Q&A: Denise Stewart-Sanabria, Artist of Anthropomorphic Food Paintings

The food at the Pop Up Food Tour event (Sunday, March 30, 5-8 p.m.) will be based on Denise Stewart-Sanabria's anthropomorphic food paintings, which are also on display at the venue, Paulk + Co (510 Williams St.) through the end of March. The event features entertainment and foods from Knoxville Food Tours vendors and some proceeds will go to Peninsula Recovery Education Center.

Do you have a favorite culinary painting?

It would be mean to have a favorite. I try to be fair.

Does creating the "culinary dramas" make you hungry? How about the viewer?

A man who was watching me paint in the Emporium Center once accused me of making him go buy a bear claw. I had been there working all month while gallery-sitting for the Dogwood Regional, which I chaired for five years. The next day, however, he was fine. No more temptations. They are characters for me, though. Not food.

How did you end up in Knoxville?

My husband was transferred here in 1986 from where we were in New Hampshire to do subcontract work for TVA. We loved it, and refused to move anywhere again.

You do talks about your art frequently—has anyone asked an amusing follow-up question?

Not about my paintings, but about my life-size drawings of people on plywood that I cut out and mount on floor stands. They want to know who does the carpentry. That isn't really funny—just annoying. What is fun is what I like to tell the ones that don't believe me when I explain that I've been working with wood and power tools since I was a kid. I tell them to check the boxes power tools come in to see if they require the user to have male genitalia for them to work.

Are you involved at all with Knoxville Food Tours?

I just met the owner, Paula Johnson, for the first time at the March First Friday reception of my exhibit at Paulk + Co, where the Pop Up Food Tour will be this Sunday. Johnson and Virginia Adams, the business manager at Paulk + Co, planned the whole event. I'm excited. I'm planning on sneaking the food into Virginia's office and photographing it as reference material for new paintings before I eat.

What's your own cooking/dining style?

I only occasionally use recipes. I've worked on and off in the food industry, so I spend more time inventing stuff than using recipes. I like anything spicy. I've been a vegetarian for over 30 years, but I occasionally eat fish now. I'm not a PETA vegetarian. I'm a Star Trek one.

What's your favorite medium?

I mainly paint in oil, but for my other work, I use everything I can get my hands on.

When are you most productive as an artist?

When I've got a really good audio book on my iPod.

You are noted as a writer, reviewer and interviewer on art topics—what question would you ask if you were conducting this interview?

I like it when people ask if I ever eat my models.

The Pop Up Food Tour is $30 per person, reservations required. For more information, visit the event's Facebook page or stewart-sanabria.com.