How do you feel about Skittles? You may love them, you may hate them. But you’re probably not neutral. We have some very strong feelings about snacks. And it’s those powerful snack-linked emotions that Portland felt artist LeBrie Rich taps into in her work.
“I’ve discovered in making this work that we all have these nostalgic connections to certain brands or certain foods, and they’re connected to very deep, very real memories,” she says. We know these foods aren’t culinary wonders and yet, “if your grandma gave it to you and it was a special ritual that you got to go get circus animal cookies or whatever, that is a deep pleasure memory at a cellular level. And I think that it’s so compelling for people,” she says.
Rich creates life-sized felt sculptures replicating some of this nation’s most iconic brands. Her work has been featured at galleries and museums throughout the country.
“What’s fun about making this work is that each piece is like a little puzzle,” she said. “How am I going to pull that off with the materials restrictions that I have with using wool felt?” She uses a felting needle to mat the wool fiber, layering one color on top of the next to create a nearly exact replica. “I have a lot of control, but not a 100% control. And I think that’s where it gets really interesting.” How to make the vegetables in a TV dinner shimmer? How to make a silver fork shine? “I always like artwork where there’s a tension between the material and the realism. Like, I can make the rolls on the Little Debbie Swiss Rolls, but I can’t write the little teeny nutrition facts.” In that clash of the real and the imagined is where Rich’s art stands out.
Convenience stores are a delicious source of inspiration for Rich. She loves prowling the aisles, looking for snacks that seem to leap off the shelf. “I like a retro look to the packaging. I love typefaces. I love the shading on the type faces and then the sort of air brushy photography of the product. Like a hyperreal, giant, version of a Ho-Ho. That to me is very compelling and very fun. And I want to try and make that out of felt,” she said.
Rich loves the process of making — nothing could be more fun than turning a pile of wool into a bag of M&Ms. But she also loves the emotions her work evokes. She remembers the day she unveiled her first felted bag of Cheez-its — the reaction was instant, powerful and transformative. Viewers who saw the work seemed to leave with “a new fondness for the world. Something about them opened up a little bit. And the next time that they pick out a candy bar, there’s like a memory of this artwork that happened. And to me, that’s what it’s about. It’s about people being in the world just a little bit more present after encountering this artwork.”