While creativity knows no bounds, chocolate itself being elevated to an art form, art and chocolate have had a long-standing relationship.
First we knew chocolate. Then we became familiar with milk, dark, white, and lately pink. The adventure deepened with pairings of fruit, nuts and flavours. Today, even the basic Cadbury’s Dairy Milk comes in flavours like chilli orange, all reflecting the vast market that is chocolate.
While creativity knows no bounds, chocolate itself being elevated to an art form, art and chocolate have had a long-standing relationship. Chocolate itself has been used as a material to paint, while many artists like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp have used chocolate as their muse. It is said the Aztecs had special decorative vessels for chocolate. The 1970 Venice Biennale had an installation by artist Ed Ruscha called Chocolate Room, which was an entire room covered with paper silk-screened with chocolate. There are others who used chocolate as paint.
Popular literature works centred around chocolate include Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Chocolat by Joanne Harris.
Mumbai-based Ether, a chocolate atelier by Prateek Bakhtiani, derives a physical, edible chocolate inspired by art, seasons and places, be it a Japanese spring or works by famous painters. For this Valentine’s Day, his collection called ‘Waterlilies for my Valentine’ is inspired by Monet. So how faithfully does he transcribe inspiration from art into a physical product? “I think the trick is to peel back the layers of whatever the inspiration is, to find the creative and emotive core in it and then make sure that my chocolate speaks to that core. That way, whatever the final product is, no matter how far removed it looks or feels from the inspiration at face value, I know that I’m doing right by what my inspiration wants you to experience or feel. For example, I don’t worry about making chocolate look like waterlilies in my collection inspired by Monet’s work, as long as I can create in it a romanticism. Love is the broad strokes of impressionism and omissive clemency. The waterlilies on the box, and the poetry on the insert are just window-dressing to being able to mimic that artistic movement in the medium of chocolate,” he says. He recalls one of his favourite works, ‘Kizuna’, a collection of chocolate inspired by the Japanese Hanami, a traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers.
But being an artist can be lonely sometimes, especially for someone who also makes a living out of their art. “It’s hot and cold. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. The name of the game with adding an intellectual layer to a traditionally commercial product, of course, is to trust that a collection that fails financially is not necessarily a failure artistically. My options are either to trust that sunny days are forthcoming, or to make milk chocolate with almonds in it, and as an artisan that wants to push the industry forward and away from overused tropes, that’s a no-brainer for me,” says Bakhtiani.
So, while chocolate represents romance and comfort to most, he says he has to remember to find love in chocolate and then to be able to find pain in it. “If I don’t, I am limiting the medium. I want to be able to experiment with darker, depressive inspirations just as much as celebratory, romantic ones and I hope that I will be able to convince the ‘market’ to find value in that sort of expression and crystallise around chocolaterie as an expansive art form,” he adds.