Alumnus creates artwork that’s good enough to eat
February 16, 2017
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Anyone who has ever wondered what Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” might taste like or which condiment would best suit a portrait of Guy Fieri need look no further than the work of Northwestern alumnus Harley Langberg.
Langberg (Weinberg ’10) is the creative force behind Harley’s Food Art, a website and Instagram account showcasing his edible compositions. He fashions everything from famous paintings to celebrity likenesses to cartoon characters using materials he finds at the grocery store — including Oreos, cucumbers, Fruity Pebbles and Sriracha.
Though he was interested in art and took some art history classes at Northwestern, Langberg said he decided to major in economics with a minor in Chinese. It was years later, when he passed by a food art exhibit at Chelsea Market in his hometown of New York City, that Langberg was inspired to try his hand at the craft.
For Langberg, the art began as a personal hobby, and he did not expect to build it into a larger enterprise. He still works a day job at a family investment firm and said his food art is largely a source of entertainment and relaxation.
“Everybody needs some kind of outlet, whether it’s SoulCycle or TV,” Langberg said. “For me it’s food art.”
Since his first work, an eggplant and pepper rendition of Banksy’s iconic “Flower Girl,” Langberg has produced hundreds of pieces and amassed a fanbase of more than 37,000 followers on his Instagram page. Langberg said he generally posts about four or five times per week and that the whole process — thinking of an image, shopping for ingredients with the right colors and textures, composing the piece, photographing and posting — takes a couple hours on average.
As his following has grown, Langberg has partnered with companies to create promotional material. On Valentine’s Day, he crafted fruit-based emojis for Food Network and a festive stop-motion message for Dylan’s Candy Bar. Before the Grammys, he paired with Sony Music to produce a portrait of Sia, which he tagged #GrammyNOMS.
Tori Bachan, Langberg’s digital talent brand manager, said food-based companies are logical collaborators, but the “universal” appeal of music and pop culture can also make for interesting partnerships. Bachan said she tries to connect Langberg with innovative companies that make use of social media, adding she believes recent trends surrounding digital media and food itself have helped his popularity.
“Now we’re in this time where people are health-conscious, and they love to know what’s in their food,” Bachan said. “That’s also what draws people to Harley’s food art — you can see the end result, but at the same time you can see all of the ingredients in it.”
Since March 2016, Langberg has also been a collaborative partner at Portraits for Good, a site founded by his high school classmate, Alix Greenberg, to combine art and charity. Langberg, Greenberg and four other artists sell custom works and limited-edition prints of their art on the site and donate a portion of the profits to a charity of the buyer’s choosing.
Langberg was the first artist brought on after the site was founded, Greenberg said, and since then he has sold about 50 prints. Greenberg described him as a “creative genius” who can work with a wide range of artistic styles, from “The Simpsons” to Picasso.
“I choose artists who I feel are democratic and not hierarchical or pretentious,” Greenberg said. “(Harley’s) food art is so informed and smart, but you can appreciate it no matter what.”
Moving forward, Langberg said he hopes to continue to improve and experiment with new ingredients. He said he has several partnerships in the works with museums and snack food companies and is collaborating on a piece with fellow food artist Jessie Bearden.
Still, Langberg said, he makes sure to take the time to interact with his followers and personally replies to every comment on his Instagram. His artistic motivation is simple: He wants a creative outlet for himself and a way to brighten someone else’s day.
“I get all this great feedback from people I don’t even know, saying I’ve touched them in these difficult times,” Langberg said. “My goal now is really just to make art that makes people happy and makes people smile and takes them away from … all the trials and tribulations of everyday life.”