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Mark Rice-Ko: Where Food and Rothko Meet In Delicious Harmony

Posted: November 30, 2012

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Troubled artist Mark Rothko famously hated the rich and glamorous. These were the same people who were expected to see his art in New York's Four Seasons restaurant in a project commissioned back in the 1950s; he never completed the work. Recently, two modern artists decided to interpret these Rothko works in colored rice for the rest of us.

Chef/stylist Caitlin Levin and photographer Henry Hargreaves do an interpretation of Mark Rothko's paintings using colored rice. Left, Levin's design, right, the original painting titled White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) by Mark Rothko as seen at Sotheby's auction house in New York.

Chef/stylist Caitlin Levin and photographer Henry Hargreaves do an interpretation of Mark Rothko's paintings using colored rice. Left, Levin's design, right, the original painting titled White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) by Mark Rothko as seen at Sotheby's auction house in New York.

One of Levin's greatest challenge is mixing food colors to match Rothko's original work. This image displays the food color palette used to dye the rice.

One of Levin's greatest challenge is mixing food colors to match Rothko's original work. This image displays the food color palette used to dye the rice.

Getting the edges to feather as seen in Rothko's original work was a challenge for Levin.

Getting the edges to feather as seen in Rothko's original work was a challenge for Levin.

It took Levin and Hargreaves anywhere between 2 to 3 hours to complete each piece of rice art.

It took Levin and Hargreaves anywhere between 2 to 3 hours to complete each piece of rice art.

Levin worked on a project about gradient food dye using several kinds of foods like bananas and rice. It is during this time where she and photographer Henry Hargreaves came up with the idea of doing an interpretation of some of Mark Rothko's paintings using rice.

Levin worked on a project about gradient food dye using several kinds of foods like bananas and rice. It is during this time where she and photographer Henry Hargreaves came up with the idea of doing an interpretation of some of Mark Rothko's paintings using rice.

The outcome of her work: Levin now owns many Ziploc bags filled with colored rice, about two 25 pound bags, which she plans to use for cooking meals with friends.

The outcome of her work: Levin now owns many Ziploc bags filled with colored rice, about two 25 pound bags, which she plans to use for cooking meals with friends.

Molds were used to shape the different sized rectangles and to keep separate the colored rice.

Molds were used to shape the different sized rectangles and to keep separate the colored rice.

After coloring, styling and photographing the rice, chef and food stylist Caitlin Levin made coconut rice.

After coloring, styling and photographing the rice, chef and food stylist Caitlin Levin made coconut rice. "It taste the same," she says.

Chef/Stylist Caitlin Levin and photographer Henry Hargreaves create an interpretation of Mark Rothko's paintings using colored rice.

Chef/Stylist Caitlin Levin and photographer Henry Hargreaves create an interpretation of Mark Rothko's paintings using colored rice.

"We do these projects out of love for creating beautiful or interesting work out of a medium that is unexpected," Levin says.

Back in 1958, when Mark Rothko was commissioned to do a series of murals for The Four Seasons restaurant in New York — a place he believed was "where the richest bastards in New York will come to feed and show off" — his acceptance of the assignment was subversive at best. He hoped his art would "ruin the appetite of every son of a [beep] who ever eats in that room," according to a Harper's magazine article, "Mark Rothko: Portrait Of The Artist As An Angry Man."

His distaste for the social elite led to a series of paintings that continue to captivate art enthusiasts of different backgrounds, tastes and generations. His painting, Orange, Red, Yellow 1961, sold on May 8 this year for $86.9 million at Christie's.

Rothko eventually abandoned The Four Seasons project. Instead, he gave some of the pieces to the Tate Modern museum in 1969, just before committing suicide.

But the murals that were meant to ruin the appetite of wealthy patrons inspired chef/stylist Caitlin Levin and photographer Henry Hargreaves to interpret Rothko's collection using rice.

"We had been doing a project about gradient food dye using several kinds of food like bananas, bread and rice and we thought, how about using rice to recreate Rothko's paintings?" says Levin. Although dyeing rice is time consuming, Levin said it is an easier medium to work with than other foods when recreating the depth of color found in Rothko's pieces.

This collaboration between Hargreaves and Levin took three days to complete, each piece taking two to three hours. Levin said her two greatest challenges were mixing the food colors to match Rothko's original work and to feather the edges of the rice art as seen on the paintings.

After Mark Rice-Ko was completed, the colorful rice faced a new fate, "We made coconut rice with it. It turned an Army green color but it tastes the same," Levin says of the dyed leftovers.

Check out the slide show above to view more of Levin/Hargreaves' rice art.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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