USDA organic program is that it began as a way to help prop-up a cottage industry of mom and pop growers and retailers but quickly began to shift as soon as large food corporations saw that they could charge 40% more by simply calling something organic. These entities moved in large amounts of lobbying money and power to change what the organic standards once were to better fit their manufacturing processes and ingredients they could use to make the end product cheaper yielding more profit for them. Now more chemicals, additives, preservatives are allowed into the organic food chain that were never intended to be there and every year more are presented to the USDA for approval. Keep in mind this is a government agency that has a board and employees made up of ex-employees of the same companies proposing new ingredients and rules.
LAL: What kinds of research have you done regarding the food industry, animal rights, environmental policies, USDA standards, etc.?
AP: I had a ten year career within this world so that entailed lots of reading of a variety of materials, learning the actual organic programming standards, hearing stores, seeing things first hand.
LAL: How and why do you choose the words that accompany the USDA? (i.e Politic, Sadistic, etc..)
AP: I enjoy using text in much of my work. For an English speaker the written word is instantly recognizable however the context that work is used is where the transformation and journey can occur. The goal of the “word pops” for each piece is to hook the viewer by them acknowledging that word but then observing how that word is used in the context of the organic logo and what that might mean when taken as a whole. I generally like to use words that “dirty” it up a little.
LAL: The craftsmanship of your work is impressive! I’ve noticed from other works on your website that your style is fairly minimal with really crisp lines and colors. How does this aesthetic contribute to the work?
AP: Thank you! I personally am attracted to a clean modern aesthetic and sometimes that’s all I need as a jumping off part. The bold and graphic nature of my work is certainly mean to be easily digestible yet loud but at the end of the day I’m fully aware that my collectors and buyers want to hang this in their home and while I don’t make art to match curtains or sofas, if I wouldn’t want to look at something I created in my home then I’m not going to make it.
LAL: Any advice for consumers?
AP: My biggest advice to consumers (so… everyone) is to educate yourself. The biggest mistake you can me is walk around with blinders on thinking government or corporate entities have your best interest in mind. They don’t. Start asking questions and question everything. There’s a world of education out there, find sources that you can trust.
LAL: The show at LAL is titled FEAST: Pleasure + Hunger + Ritual – If you could put your USDA Series in one of the categories (pleasure, hunger, or ritual) which would it be and why?
AP: Those are all the same thing for me. Food lends itself to all of those and my series aims to question food. The issues around food, not just political, but psychological, physiological and spiritual should all be addressed as a whole. I believe we too often like to use the reductionist approach to try to pick things apart allowing the more important aspects to be lost in the details.
Check out more of Pasquella’s work on his website http://andrewpasquella.com/
USDA Series by Andrew Pasquella
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All Lexington Art League programs are made possible through the generous support of LexArts. LexArts allocation of $50,000 represents the largest single donation to the operations of the Lexington Art League.
The Kentucky Arts Council, a state arts agency, provides operating support to the Lexington Art League with state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by Lexington Parks & Recreation.