From Picasso’s Rice Pudding to O’Keeffe’s Green Juice, the Favorite Snacks of Famous Artists
When it comes to the favored snacks of successful artists, there’s a wide range. Some, like Georgia O’Keeffe and Agnes Martin, embraced healthy, restrained options in hopes of stimulating their artistic impulses and propelling them through long hours in the studio. Others, like David Lynch, chose copious amounts of caffeine and sugar. For his part, Andy Warhol preferred an unusual sandwich he liked to call “cake”: chocolate squished between two slices of bread. Below, we dive into the studios and kitchens of six artists, across generations, to reveal their preferred midday and late-night noshes.
Painter Agnes Martin made some of art history’s most transcendent minimalist canvases, known for their mesmerizing economy of line and color. It’s no wonder, then, that her daily life and dietary habits were marked by restraint and simplicity, too.
After she hightailed it out of New York in the mid-1960s, she settled in the New Mexican desert. There, she lived a mostly solitary life, with self-imposed restrictions that she believed kept her mind clear and gave her more time and energy for her practice. Often, this approach manifested in ascetic food choices. One winter, she consumed only walnuts, hard cheeses, and preserved tomatoes grown in her garden; another season, she subsisted on a concoction of gelatin, orange juice, and bananas.
During dealer Arne Glimcher’s many visits to Martin’s New Mexico studio over the course of her life (she died in 2004 at the age of 92), he noticed that she returned to one snack consistently: In times of intense artistic output, she turned to bananas and coffee. As Martin entered her eighties, though, she began to loosen up, allowing herself the occasional martini.
Amongst painter Georgia O’Keeffe’s many accomplishments (chiefly, revolutionizing representational painting) was her resplendent culinary expertise. During her lifetime, friends and lovers praised the artist’s inventive meals; once, her husband Alfred Stieglitz even suggested they open a restaurant. In recent years, she’s also been lauded as pioneer of the organic, local food movement. Indeed, O’Keeffe prided herself in a healthy diet, based around vegetables she raised lovingly in her Abiquiú garden, whole grains, raw ingredients (walnuts, dates, wheat germ, and brewer’s yeast), and homemade yogurt (a nod to her dairy-farm upbringing). She was known to ask her longtime assistant, Margaret Wood: “Do you think other people eat as well as we do?”
In part, O’Keeffe adopted these habits for health reasons. She lived to be 98 and routinely prepared vegetable juices (a favorite mixture was celery, carrots, parsley, and turnip top) and fruit smoothies for herself and friends. Her gardener was a frequent recipient of these conditions, which O’Keeffe delivered to him with the promise that “you’ll live longer, you’ll be healthier.”
According to Robyn Lea, author of Dinner with Georgia O’Keeffe: Recipes, Art and Landscape (2014), the painter also believed a healthy diet could inspire creativity and productivity. Once, O’Keeffe interrogated fellow artist John Marin about his diet after he painted a whopping three canvases in a single day. “She really did believe that, if you ate something good for breakfast, that had the power to help your creative work, your expression,” Lea said.
While Pablo Picasso is infamous for his unbridled appetites (especially when it came to carnal pleasure), his diet was surprisingly restricted. The Cubist master was something of a hypochondriac who put himself on a strict food regimen in the 1930s, when he was in his fifties. Plagued by worries of failing health and decreased productivity, he began ingesting what today might be considered a very limited Mediterranean diet. Meals and snacks consisted only of fish, vegetables, grapes, and rice pudding, which were washed down with mineral water or milk.
Despite the lack of diversity in his meals, Picasso still approached eating with the intensity he brought to all activities—from painting to wooing. “He rarely spoke during meals,” remembered his lover of seven years, Fernande Olivier, as noted in Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. “Sometimes he would not utter a word from beginning to end.” Still, his friends invited him to dine, and attempted to work around his punishing regime. Alice Toklas remembered one meal she lovingly prepared for the Spaniard: “We would have tender loin of veal preceded by a spinach souffle, spinach having been highly recommended by Picasso’s doctor, and souffle being the least objectionable way of preparing it.”
Much has been written about cult painter and filmmaker David Lynch’s relationship with Transcendental Meditation; he’s attributed it to serenity, happiness, and inspiration. But Lynch has explored other daily rituals to spark ideas and enhance creativity, too. His eating habits, and the environments where they take place, have become paramount to his daily life and practice. In particular, coffee and sweets have fueled his surreal scripts and otherworldly, often macabre paintings. (Notably, the main character of his famed series Twin Peaks is a caffeine fanatic.)
Lynch’s obsession with coffee began in ninth grade, and from the beginning, he associated it with creativity. In an essay for the Huffington Post, Lynch remembered learning that his friend Toby’s father was an artist. “Hearing this news that an adult could be a painter—an explosion went off in my head, and from that moment on all I wanted to do was paint,” he wrote. “And for me, the world of a painter held much coffee.” As an adult, the caffeine-loaded drink became synonymous with what Lynch has referred to as “The Art Life”: “I loved to go to diners and drink coffee and try to catch ideas for the work,” he explained.
For seven years during his thirties, Lynch settled into a booth Bob’s Big Boy diner every day at 2:30 p.m. He threw back a chocolate shake and as much as seven cups of coffee, loaded with sugar. “I would get a rush from all this sugar, and I would get many ideas!” he gushed of the experience in 1990.
Pop progenitor Andy Warhol’s work is famous for referencing mass-produced foods, like Campbell’s soup cans. Canned, packaged, and preservative-rich foods weren’t only artistic inspiration for the artist—they made up the majority of his diet, too. When it came to sustenance, he sought out ease—and sweets. “I’m only kidding myself when I go through the motions of cooking protein,” he once wrote in his diaries. “All I ever really want is sugar.” One of Warhol’s go-to snacks was a chocolate bar embedded between two slabs of white bread. With typical flair, he called the creation “cake.” According to his biographer Bob Nickas, he also routinely whipped up jam sandwiches for dinner.
While Warhol often dined at New York’s most glamorous restaurants—from La Grenouille to Mr. Chow—he actually preferred the meals he ordered at the city’s remaining Automats, where you placed coins in a vending machine that popped out pre-made cuisine. Warhol even dreamed of creating his own line of restaurants called The Andy-Mat, where “You get your food and then you take your tray into a booth and watch television,” as he once explained.
Sculptor Beatrice Wood liked to attribute her creativity and long life to a unique, drool-inducing elixir. “I owe it all to art books, chocolates, and young men,” she was known to say, when visitors stopped by her studio in Ojai, California.
Wood bucked convention in most areas of her life. She gravitated towards ceramics when her friends and peers like Marcel Duchamp were committed to Dada readymades. She remained single (an anomaly for the era in which she came of age), and lived mostly by herself in the remote desert foothills. She also employed beautiful young men as assistants who helped organize her hilltop studio, brimming with glazes and treasures she collected on world travels.
While not much is written about her eating habits, her studio contained one salient clue. According to an interview with Kevin Wallace, director of the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, she kept stacks of Hershey’s bars in the back of her refrigerator. “She’d eat a bar every single night,” he remembered. Maybe chocolate was Wood’s secret. After all, she lived and worked until the age of 105.