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The Flavor of Art

Artist Virginia Jaramillo dishes on her role in Kemper’s first collection and new dinner series

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Above image credit: Virginia Jaramillo is an artist whose work was part of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art's first collection. (Brad Austin | Flatland)

Eighty-year-old artist Virginia Jaramillo ran her fingers over bumps of paint on the canvas and tilted her head to gaze at her 1975 painting titled “Principle of Equivalence.”

The title, she said, references more philosophical notions of equivalence. The burnt-orange color draws from childhood memories of riding her bike through the desert landscape at her grandparents’ turkey ranch in El Centro, Southern California.

Virginia Jaramillo
Virginia Jaramillo, El Paso-born and New York-based artist, looks at her 1975 painting, “Principle of Equivalence.” (Brad Austin | Flatland)

“See the gradation? I would see the earth, all cracked, and it was that color,” she said. “To me it’s soothing.” 

This work is on display for the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibit “Lexicon: The Language of Gesture in 25 Years at Kemper Museum.” It is also a featured work in the museum’s new dinner-and-art series

In the past three decades, Jaramillo not only made a name for herself worldwide but was also integral to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art’s beginnings. Her work was among those that began Kansas City’s only contemporary museum’s collection, said Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at the Kemper Museum. Now the artist is back for another first – a dinner series that has artists collaborate with Cafe Sebastienne chef Rick Mullins. 

“Virginia is a first in many regards,” Dziedzic said. 

“See, everyone views something through a matrix of their own experiences. My work is an aesthetic investigation of that.”

Virginia Jaramillo, artist

For instance, she was the only woman artist at an exhibit called “DeLuxe” in Houston, one of the first racially integrated shows in 1971. When speaking about the past, the artist cupped her mouth. Jaramillo is a Mexican American artist who was married to a black artist when racial tensions were at an all-time high. This was before the civil rights movement began:

“It was so hard for us to survive as artists,” she said, her voice shaking and eyes filling with tears. “The same thing’s happening today. And, well, I can’t even go into it.” 

Jaramillo, who was born in El Paso, Texas, said the recent mass shooting in the border city reminds her of how things were 50 years ago. The works she produced in the ’60s are dark and heavy, like the pain she said she felt. But this, life experiences plus theories about archaeology, history and architecture, resonate in her work. 

“See, everyone views something through a matrix of their own experiences,” the artist said. “My work is an aesthetic investigation of that.”

Blending Elements of Art and Food

That’s what in-house chef Rick Mullins – who recently celebrated his first year at Cafe Sebastienne – will feed off of to create a four-course menu. The artist infused childhood memories of her Southwest landscape in “Principle of Equivalence.” So when the chef began formulating the menu, he pulled ingredients that looked like the artist’s terra cotta-like palette. Think roasted carrots, cherry tomatoes and red chiles.

Rick Mullins, the chef at Cafe Sebastienne in the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, recently celebrated one year working there. (Contributed | Kemper Museum)

“The color inspired all the dishes, really,” Mullins said. “(The dishes are) all going to be reds and oranges.” 

He and the team then researched what the equivalence principle in physics to have a deeper understanding of Jaramillo’s art and the definition. To Jaramillo, this principle is about traits that are universally expressed in all cultures that connect people. 

“So how can we approach food that way?” the chef asked. “Well, we take certain aspects of certain ingredients and apply it to another dish.” 

As a result, his menu looked like this (the photos below were taken by Kenny Johnson):

Course one: Tomato and melon gazpacho. Mullins laid the scallops on agua chile rojo. The agua chile rojo was strained, then frozen, so it’s an agua chile ice. It’s paired with blanched and peeled cherry tomatoes that are slightly dried in a dehydrator.

Course two: Grilled carrot salad. Roasted and grilled carrots seasoned with the strained-turned powdered gazpacho with arbol and guajillo oil in pearl couscous.

Course three: Grilled striped bass. Baja striped bass with pepper and eggplant sauce, puffy rice chips tossed with chile powder.

Course four: Peach tiramisu

Jaramillo’s work will be on view at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art until Aug. 25.


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